Robert "Chris" Strampello
2005-06 Outbound to Germany
Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Buchholz High School
Sponsor: Greater Gainesville Rotary Club
Host: Bochum-Hellweg Rotary Club, District 1900, Germany
October 11 Journal
It has been extremely tedious for me trying to sit down and write a journal entry. What story to tell, what adventure to recall, what funny incident should I share? For the past month and a half, I have been fretting with these questions. My life has changed so drastically that I could not comprehend explaining it in words. I felt that when I knew the real Germany, the entire greatness of this country... it would simply hit me like a ton of bricks. Luckily, yesterday I returned from a 2 week Germany Tour, and I finally feel like I truly have a grasp of my new home in most of its aspects. Let's start at the beginning....
On the 21st of August, I departed at 5:51 PM to embark on my new life. A layover in Detroit- 2 hours closer to my destination. More and more nervous every minute that passed. Now Amsterdam- I couldn't believe I was only an hour away from landing in Germany. ONE HOUR. The thought almost put me into tears. My emotions were running rampant, and there was a pit in my stomach the size of a watermelon. I had no idea what to expect. My mood was lifted when I realized that at least 10 of the 40 people on my city-hopper jet were dressed in cowboy boots and hats, when I was amused by asking myself, "Is this plane headed for Germany, or Texas?!" I boarded the plane and tried to stay calm by meditating on something I know and love, the German language. Countless times I mentally repeated how I was going to introduce myself, and explain how excited I was to be there. That minute period of time passed fairly quickly, up until around the last 5 minutes when I really started to feel it. At 1:45 PM on the 22nd of August, I was reborn. When I walked through the terminal it felt more like a transition into a new life. When I hugged, and looked into the eyes of my new host brother and mother, who greeted me at the airport, that "speech" I had prepared shortly before was at that point no longer accessible in my brain. In fact, I was more or less speech-less. What does one say/do when they enter life? Well, babies usually cry, but that wouldn't have been appropriate. I looked around me, awestruck, knowing that I have been granted this opportunity of a lifetime and finally experiencing it full-throttle. This moment was the moment I had been thinking about every single day for the past 7 months when I was accepted into the youth exchange program. I remembered being in my sister's bedroom, frantically tearing apart the package from Rotary which would determine not only the next year of my life, but my life in general. After reading the bold "CONGRATULATIONS" and "GERMANY" I literally did a back-flip because I was so happy. The moment I landed in Germany was something I will remember equally as vividly in retrospect, because it made me feel an emotion that I have have never felt before, and also one you can not feel unless you are in that same situation. One of those pivotal points that will undoubtedly stay with you forever.
Ever since the time I landed in Germany my life has been filled with ups and downs- fortunately more ups than downs. I think I was extremely luckily with my first host family. We live in a quaint community on the southern part of town. My family consists of my host mother Leni, father Berd, 19 year old host sister Charlotte who was in Colorado on exchange, and 12 year old host brother Bene. I do not think I could have been awarded a better family. They are some of the nicest people I have ever met. Granted, they will never be able to compare to my real family, but if I had to pick any surrogate family of my choice, the Wefers family would fill the spot. Upcoming exchangers: When Rotary says that your host mom will be the most important person in your life, believe it! Truthfully, I don't know what I would have done up until this point without her. Occasionally we will sit at the dining room table and talk from anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. It is so comforting having someone in your immediate grasp that you can relate to and that cares about you, ever if you aren't technically their "real" child.
