Hey everyone! My name is Joanie Davis, I'm 15 years old and I live in Jacksonville, Florida. I'm a Sophomore at Bartram Trail High School, and I enjoy drawing, painting, and writing. I also enjoy tubing on the St. Johns River and surfing in the summer. My favorite classes in school are Math and Fashion Production.
My family and friends are very important to me. It will be hard leaving them for almost a year, but the experience of being an exchange student is totally worth it. I live with my mom, dad, and my younger sister Ashley. She's 12 and attends Switzerland Point Middle School (No, it's not in Switzerland). I also have two pets, a Siberian Husky named Bandit, and a Lovebird named Sunshine. I have many friends that I enjoy spending time with. On weekends we go tubing, jet skiing, and sometimes to the movies and mall.
I am so excited, and still in shock that I have the chance to be an exchange student. I am thrilled that I will be spending my junior year in Germany. It was my first choice (lucky me), and I am so excited I don't want to wait 5 months before I get to go. I will be spending almost a year in Germany, learning the language, culture, and meeting new people. This would probably be the most amazing thing that has ever happened in my life. Thanks Rotary for allowing me to have this amazing opportunity.
July 22 Journal
Hi everyone! Although I have not yet left on my exchange, I would still like to write a journal about how I'm feeling before I embark on this year long journey. I have only 13 days before I leave and it doesn't feel real yet. It has not hit me that I will be leaving my friends and family and live in another country for a year. Every time I tell someone that they look at me like I'm crazy. Often people ask me if I'm scared, excited, or nervous. But honestly, I don't feel any of those emotions. I actually don't feel any emotion I can possible think of. It's something new, weird, and I just can't explain it. This is a strange thing for me because I can usually explain how I feel in any situation but not in this one. Only someone that has or will be an exchange student knows what this odd feeling is like.
On July 11th my friend Anne went back to Denmark. It was a really sad day , and our group was crying so hard. Just like a car accident everyone stared at us as they walked by. Although it was terribly upsetting for everyone, I felt happy at the same time. This wasn't a "goodbye" it was more of a "see you soon". This is something I'm going to remember when it comes time for me to come back home. It takes a lot of sadness out of the leaving and makes it a lot more joyous. I think this experience will prepare me for my exchange.
Lucky for me, I've been talking to my first host family for a lot longer than most outbounds. I've really become attached to them, and I feel like I know them good enough to feel very comfortable in their home. I will have one host sister name Leonie. She is the cutest little girl I've ever seen. My host parents are so nice, and completely different from my parents. I am really excited about finally getting to meet them. That's the only emotion I can find that fits any part of my exchange. I'm excited to meet my new family.
After I finished writing this, I read Katie's journal and almost screamed when I read the part about the indescribable emotion. I think we'll need to find a good name for it.
August 25 Journal
Hallo! I had been homesick before I'd ever left the country. A week before I left it started. I felt like I'd made the biggest mistake of my life. The night before I left was awful. I was terribly depressed, and I was crying a lot. The next morning my mom woke me and asked if I still wanted to do this. I wanted to say no so bad. The last thing I wanted to do was get on the airplane and leave for a year. The first night in Germany I was so homesick I wanted to leave so bad. It lasted 3 days and out of nowhere it stopped. I wanted to stay, I didn't want to leave. And everyday I am so happy that I decided to go, because I have met so many great people and I would have missed out on a chance of a lifetime.
I'm not going to write about my flight to Germany because it was so uneventful, it's not even worth writing about. 7 hour layover in Detroit, ancient airplane, and loss of all my knowledge of the German language covers just about everything. So I've been in Germany for about three weeks, and it's everything I imagined it would be. I have already been attending school for two weeks. If you think going to high school in your own country is tough, imagine going to high school in an unfamiliar place, with little knowledge of the language, and not a single friend as far as the eye can see. That was a terrifying experience for me. Never in my life have I been nervous to go to school , but that all changed August 13th. I woke up and I thought I was going to have to go to the hospital. I couldn't stop freaking out, I was hyperventilating, and my heart was beating so hard I could hear it. It took about an hour before I could even start to get ready to go. Because it was my first day, my host mom drove me to school. As soon as we turned into the parking lot I started freaking out again. I kept asking myself ''What's wrong with you?'' I couldn't calm down; it was terrible. I had no clue where I was going, and I most definitely couldn't ask anyone because I wasn't ready for everyone to know that I was foreign. I finally found my first class and quickly took a seat in the very back, and immediately a girl started talking to me. It was the fastest I have ever heard anyone speak. She must have said every word in German in about 2 minutes. I just stared at her for a really long time. My eyes must have been popping out of my head. She then gasped, grabbed me by the arm and exclaimed ''ARE YOU JOANIE?'' My cover was blown and 20 pairs of eyes were staring at me. I quickly nodded my head and she smiled and looked really excited. This was just the start of a very crazy day.
