Hello! I'm Kyle Steed, and I'm seventeen years old. I've lived in Jacksonville all of my life so far, with my parents and younger brother, Aaron. I am a senior at Stanton College Preparatory School ('08!) and loving it. And by that I mean "not failing."
As for things I do with my time-- My brother and I are involved in the youth group at our Presbyterian church quite a bit, and I occasionally play music there. I've played violin for almost four years now and I'm not too bad. I got into the violin because I took a liking to classical music, and though that's definitely my favorite kind, I'll listen to anything as long as it doesn't hurt to. Literature is something I've recently developed a greater appreciation for, and I enjoy reading the old classics. Lastly, I like learning all I can about world cultures and languages, and one of my hobbies would definitely be staying up-to-date on world affairs. I'd like to study as many languages as possible in college.
A foreign exchange was definitely not something I had seriously considered before one of my teachers suggested that I do it, but I've since become very excited about it and can't imagine not doing it now. I'm incredibly thankful for this opportunity, and I plan to make the most I can out of it.
September 16 Journal
So I've finally gotten around to writing my journal! I apologize for keeping you all in such suspense. I'll start with my first day here, since I find airport stories so uninteresting:
I arrived in Bremen around 10:30 in the morning and met my host brother, Peter, outside the gate. We didn't recognize each other at first, because the only pictures my family had seen of me were taken when I had my awesome long hair, and my family (for whatever reason) expected me to be really tall. My host mother said that, before I came, she was afraid I wouldn't be able to fit in the bed. Anyway, I eventually found Peter, and he immediately started speaking to me in German on fast-forward. I've taken four years' worth of German in school and could only laugh when he spoke to me because, I'll be honest, I thought I wouldn't have a very tough time with the language. A minute with him, nodding and smiling as these words flew out of his mouth, made me realize how much work I had ahead of me. Ingrid, my host mother, came from parking the car, and we made our way back to the parking lot with my cart of 120 lbs or so full of stuff. The ride to Oldenburg wasn't very long, and we had a nice conversation over the German countryside in Denglish, my combination of German and English. When we got home and unloaded my luggage, my host mother realized how much of what I had brought was clothes. She actually looked a little bit frightened, while I thought that I had done a good job of keeping things to a minimum. Relatively. She told me that here, they wear the same shirt two or three times before washing it, and jeans maybe half a month or so (we've recently agreed to split the job of ironing the laundry). The rest of the day is a blur, since I hadn't slept at all on the flights to Deutschland. We ate some salad, and then I went to bed sometime thereafter.
The first week, I went on a couple bicycle tours with the family. We rode to Bad Zwischenahn, a little village situated near a lake, and on a course through the country around Oldenburg with a stop at a German Melkhus (“milk-house”), where I had a fantastic chocolate shake. My host father, Gerd, goes on real bike tours through different countries, so for him these were a breeze. I'm already boring myself with this journal so I think I'll take a different approach:
I'm so happy to be with my current host family. Peter's very patient with me, and always invites me to go out with him and his friends. Still though, after a month of being here, I really need to devote all my attention to understanding him when he speaks. He speaks crazy-fast. I am seriously considering organizing a party the day I can have a flawless conversation with him. My host mother seems just as happy to have me here as I am to be here. She was an exchange student in America some years ago, so of course she knows just how I feel (and can speak great English). And then my host father is awesome. He speaks English perfectly, too, and with a slightly British/Irish accent, and he blurts things out in English in the middle of long strings of German. I always find myself laughing around him. The family has taken to calling me der Keilige, a combination of my name and the German word for “holy,” heilig. And then apparently, I fit in very well with the family! A few people have said to Peter “Oh! You look like you could pass for part of the family!”
Oldenburg is a great place for an exchange. With 160,000 people, it's large enough to keep you occupied, and small enough where you can see plenty of people you know during a simple walk through downtown. We live just a couple kilometers from farms and the countryside while having all the benefits of a larger city. And at the moment, Oldenburg is having a couple-weeks-long celebration of its 900th anniversary, so on weekends there's always plenty going on around town.
