2004-05 Outbound to Germany
Hometown: High Springs, Florida
School: Santa Fe High School
Sponsor: High Springs Rotary Club
Host: Oldenburg-Ammerland Rotary Club, District 1850, Germany
September 23 Journal
My journey began on the 14th of August. Well, I didn't sleep at all the night before my departure, so actually the 13th of August. Picture me at 3:00 in the morning, pacing back and forth in the living room with that nervous twitch in my eye, wearing only a T Shirt and my trusty Mr. Potato Head boxers. Packing my bag, then unpacking it because I want to put my shirts in the bottom. Re-packing it, then unpacking it again because I wanted to fold all of my shirts (now at the bottom) another way. ''Don't forget this'', ''I don't really need that...''. Running upstairs, only to forget what I went up for. Sitting on the coffee table, watching the Weather Channel religiously, begging Hurricane Charley not to screw this up for me.
The next morning, all was OK with my plane departure. The only delay I had was due to myself running back inside, trying not to forget the things you remember you forgot when you are sitting in the airport terminal. After the long period of picture taking and pre-hugging, my Posse (consisting of parents, grandparents, brother and sisters) and I made that long, slow shuffle-like movement to the gate entrance. I would have to make the next walk alone. Then it hit me, this was my time. For once I was doing something right, something people I loved and respected were proud of me for doing. I was, in some way, special. As I gave those final hugs and kisses, as I made that long walk away from everything I knew, 3 or 4 tiny hairs sprouted out upon my bald chest, and I grew up a little bit more.
''Now approaching Detroit'', the captain says over the intercom. This was my second time in Michigan, so it was the farthest north I had ever been. It was also the largest airport I had ever been in. It took about 30 minutes just to get to my next gate. I was desperately looking for the immense group of Rotary exchange students I was told there would be going to Germany. There was no one... Not a Blue Blazer in sight. So I sat down quietly, sipping slowly from the $2.50 Diet Coke w/ Lime, for it would probably be my last. Then there was something that caught my attention upon the horizon of steel and moving platforms. Blue blazers, here came the cavalry! I was not alone! Well, my excitement was short lived... It turned out to be a small group of Japanese business men on their way to Tokyo.
Boarding upon the Royal Dutch Airlines was a process that seemed to take a small eternity. There were people of all different nationalities screaming in their mother languages. Even the babies seemed to be shrieking in another tongue. Everything was nice and calm though, once everyone was settled into their seats. The flight was long... incredibly long. But there was a free movie service, so I ended up watching Shrek 2 in German and The Punisher in Estonian. Yes, I did say Estonian. Curiosity gets the best of me sometimes.
We were landing!!! Hip Hip Hooray! I was still running on that diet coke and the vegetarian curry served during the flight. Still no sleep... but I thought to myself, ''I did it''. This was the first time I had ever left the United States. I stretched to the end of my seatbelt, trying to get a glimpse out of someone's window from my dead center seat. Holland wasn't really all that special to look at. I was expecting the grass to be blue or to see fish swimming in the sky, or something.
About now, I'm standing In the middle of the Amsterdam airport in awe. Now THIS was the largest airport/mall/ casino I had ever been in. I quickly slapped on my ''Help me'' face and followed the general crowd. After going through passport check and finding my flight on the television screen, I made my way towards my designated gate. But when I got there, the only flights leaving from there for the next two days were going to Paris, so I officially had a problem. I tried waiting in line at the information desk, but that effort was hopeless. And why the hell wasn't this Rotary blazer doing its share of the work? We were arch-enemies at this point, because there was no air-conditioning in the entire airport and I was too afraid that if I took it off, people wouldn't know to help me. So as I was making my way back to the information counter, I found myself being followed by a strange man. I quickened my pace, so did he. I was really going fast when he came at me in a full sprint it seemed like. He started to scream something at me in Dutch. I had no clue what he was saying. And he's screaming and screaming, so I start to scream back at him. Then he stops and says in English, ''Hey man, tie your shoes!'' You've got to be kidding me... Well after waiting in the Information line for an hour, I found out that I needed to 'Transfer', something I had no knowledge of. But I made it through everything alright and found out the number of my real gate. This was all spanned across my 5 hour plane delay in Amsterdam.