The Thursday after I arrived I started school at the Albert-Einstein-Gymnasium. School is, well... difficult. Due to the fact that I had a good basis in the German language the school officials decided to place me in the 11th year, instead of the 10th where the 3 other exchangers were placed. They also decided that I didn't need any special curriculum to improve my German. Therefore, I would be taking the same classes, and ultimately be on the same level as all the other people in my year. At first, I was gratified at these decisions and I was eager about going to school and being an active member of the lessons. My first class ever in Germany was Math. Within the first 15 minutes I was having to prop my head up with my hand and fight the urge to fall asleep. Not only was I still a bit jet-lagged and physically exhausted from everything going on around me, but I simply wasn't ready for the language. Yes, I had no problem going up to a stranger and easily asking him/her where the nearest train station is, but trying to understand math, let alone in German? To my advantage my Gymnasium has a few English-bilingual classes, classes for students who are fluent in English to help them become more efficient in their language skills. These classes are: History, English, and Social Science. Not so coincidentally, these classes happen to be my favorite. However, the language is not the only problem, the teachers here are very different from American teachers. The students are great- always kind, helpful, and supportive. However, I hate to say this, but so far I have come to the conclusion that most German teachers are more like the "stereotypical German." They are often very cold, distant, and not so understanding. This is one of the only things that I have had quite a hard time coping with. As I said to a fellow American exchange student during the first inbound weekend, after which she heartily agreed, "I never knew how grateful I should be towards American teachers until I came to Germany." It is not my intent to scare anyone off, or to make anyone think the Germans are cold, heartless individuals, instead give you all a visualization of how things work differently here. It is simply an example of how people can so easily take things for granted.
Only one of the many things I have had to get used to....
Speaking of getting used to something- Public Transportation. This was a phrase very rarely used in my English vocabulary, whereas here it is a necessity of life. Getting to school everyday is what I like to call an "expedition", me having to take a tram to the HauptBahnhof (main train station), from which I must run up to the bus platform to catch either the 349 or 356 bus to school. By now I have memorized almost every bus and tram schedule in the whole city of Bochum. Although, this has been anything but an easy task- having taken much forehand trial and error. I was either lost or missed the bus an average of 2-3 times a day in the first weeks of me being here. "Pünktlich"... learn the word if you ever plan of coming to Germany!
One of the more recent and exciting occurrences I have participated in is my Deutschland Tour. On this tour 47 other inbound exchange students from my district and I went to Hamburg, Berlin, Weimar, Dresden, and Munich. It was the experience of a lifetime. On this trip I felt more understood than in a long while. There is nothing like relating to other exchange students, because they know exactly what you are going through and are forced to be just as open-minded as you are. I loved the feeling, and we all bonded immediately. During this trip I also realized how proud of myself I should be. I have matured so much the last 6 weeks... my German language skills have improved rapidly (although I sadly say I am not yet fluent), I am inevitably more accepting of things I don't always want to accept, and I have boundless more self-confidence. Germany is an amazing country, and it was wonderful seeing most of it with people I have come to love. During the trip, we didn't feel like tourists. More like visitors from another part of the country. I truly loved that feeling. Germany is now our home, and we all felt it on the same level. By the end of the trip we were all one big family, and it was hard saying good-bye.
A Good-Bye doesn't last forever...
As for home-sickness, I feel it now and then. In the first few weeks I must say I really didn't feel it at all. I only shed a few tears at the airport, and it wasn't until the 2nd or 3rd week that I truly realized that I could not consider, nor treat, my new life like a vacation. It was very hard doing this. I miss my family, my friends, my old life. Whenever I talk to my mom on the phone I get this ache in my heart and I don't ever want to say good-bye. However, I have to tell myself that I have this opportunity and I must take advantage of it. I will see everyone from home in a short 9 months or so, but on the other hand I am only here for another short 9 months. Another important phrase: Carpe Diem.
I am going to leave you all with a very amusing story that my German friends still like to pick on me about. There is a Pizzeria within short walking distance from school that my friends and I go to very often during school breaks. Everyday after he got his pizza to-go, my mate John would ask the chef, "Ist die Pizza schon geschnitten?" This means, "Is the pizza already sliced?" Well, one day I wanted to ask the same question, but mine didn't come out quite right. I proceeded to ask, "Ist die Pizza schon beschnitten?" Beschnitten is the German word for circumcised. Haha... they all had a ball laughing at me. I had a ball laughing at myself.
On that note, I got to run..
...Thank you Mom, Family, Host Fam, Rotary, Friends, and all of you that supported me. I love you all, and have endless gratitude for the way you have helped me grow so much.