School had ended and I had to take the city bus home. I was by myself, and my German is at the level of a 4 year old. I walked on the bus, swiped my bus card and took a seat. It was about 3 minutes into the ride when I heard the bus driver speaking over the intercom. I didn't know what he was saying so I just sat there. Soon everyone on the bus was staring at me as the driver continued talking. His voice seamed a bit more irritated so I figured he was talking to me. I turned to the girl next to me and asked ''What is he saying?'' Strange enough she answered me in French. I searched around panicking and the girl called out ''English!'' Thankfully a very, very nice man on the bus spoke English and told me the driver wanted to see my card. I couldn't understand why. SO I walked to the front of the bus almost falling over because he was a terrible driver and showed him my card. He thought I hadn't swiped it , though it made a very loud, distinct ''Beep.'' The whole ride home everyone continued to stare at me and whispered.
Since that day, things have been getting better and better. I've met so many great people, and seen some amazing things. Like the cathedral in Köln. Whoa. So big I couldn't fit the entire thing into a picture no matter where I stood. And the only disco in Neuss. About the size of my room and 200 people inside. If you are the least bit claustrophobic I highly suggest that you never go there.
This is a terrible summary of everything that's happened so far, but I want you to read my journals so I'll keep all of them short.
September 17 Journal
I've lost track of how long I've been here, although I am aware it hasn't been long. It's really strange because it feels like a lifetime already. Since the very first day of my exchange I've experienced every emotion a person can experience. Things are really bipolar all the time, and there are times when you think you need a therapist. Like I said in my second journal, in the beginning things were awful. But shortly after everything was so marvelous I didn't think such a feeling could exist. But out of nowhere another emotion hit me. I wasn't that excited like I used to be. When I would go to festivals, and to the the disco when I first arrived it was like Christmas morning. Now all those things feel more like Easter. There might be a present waiting for you that morning. but it's nothing like Christmas. But now I realize I'm in the next step of my exchange, 'Boredom'. Everything feels so routine, and I'm a little uninterested in my friends, and the plans they make. Now my bus rides are so uneventful, it's saddening. Thankfully in 2 weeks I will be embarking on a journey around Germany, for a full 2 weeks. I'm so excited for that, because during that time I'll probably miss my friends so much that when I return, I am excited to see them all again and do whatever it is they have planned. Whether it's making scary movies in the basement of the apartment, or shopping in Düsseldorf. I know the feeling of boredom passes eventually, so I'm having to be really creative so I can keep myself occupied until things become 'marvelous' again.
Enough talking about emotions, now I want to tell you about all the fun stuff I've been doing these past few weeks. I went to Neuß Schützenfest (the biggest in Germany) it felt so much like the County Fair, the only difference was the significant lack of mullets, funnel cakes, and country music. Last weekend I went to Rotex Weekend (which was quite unorganized I might add). There were 72 of us in a tiny gym, and we had our sleeping bags crammed in any place we could find. All night we fought one another for space and our blankets. We used our clothing as pillows and yoga mats as mattresses. (All you future Outbounds better not complain about those bunks at Lake Yale.)
Fun Facts About Germany:
*Deodorant is optional -The older you are the more 'optional' it becomes.
*Unlike the yellow bus you take to school, my 16 wheeled Mercedes will not wait for you. You can chase it down, swear at it, and beat on the door, you will not be getting on that bus.
*There is no such thing as 'No room' on the bus.
*There are only 3 flavors of chips here, and no they are not ranch, cheese, or salt and vinegar
*People eat 2-3 sandwiches during the school day
*In the grocery store, there is every jelly flavor you can think of (even strawberry vanilla), too bad Grape is not one of them.