I took the tiny ''City Hopper'' plane to Bremen, where I was to go through customs. This was the part I had been dreading for days now. The few months before my departure, family and friends had told me all of the horrible stories about customs and how long it takes. Well they're a little more laid back here in Germany. The customs agent asked me why I needed to go through customs. I thought I had to! All he asked me was if I had over 100,000 on me. No inspections, No Hassle. As I walked through the door, I expected to see a whole group of all the host families I would have over the year. Wrong again. Just two people, my first host family, minus the children.
I am living in the city of Oldenburg, in the North West of Germany, near the border of Holland. The city is a little larger than Gainesville, Florida, but with a more urban setting. I ride a bike everywhere I need to go, including school. There is an Inner city, where all of the main shops and Discos/Bars are. In most German cities, shops in the inner cities die out, so people come from around Germany JUST to go shopping.
People are very nice here, but they have more of an ''IN YOUR FACE'' attitude toward things. Just try blocking the bike lane on your way to school. For example, on my first day here, I was accidentally blocking the turn lane for the bike way. The next thing I knew, there was a gang of 'little old ladies' bombarding me with every curse in the German language, and there are A LOT.
School is good, but I am still a bit unsatisfied with their decision to put me in the 10th grade. 10th grade in Germany is the same set-up as 5th grade would be in America. So as a result, I will get no high school credits for being in school here because I cannot take High School classes. And it a bit harder to meet many people when you are in class with the same 18 people every day. But that hasn't stopped me much. I meet new people every day and making new friends isn't a problem at all.
On the side of my everyday life here, I've been on several trips already. I went hiking one weekend in the Black Forest of former East Germany, where I also toured a castle. I also went to the port city of Bremerhaven to visit their new Zoo and World War II U-Boot (submarine) museum. Germany is also home of many MANY cultural festivals, including Stadtfest and Kremermarkt. Not forgetting Oktoberfest, of course.
This is just skimming the surface of my first month in Germany. I couldn't possibly express everything I've felt in the last month, I can only give you a hint. Thank you for enduring my unnecessarily long spiel.
Until next time, Tschau
November 9 Journal
It's funny how you don't really realize how long a year is when it's thrown out in front of you and you can almost see how slow it's moving. On the other hand, when it comes the time to write another journal, it seems as if I had just written one last week...
Things are routine now. I speak only German with my host family, which includes presenting my guest-father with as many reasons as I can think of why NOT to go to school as he pulls me out of bed. My throat doesn't hurt anymore from making the heavy ''CH'' sound. Learning 26 conjugations for each verb is 'old news'. Riding my bike in the cold, wet rain is a passive, unnoticed factor of my life, much the same as what socks I put on this morning. It's no longer surprising when the same meal of bread rolls, margarine, and cheese is served for breakfast and dinner, except raw meat and sausages accompany the bread in the evening. My English skills are plummeting greatly, meaning I'm heading for the, ''Ugga Ugga, Me want meat'', phase.
In the beginning of Oktober, we have the festival of Kramermarkt, which is a lot like an American carnival, just substituting cotton candy with sandwiches made of peppercorn and raw eel. Some children save their money for the entire year, just to blow it all on 10 days of rides and attractions that rearrange your insides and induce vomiting. For the older crowd, Kramermarkt is the ideal place to get pissed drunk because it's free and you can bring your own beer. As a result, by 8 o'clock in the evening, the entire ''Fairgrounds'' is a field of broken glass, garbage, and various body fluids.
On Oktober 9th, I left on a week-long tour around eastern Germany. I probably learned more Spanish in that week than German, for a Majority of exchange students here are from Mexico, and that's not including the other students from countries that speak Spanish. We had many stops along the way, including a small town dedicated to nothing but witches, and Buchenwald, a World War II concentration camp. It was not a ''Death Camp'', but the number of people who died there was still unimaginable. One of the most morbid things there was not in the camp itself, but a Zoo established just on the other side of the fence built for SS Guards and their families. In the eyes of the spectators, the people working and dying on the other side of the fence weren't human...
On a more happier note, the Grande Finale to our trip was two days of FREE REIN in Berlin. We had a tour guide one morning, just so we wouldn't miss anything a tourist would hope to see, including the World's Largest Stone Bowl and the Hotel balcony from which Michael Jackson had held his Infant son. We got to see the world's largest department store and the world's largest zoo. We went to Checkpoint Charlie and even to where the last remains of the Berlin wall still stand. I even got to visit Hard Rock Café.