I've been in school for about four weeks now, and things certainly are moving along. My host mother arranged for me to go to Peter's school shortly after school started, which I'm very grateful for. The first school I went to was pretty depressing, but the one I'm at now is great: it's smaller and warmer, and now after these few weeks I'm really starting to feel like I'm a part of the school. I've joined the school's choir and symphony, which are the two things the school's known throughout Oldenburg for, and I can't wait for our next practice. As for the lessons, I must admit that they're pretty boring. But hey, that's school, right? Oh! I love the situation they have here with schedules. There are some days where I'll have two hours of classes and then two free hours before my next class, during which we're free to go anywhere and do whatever. The school is so close to our house that I usually just ride my bike home and chill; or if friends have the same hours off, then we walk downtown (right across the street) and grab something to eat. Speaking of eating, people can and do bring their dogs inside restaurants and department stores here, which I found pretty odd. And department stores! I didn't really believe people when they told me that clothes here are expensive, but they really are. My host mother took me to what she called “one of the cheaper stores” and I seriously thought she was pulling my leg, maybe with her German sense of humor, when I looked at the prices of everything. But she was serious. Maybe I should make a “Miscellaneous” topic for things like this to go under.
I think I like the food here. For breakfast, Frühstück, on weekdays I have this incredible cereal-stuff called Müsli, with little bits of chocolate in it. Breakfast on weekends is bread (German bread is great) with butter and then wurst, cheese, jam or prosciutto-type meat; a soft-boiled egg; freshly-squeezed orange juice; and some tea. The main meal of the day, Mittagessen, is usually in the afternoon, which I really like now. It didn't take much to get used to coming home from school to a great meal (Gerd cooks fantastically). And then the evening meal, Abendbrot (literally,“evening bread”), is bread with the things I mentioned before. I thought I'd be pigging out here in Germany, but I've actually kept my appetite under control. No, really.
I'm quite proud of the progress I'm making with German. It's not incredible, to be sure, but it's clear. I am very happy now to have been placed in Germany, because my four years of German have really made a difference. Of course I'm nowhere near fluent, but I'm at the point now where I don't plan everything that I'm going to say to someone before I walk up and talk to them (making sure I have grammar and word order right, etc.). And boy does it feel good to carry on a conversation at a “native” speed! It seems like these words are just starting to line up by themselves, coming without thinking. And then I'm starting to think in German now! It's still little phrases that I think in, but it feels great nonetheless. I love this language. Some words are so literal (Dasein: existence, literally “there being”) and then there are those massive words that German's known for: I mean how great is it to be able to write words like Durchschnittsgeschwindigkeitor Stoffwechselzwischenprodukte on a regular basis in school?
Germans do have a sense of humor. Sometimes it can be a little odd, though, where you ask yourself “was he serious about that or not?” and no, he wasn't serious. Germans overall take a little more time to make friends with than is the case with most Americans. French fries are to be eaten swimming in mayonnaise. When eating dinner at the table, I had to train myself to keep my left arm on the tabletop. The first day here, my host mother asked my why I keep my left hand in my lap when I eat and I thought “Well, because I'm not using it!” But now I've learned to let it not be used on the table. Our bathroom here at home has a urinal. The windows here are marvels. It took me about fifteen minutes to figure out the windows in my room. And speaking of, the Germans really like to open their windows and let the fresh air in. In school, if the students ever need to draw a straight line at all (to underline a word, draw a graph, double-underline a word), out comes the straight-edge!
I think I'll bring this journal to a close. Before I do, though, I'd like to say how very, very much I appreciate being given this opportunity by Rotary and my family. I can say I've never loved a club up until now, and I thank everyone involved for such an incredible chance. I fully intend to make the most out of this year!
November 21 Journal
After three packed months of life here in Germany, I'm feeling pretty settled and German. I eat like a German, I dress like a German (after finally having bought socks that aren't white), I commute like a German, and try to talk like a German. As an added bonus, I even looked German to begin with!