*People will freak out if you drink water from the sink.
*People will stare at you if you are caught using hand sanitizer, but once they smell it they start covering their faces like noxious gas has just entered the room.
*The Fanta here tastes like orange cough syrup. ew
November 6 Journal
Tonight I have decided I will stop procrastinating, and finally do my Germany Tour journal. Everyone has been asking me about it, wondering where it is, but it's here now. This journal will only be about this incredible two week tour around Germany I went on a month ago. I'll write another journal later letting you all know what I've been up to this past month.
First stop on the tour was Heidelberg. I must say, this was probably the most gorgeous city I've ever seen in my life. It could possibly be due to the fact that the sun was shining for once, but the city was pretty nice too. Heidelberg is home to the oldest university in Germany and has a really ugly destroyed castle sitting above the city. It looks really cool until you find out it's not 2000 years old, the French just decided to do some renovations. Walking up to see that castle was terrible, it was so steep and so early in the morning, it was unbearable. Needless to say my legs hurt bad.
Next was Freiburg. I was also really impressed with this city. It was really similar to Heidelberg, only instead of a castle, there is the church Münster. My new host dad lived in this city. He wanted me to tell you that. Also my legs and everything else on my body hurt from the day before.
Then we went to Füssen and Oberammergau. This day was the worst workout of my life. The day before in Freiburg me and a few others got lost one night and walked around for hours so our legs hurt really really bad. Then the next day we walked up a mountain to see the castle Neuschwanstein. Normal people ride in a wagon pulled by a horse, but the tour decided to be cheap and make us walk up this terrible slope. My legs were already killing me from the past 3 days of climbing and walking. I tried to hitch a ride on the back of a wagon. My plan failed and I ended up walking uphill for another 35 minutes. We finally reached the top and I smiled at the thought that I would be walking downhill on a nice paved road. I couldn't have been more wrong. Instead of taking the road (I don't know why we didn't) we took an even steeper wet, rocky, and dangerous trail back down. I slipped so many times it no longer scared me when it happened, I just expected it. I almost cried when we finally reached the bottom.
We got on the bus and were ready to go to Oberammergau. We were staying in a little house on a small mountain. My legs were practically incapable of moving and I hadn't slept in 4 days. We finally reach our destination and were about to go up the mountain when suddenly the bus turns around, and stops. Guess what, the bus can't make it up so we get to carry our gigantic suitcases up a mountain. I'm not kidding, it was raining, cold, my suitcase weighed as much as it did when I left the US (50 lbs exactly) and I have to carry the stupid thing up the mountain. I honestly didn't think I could carry myself up the mountain.
Two and a half hours later we reached the top and it looked like we were in ''hillbilly town'' I was shocked, I saw a small hut and two outhouses and almost screamed. ''Oh my God! We're staying in that!!!!'' Those were my exact words. But there is good news and bad news to this, good news we weren't staying there. Bad news where were staying is another 45 minutes up the mountain.
When we actually got there I was relieved to see a cute Bavarian house and the smiling faces of the family who owned it. I was very relieved, but my legs were dead. Being the aggressive person I am I raced to the front of the line and called the room with 4 people (I had slept in the room of 16 the night before, one big bed for 16 people). I was very excited because I was going to get to sleep that night. The minute I walked into the room I wanted to walk right back out. I think the owner must have shot and stuffed every animal on the mountain. The room was filled with these scary dead animals. I had a mountain lion looking creature above my head staring at me as I slept all night. Needless to say I didn't sleep so well.
Then we went to Munich. We went to Oktoberfest, enough said. Next we went to Dachau, 1 hour out of Munich. We went to a concentration camp and was mortified. As I walked through the gates I kept on thinking of all the people that walked through those very same gates that never made it out. We walked through the museum and then saw the gas chambers. Nobody was very cheerful for the rest of the day.
Next we went to Berlin. I absolutely love that city. There is so much history and so many interesting things. I felt so rushed, I don't feel like I saw it, but what I did see of it I really like. I saw the bare Berlin Wall, I saw Soviet watch towers, and stood on a piece of sidewalk in front of an apartment complex where Hitler's bunker was buried. It was a little odd thinking that there was a bunker below my feet because it was just a regular sidewalk. I also went to Check Point Charlie. I didn't have my passport so I couldn't get the stamps. I was bummed.