Well my holidays have been long over, and school has once again been thrown back into the fruit smoothie I call my life...
We also had a huge riot here the other day, against the Republican party of Germany. For those of you who didn't know, the Republican party is the fascist party here in Germany. There were 800 demonstrators to 6 Republicans, among the Republicans were skinheads and Hitler Look-a-likes (seriously). The police from Niedersachsen (my state) are really nice, for example joking around and holding friendly conversation with the protesters since they have to stand there together all day. Then along came the Eastern German polizei, and it got pretty bloody. Eastern German police are all like the dwarf "Grumpy" from snow white, and jump at ANY opportunity to beat someone with their batons. It's also pretty entertaining to hear them yelling and reading people their rights in Low German (totally incomprehensible as far as we in the North are concerned).
I missed out on Halloween this year, since the entire continent of Europe gets sick, sadistic pleasure in neglecting my favorite holiday. The first snow of Germany hit today, but unfortunately, we didn't get any here YET (schade!)
Well, that's all I can wring out of my brain for today, but I'm sure Ill write another journal soon ,since I'm a LITTLE bit behind...
December 25 Journal
Frohe weihnachten! Merry Christmas! Yes, it is Christmas once again, but when I look around me, everything is totally different. After all, I'd celebrated Christmas the same way my entire life, so celebrating Christmas in a new culture was a huge slap in the face.
First off, Christmas was yesterday, the 24th. I woke up early in the morning to play Fed-Ex with my host father and three host brothers. My host father had baked 27 of his 'special' Christmas cakes, and it was now time to deliver each and every one of them to his friends and co-workers, but with this came a 30 minute period of drinking tea at each stop. So after 6 hours of this (and an exploded bladder) we finally arrived to home, where we ate a lovely dinner of toast topped with ham, pineapple, melted cheese and ketchup. Then it was time to open presents. In Germany, we open the presents at night before going to bed. This was also the first time we were permitted to see the Christmas tree, for it had been blocked off for some time in another room.
When I had first entered the room, my jaw hit the floor upon seeing my German Christmas tree. Then I said the only thing that came to mind, ''Ist es krank?'' (Is it sick?). The trunk was crooked, giving it a hunch-backed look. There were maybe 20 branches total, which were not dressed with strings of lights or ornaments, but with apples, walnuts and candles. After examination of the tree itself, my eyes quickly dropped to the foot of the tree... WHERE ARE THE PRESENTS?? Well, it turned out that the presents were put on tables, and then covered with white cloth. Then came the waiting. My family told me that the youngest child gets to open his presents first, meaning the oldest (me) gets to open his last. I really missed the free-for-all paper-ripping fest that I had become so accustomed to. For those wondering what I got for Christmas, I got 3 pairs of fuzzy warm socks and a new hat...
Later talking to my friends, I discovered that my family had a REALLY strange way of doing things (not that I hadn't thought that before). I really am a little disappointed that I had only one chance to celebrate Christmas in Germany, and the family I was with at the time gave me a totally false impression. I have now truly noticed that this family gave me many bad impressions on culture and other things. It was really a challenge to get this far into my exchange living with this family, but I guess it will make me appreciate my next host family even more, since I have already met them and are seemingly the nicest people on this side of the earth.
I just hit vacation last Wednesday, and we are scheduled to leave on the 31st for Heidelberg for new year's, and then to Switzerland from there to ski. It will be my first time skiing since I was six, so maybe I'll pick it up a little bit faster this time, even though I never really got the hang of it the first time around.
I would just like to extend another Merry Christmas from Germany to everyone and anyone. Please, enjoy the time you have with your families while you can, because I never realized how much I took my family for granted until being with them was no longer an option. I would give all three of my new pairs of socks and even the hat too, to be with my family now. Just remember that Christmas isn't the presents or the stupid (crooked) tree, it's being surrounded by family and friends. Now I sound too much like The Grinch who stole Christmas, so I guess I'll stop while I still can.
Oh, and Happy New year while I'm at it...