I've been traveling quite a bit since my last journal. On the Day of German Unity, October 3rd, I went with my future host family to Hamburg for the celebrations, and to visit the city a bit. We stayed for three days and saw the biggest model train exhibit in the world, climbed to the top of a cathedral, and did some shopping. I had fun talking with their seven year-old son, Rasmus, and I can't wait to have him as my host brother. During the two weeks of Fall Break, I went with my current host family to London for a week, where I thoroughly enjoyed being a German tourist and having little girls look at me funny because I was speaking German with my host-mom - and afterwards I went on a trip through northern Germany with the other inbounds of my district, with a stop in my favorite European city, Berlin. I had been to most of the places we stopped at before because I had come to Germany for a week as a tourist about a year and a half ago, so I knew all the sights to take my inbound friends to in our free time.
Now to Oldenburg- I've managed to find my place in a circle of friends, many of whom, coincidentally, have been exchange students. It seems like a fifth of the people in my class have spent a year somewhere; which is different from home, where I knew of no one in my school who had spent a year abroad (outside of Rev). Having such friends has been a blessing. They understand what I'm going through, how hard the process of integration can be, and make it a point to engage me when I'm otherwise clueless as to what's going on (which is happening markedly less often).
Just a week ago, I went with the upper classes in my school on a Orchester- und Chorfahrt, where the school's choir and orchestra go to an enormous youth hostel for four days and do nothing but practice. It was intense (I played violin so much that my teeth hurt- go figure), but I managed to get acquainted with students from the 13th grade (I'm in 12th) and had a lot of good conversations- being able to carry on a conversation without saying "nochmal, bitte" (say that again) always feels so rewarding. At any rate, I got to be the first violin for one night (that was an ego boost) and now I'm looking forward to our Advent Concert, held in Oldenburg's cathedral. It should be fantastic.
Speaking of carrying on conversations, I'm doing very well with German, if I may say so. There are still times when not knowing the simplest word derails my carefully assembled sentences, or rarely when I'm thinking too quickly I do this odd regression into American English pronunciation that happens involuntarily and can be pretty funny. If any of you are acquainted with Mark Twain's The Awful German Language, then you've got something of a view into what it's like to learn German. I often find myself laughing at how true it can be. I've improved very much in thinking in German, though, despite occasional slip up: for example, with the way that German grammar is laid out, I sometimes start this epic sentence and totally forget what I'm talking about because of how many sub-parentheses I've made (Like: "The baker, who works at the bakery, which was burned down by a boy earlier, who has a mother named Martha, who knits socks in her free time, which are usually of good quality, is an honest man). The Germans make sentences like those for sport and chuckle at the faces I make as I try to sort it all out in my head.
Lately I've started taking tennis lessons with my host brother, and I try to go biking after school regularly around the area. My host parents have a bit of that German Wanderlust inside and we go for strolls in the Ammerland, the flat farmland nearby Oldenburg, or, like one time, in the forests near a little town called Dötlingen, which- interesting fact- was actually chosen by the Third Reich as a model village.
Halloween wasn't really celebrated here. My host-nieces are among the kids who go around asking for candy on Halloween night, but it's still a growing trend (that, oddly enough, started in Europe, came to America and is now on its way back to Europe). My host-dad showed his unhappiness with the little German trick-or-treaters by proceeding to drop tomatoes in their bags. It seems like the US election day was the more celebrated holiday, and I can't say how glad I am that that's over. My German friends interest themselves particularly in American politics and I don't know if I could've taken anymore of their questioning!
The days here have gotten awfully short, to where it's dark sometime between 4pm and 5, and just today it's started to snow, though it's this awful North German snow that melts when it hits the ground. And its starting to feel more like Christmas. I've discovered Pfeffernüsse, these cookie-like things that taste like gingerbread men, and then German Christmas cookies are pretty good too. There's a big Christmas tree in the square in front of the city and I can't wait to see everything lit up!
Well this is a shorter journal. I'll be sure to make the next one longer. Till then! Enjoy the Florida weather for me!