I feel that Germany Tour will be very similar to Euro Tour, so I'm going to share a little advice with everyone.
*Pack light, you have to carry your suitcase up and down 6 flights of stares everyday
*Don't bring an ATM card with you , bring cash. You will spend all of your free time looking for a specific bank.
*Get used to nasty things. The youth hostels are pretty disgusting.
*Your diet will consist of Haribo, chocolate, McDonalds, Dönner, hostel sink water, and beer.
*Don't forget a towel
*Bring your Ipod, Ipod charger, camera, extra memory card, and camera charger.
*Don't expect to sleep at all
*Don't expect to sleep on the bus, the Brazilians never shut up and sing just to make you mad.
*Don't sleep on the bus, your friends aren't always your friends.
*Don't buy the souvenirs next to Checkpoint Charlie, Neuschwanstein etc.; walk two streets down and the exact same things are 2€ cheaper.
Well that's all for now. I'll have my next journal up in the next few days.
December 14 Journal
''I'll have my next journal up in the next few days.'' Ok, so it's been a couple days later (38 to be exact) it looks like I didn't procrastinate at all and this journal is right on time.
There's too much to cram into this one journal, so I think I will just talk about current issues. I think I will start this journal talking about how Christmas-obsessed these Germans are. It's crazy! They remind me a lot of the Whos from '' The Grinch that Stole Christmas''. There's Christmas lights hanging on absolutely everything you can put lights on, there's Christmas trees on every corner, the windows in every store are frosted and have snowflakes, lights, and ornaments from top to bottom. I've run into people a few times because I was walking and staring at the same time. Every city has a Christmas Market and it's fantastic, hand-made ornaments, gifts, waffles, and of course the humongous portions of fries. During Christmas they sell a special drink called '' Glühwein''. It's hot wine with rum and sugar. It tastes amazing, and everywhere you go someone forces you to try it no matter how many times you say ''I've had it before'' you will end up drinking a huge mug of this stuff.
I'm going to be completely honest. Germans have the worst case of OCD in the world. Clothes must be folded in your closet as if it were in a department store, shoes go from, sandals, to converse, to heels, to boots. The hangers must all be facing the same way, clothes must be evenly spaced apart when hung, your scarves must be folded in half twice then put on hanger. Your bed must be made the way you see it in IKEA's model bedrooms. In the shower after you're done using it you must clean the hair out of the drain, spray it down with some nasty spray and wipe it dry with a towel. Next you have to open the window and wipe every last bit of water off of the floor. It's literally a chore to take a shower.
There are a lot of immigrants from Turkey and the Middle East in Germany. Whenever they ask someone questions about you it's ''Is she married?'' , ''How may kids does she have?'' , and ''How old is she?'' Or they will randomly walk up to you and ask you those same questions. One day a Syrian woman from my German class walked up to me and asked me the three questions. I said no to the first two and sixteen to the last. She bugged her eyes out at me ''Sixteen and you're not married!'' ''What will your parents do with you?'' I couldn't help but laugh a little, it was hilarious. She then said, "I have a very nice cousin who I can introduce you to. You're parents will thank me so much for this." I told her no thanks and that my parents really aren't worried about me getting married. She looked at me weird and walked to her bike.
The next day I rode my bike to my German lessons and and almost crashed into the bike racks as I saw this woman standing there with a 25 year old man. I pretended like I didn't see her and walked toward the door of the VHS. She called out ''Johnny, Johnny!'' I turned around and she was standing there beaming, I walked over and she told me that this was her cousin and she told me he wanted to marry me. ''WHAT!!'' I exclaimed and I ran as fast as I could to the the door, ran up the stairs and sat in my seat 4 minutes early for class. I was so shocked, I thought this kind of stuff only happened in Thailand, but apparently I was very wrong. Needless to say my little Syrian friend has not talked to me since.
My German is not as good as I thought it would be at this point. But I understand 90 % of everything that is said to me. I don't speak German that well, but I can give directions, order food anywhere, ask people questions, tell people what I'm going to do today and so on. I've been here four months, and I've thought about how much I've accomplished in learning this language and I think I'm doing pretty good so far. If in a matter of four months I have become capable of understanding the German language, imagine how well I will be able to speak German in another four months. When I think about that I'm no longer disappointed, I'm very proud of myself. Some people may know their language a lot better than I do, but as long as I am happy with what I know, that's all that matters.