January 27 Journal
Here I am once again. Sorry to leave everyone in the dark for such a long time, but I was planning on waiting until I got to my next host family's house to update, but it seemed to be a lot longer than I really anticipated.
So where had I left off? Vacation! Yes, my vacation actually turned out pretty well. We left on New Years eve, which was a bit depressing, because I would have liked to spend New Years with my friends here. We drove to Heidelberg, a City built on the sides of a Valley, which was really beautiful. We stayed over night with the brother of my Host-mother.
We left the next morning for Switzerland. The trip took the entire day, which was all I could really handle. After 18 hours of driving, everyone was at each other's throat, especially me. My host-parents decided it would be a good Idea to listen to the Harry Potter audio book on the way there. Listening to Harry Potter, disc after disc after disc after disc after disc, can really drive someone to a point of insanity, and it did!
Well we did eventually arrive, and Switzerland didn't seem so spectacular at first. We were staying for eight days in a house that doubled as a barn. Literally, when I walked out of my room to take a shower in the morning, there was a cow, if not many, there to welcome me. Let me tell, the smell was wonderful. There's nothing I love more than the smell of cow crap and spoiled milk in the morning. The other less appealing point of this all was the lack of civilization. I mean, we were living on the top of a mountain, more than an hour away from the last thing that slightly resembled a town. What if one of the cows had decided to eat my arm off one night? I never even saw a hospital our entire stay in Switzerland.
Don't take the wrong impression about Switzerland, this was just my family's Idea of a decent place to stay. In the end, it turned out to be a lot better than I thought, since we were only 5 minutes away from the ski slope. After the first day, I really didn't like skiing, the same way I hadn't back when I was six. I couldn't possibly see the fun of doing this Seven more days in a row. Well the skiing gods must have come down and blessed me that evening, because I was the Ski master thereafter. I just got better and better as I went along. When I went to bed at night, I didn't care about the smell or the cows anymore, though the smell was rancid, I just wanted to get up and go skiing the next day. It was SOOOO much fun and I will gladly take any chance I get to do it again.
ONLY 3 DAYS UNTIL I SWITCH HOST FAMILIES!!!!!!!!!
I've heard that the new exchanges have already been chosen. Note to you guys: Home-sickness does happen. Don't fool yourself and think that it won't happen like I had. It's just now subsiding, but it was rampant for 2 months, at least (just ask my Mother).
My class is currently traveling in Austria, so I'm in the 11th grade (where I should be), and I love it. I'm going to get switched to that class as soon as I can.
It snowed today, first time in a while. They said it wasn't going to get any colder this winter, but I think the weather man is being tarred and feathered as we speak.
Not much else to say. I'll write another entry pretty soon, right after I change families. Trust me, I'll be a totally different, happy, less whiney Sam then.
Sam, Lord of Ski
May 15 Journal
I'm back. Please feel free to give me the virtual spanking I oh-so deserve for neglecting my journal duties.
SO going WAYYYYYY back, I switched my host families in mid-January. Moving in with the Sayks was a well needed breath of fresh air. It's amazing how having a ''Not so super-dee-duper'' family makes you appreciate the good ones better. MY new family consists of my host father Ralle (Dentist/model train god), Armust (Housewife/ Duchess of Jedeloh) and my DVD ripping brother, Lennart. I also have a host sister, Kathy, who's doing an exchange in Taiwan.
I had also switched to the 11th class a few months back, where I find myself much happier. It was much like changing host families in a way. Being able to start fresh with a decent grasp of the language seemed to invoke my new classmates with appreciation for my effort. They're a lot more accepting than my original class, and being the same age group helps a bit too.
Everything thereafter seemed to flow 'normally' until early April, when my mother decided to pay me a little visit. We traveled to Holland where we visited the University city of Groningen, and of course Amsterdam. Seeing my mother after all this time was like a pit stop. Two months seemed like a hop and a skip after she visited me.
As of late, I just returned from the Euro-tour. I traveled for two and a half weeks along with 52 other exchange students in the same bus, visiting a pretty big chunk of Europe. The trip went like this...