Well, that's all for now. I promise my next journal will be a lot more exciting because there will be a lot going on here for the next couple weeks.
Oh, and by the way, I'm fat now. Thanks Germany.
January 10 Journal
During the holiday break, exchange students can explore their country without worrying about school, visit with the other exchange students, and find themselves doing the dumbest things possible.
Christmas was a very interesting experience for me. We didn't get to see the tree until Christmas Eve and everyone just tears open their presents and presents that don't even belong to them. Maybe it's just my host family, but that was really strange. It was all over in 10 minutes and then we went to bed. The next day was Christmas, but that has absolutely no significance here other than the fact that ''haha all the stores are closed! Looks like you're going to walk around with no deodorant!'' It was bad, but I stole some from my friend who has about 6 cans. But still the stores were closed so I had to find some way to entertain myself. All my friends were at their Grandparents' house, so I rode the Regio Bahn (small train that connects with very small cities) aimlessly for a few hours. I know I'm lame, but a lot of exchange students do that, and it really gives you time to just sit and listen to your iPod for a while. I have a schokoticket so I can go anywhere from the Düsseldorf area to Dortmund. It's pretty nice having that ticket because you can see different cities, and meet up with some people you know.
The next day was the day after Christmas, and for some stupid reason the shops were still closed, but my exchange student friends were free that day and we decided to just walk around Düsseldorf for a couple hours and sit in Starbucks for 2 hours. We are all in the HBF (train station) and we go down the escalator that wasn't moving, it suddenly turns on and starts going up. Strike one for foreigners. I live in Düsseldorf, so I know the city and which train goes where, but my friend Stefan thought he did too. He was yelling ''This is the right one, this is the right one!'' It definitely wasn't, the ''right'' train didn't come for another minute. But he insisted. It was the end station for this train because it said ''Düsseldorf HBF'' on the side. I don't know why I got on, because no one else was on, I knew it was wrong. I figured they would yell at us so Stefan would know that he's an idiot and should never lead the way. But instead of anyone stopping us or telling us to get off, the train shuts its doors, and goes flying off into some dark scary tunnel. Then the lights go out. I immediately screamed ''Stefan you ____!!!'' I'll let you use your imagination for that one. So, we're underground in this train, it's really really dark, and really really cold. Then suddenly I heard this loud slam noise as the train rocked side to side. I thought another train had hit us, but it was only the wind of another train going by a bit faster than it should have. It scared all 4 of us to the point where...I heard the sound of a bottle top popping off. ''Are you drinking a beer!?'' I exclaimed to my friend Alli. She replied with ''Why not?'' I couldn't help but start laughing so hard I couldn't breathe. 15 minutes later we see a man with a flashlight walking along the edge of the train, it was the driver, so we knew we'd be out of here soon, but what on earth do we say to this guy. Luckily my friend Stefan has been studying German since her was 8, and without any trouble explained what happened. The driver rolled his eyes and thought we were the dumbest people on earth. I think that might be strike 2, possibly 3. That was pretty bad.
Sauerkraut. OK that stuff, I cannot eat it. It's awful. I almost die every time I have to eat it. My host mom bought this industrial sized bag, filled with little bags of sauerkraut. So we've been eating sauerkraut everyday since Christmas. This still is really gross. She's gotten bored with just plain sauerkraut so she's been using her imagination a lot, and figuring out what she can make with it. Once it was mixed with pineapple, another with time with raisins (Germans don't like it when you tell them you don't like something, even when they insist you, don't). This evening she was making a quick dinner for me and my host brother, before she and my host dad went to a Cabaret. I figured bread and butter. I was ok with that until I got upstairs and smelled the stench of you know what. Sauerkraut. ''Oh please no.'' I whispered quietly while walking up the steps. I looked in this bowl, and it was some kind of sauerkraut soup. I was really grossed out. But never showed it. There was a big bottle of Chili-Garlic sauce on the table, and in attempt to mask the flavor, I dumped a huge blob of it right in the center of my soup. Everyone else did so, but my soup was the only one that was red. I knew I had put waaaayy too much in my soup. I was so scared to eat it, but I did anyway. It tasted like sauerkraut and really wasn't spicy at all. Halfway through eating this stuff and trying not to gag my stomach burned like fire. But I still had half a bowl to go and I almost cried, but I ate it anyway. I had the worst heartburn of my life. Now I know what everyone's talking about when they say Tums are a must in India.