France: Strassburg(2 days)
Switzerland: Luzern and Engelberg(1 day)
Italy: Lavagna (2 days), Pisa (afternoon), Florence (1 day), Lido di Jesolo (2 days)
Hungary: Siofok (1 day), Budapest (2 days)
Austria: Vienna (1 day)
Czech Republik: Prague (2 days)
As you see, we covered quite a bit of territory. Making this tour made me open my eyes wider to the world, even more so than my exchange originally had. I decided on the highest peak in Budapest, that I no longer want to be a cook( it's ok guys, I'll still make you cake). I decided to become a cosmopolitan, a person of the world. I know my mother's probably thinking, ''Why couldn't I have had a normal child?'', but this is what I want to do. I'm not really sure how one comes upon being a Cosmopolitan, but since when have I had a clue about anything?
June 8 Journal
I remember my first week in Germany very well. It consisted of 7 showers, 21 meals, and the surgical attachment of German in 10 minutes a day to my right arm. A 'normal' week now is more like 4 showers, 14 meals, and constant debate on whether I should try to get my money back for German in 10 minutes a day or not. If you had asked me about a week at any other point in my exchange, I would have said something like, ''A week? You don't know how long a week is''. For me now, one week is just a baby step away. A baby step that will walk right up to you and give you a full kick to the face.
About two weeks ago, my dad, step-mom and their friend had come to visit me. They had decided to make a tour of many major German cities, which turned out pretty good since my major city tally was seriously lacking. We covered Berlin, Hamburg, Oldenburg (aka Home), Cologne and Frankfurt all in 6 days, with the help of our super-dee-duper First class eurotickets.
I had never ridden in the first class of a train before, which is an entirely different experience compared to the ''Exchange student class'' (one can sit on the floor for a third of the price). This was total luxus. You could have your own private 6-seat cabin where an attendant would bring more beer and chocolate than one could possibly consume, but it isn't easy getting a seat like this. As the train approaches, the potential first-class passengers start to swarm, trying to estimate where that door will be as the train actually stops. Then all hell breaks loose. As everyone's pushing and shoving in the doors, one struggles to maintain his luggage and sense of moral. Women using small children as excuses, war veterans flashing their 'Wounded in Battle' certificates, even old ladies throwing their walkers in front of other people. You name it, I've seen it. If you can overcome this, an exchange year seems like a breeze.
As that haunting day approaches, I try to soak in all that I can. I swear I've used my German-English dictionary more in the last 5 days than I have my entire year (not exaggerating). Packing up is the worst part of the exchange I think. I finally convinced myself a week ago that I was going to sit down and start packing my stuff, slowly but surely. Well I can honestly say that didn't happened until today. Rummaging through all of my stuff, I wish I could just chuck it all. Then upon seeing my liter beer mug collection, I think, ''Oh, I cant throw those away...'' Same story with the football tickets, posters and gummy bear wrappers.
I stopped at the post office on the way home from school today, to buy a well needed package to stuff all my crap in. I decided to stop and drink a cup of coffee before the epic 45 minute bus ride home. Well I swear everyone I've ever met in Germany was in that café. Seriously, both my old and new classes were there, my old host parents and all of my good exchange friends. This was supposedly in no way planned. As everyone had caught a glimpse of my bright yellow Deutsches Post box, I could see the shift in their facial expressions from, ''Hey, it's Sam!'', to , ''Holy crap, Sam go bye-bye...''
That takes us here, one and a half hours from, ''One Week.....'' Yes, Sam's English go bye-bye long time ago...
I plan on writing another journal after I've returned home, since it's not just the time you're gone, but before, during, and after the exchange. I look forward to working with future exchange students. I want to share my experience, adventures and mistakes with the 'newbies', so that it may further help them as they make their years abroad, just as the ones before me had done. To me, this is the greatest gift givable.
I just want to get in a great big Thank You to Al and the Youth Exchange committee, as well as my parents. Before my exchange, I was failing out of school and throwing away a life of opportunities, but that didn't stop you guys. I remember driving to Jacksonville to hand in my application to Al himself, on the last possible day. You guys gave me the chance that no one else in their right mind would have given me. You never gave up on me, which meant everything during a time when I had given up on myself. I thank you all again. I think it's safe to say that you guys saved my life.
And to all of the new exchange students, I hope you've enjoyed the Orientation process and were able to bond with each other as much as my group had. There's a whole new door open to you guys now, all you have to do is turn the handle. As you take these first baby steps through the door, don't forget to wear your face masks.