The other day I was waiting for a friend at a bus stop. I got really tired and lazy so I leaned up against the fence of someone's yard or something. I didn't turn around to look. I was in deep thought while staring at the cars on the street. When suddenly something bit my elbow. It scared me and I screamed like a little girl. I had leaned up against a farmer's house and a DONKEY bit my elbow. I've never really seen a donkey before so I'm just going by Shrek here. My host dad thinks it was a pony. but that thing was so ugly . If that was a pony, why on earth would every little girl on earth want one. That thing was a donkey and I will stand by my words.
Well, that's pretty much all that's happened since I last wrote. I promise I'll write again soon.
May 15 Journal
I can't believe it was January the last time I wrote a journal. Time just goes by too fast. It's really sad because I only have 24 days left in Germany. I can easily remember sitting in my room with 9 months to go wishing it would move just a bit faster. It's not that I wasn't interested in the things around me, it's just 9 months looks like a long time, too much time. But really, it's no where near enough time. I never want my exchange to end. I've had my ups and downs this year. No matter how terrible it can be sometimes, I will honestly say this has been the best year of my life. I have learned and grown so much, and I have met so many amazing people, and I can speak German. I know Germany now, I can live life here as easy as I could in the US. Coming to Germany, I thought I was going to learn a language and a new culture. I've learned that, plus I'm the master of German transportation. The buses, trains, subways, everything. I've also learned the more useful measuring system. (Science will be so much easier now.) It's just a shame that I've learned all these things, and I'm now going home in 4 weeks. I now understand what the Rotex meant when they said it wasn't enough time.
I've been extremely busy these past few months, so I've been unable to write my journal. Now let's go back to February. Towards the end of February we celebrate Karneval. Many countries celebrate it, but I'd like to think Germany has the best one in Europe. I live in Düsseldorf so I was in one of the 2 best cities in Germany to celebrate Karneval. I also celebrated in Köln, the city in Germany with the biggest celebration. I went to a Rotex Weekend for 2 of the days and had so much fun. We had to dress up in costumes, it was mandatory. If you didn't have a costume they made you wear a plastic garbage bag.
Next in March I had my birthday on the 12th. I went out to a really nice restaurant with my host mom, my host sister, and 3 of my friends. It was probably one of the smallest birthdays I've had; but I was so happy to see that people I've known for less than a year would come to my house in the pouring rain, to deliver a cake and sing me happy birthday. Only a few days after that my parents came. That was a really weird experience. I just kept thinking that they don't belong here. It was really unusual seeing them in this setting. It's the same way I'm going to feel when my German friends come and visit me in Florida. It's a little odd. I associate my parents with beach, sun, my house, Jacksonville. Not Germany, trains, my hangouts. I think it took 3 days to get over the weirdness.
The day my parents left I went on Eurotour with Andee. The tour was 3 weeks long. I have never gone that long without sleep before. I had the time of my life. in 21 days we went to Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Padua, Venice, Rome, Florence, Pisa, Nice, Monaco, Avignon, Geneva, and Paris. I got to see so many amazing things, and spend every waking moment with some of the most amazing people I've ever met in my life. It was incredible.
What's also incredible is the grade I got on my German Exam. I took an exam last week with 14 other foreigners. These exams prepare you for the exam that decides whether you stay in Germany or not. (I'm only 1 exam away from taking that one. But I don't need to take it.) I took my exam last week, 6 months behind in the book. (I took it early because I won't be hear in September.) This exam consisted of a reading, hearing, writing, and a speaking section. It was really hard I was so nervous the whole time. I got 94 out 100 points on that exam. It was a very good day.
It's really scary knowing that your exchange is ending in only a few short weeks. I'm homesick and I haven't even left yet. I'm really don't want to leave, the last thing I want to do is go home, I'm not ready yet. I feel the exact same way as I did coming over. I guess it really shows that I've become attached to this place. I will miss the friends I've made here so much. I've become so close to them in just one short year.
Thanks Rotary, none of this would have happened without you.