September 8 Journal
Before I left, I was warned about not sending journals and told of lazy out/inbounds who refused to send in their journals. I totally understand them now. Not to mislead, I intend to send mine in and all, but I understand why they didn't. First off, it's hard to put down into words how seemingly long and eventful this month has felt. Secondly, I have no idea what's going on half the time so it makes it even more difficult. All the same, I will try. Time to start....
Well, I go to school and stuff. However, my participation is very limited. I go to language school which is helpful, and fun thanks to the other exchange students also in my class. There are about 8 others, most from South and Central America. We usually speak English with each other, because it’s the only common language, but we’re slowly slipping in to German. My Host Family is totally awesome, but my host brother left for France a little bit ago, so now I’m an only child. It’s different.
The food is pretty good, for the most part. Not a big fan of Bratwurst. It’s like a poorly cooked hot dog for me. Also they serve it with curry. Not a big fan of curry either. But I digress. I’m making friends and stuff, with the other exchangers and my classmates. I feel like this is more of a check up then an actual journal, so I’ll just talk about stuff I’ve done recently.
I went to Sadtfest, which is a City Festival, but basically one of the biggest parties Oldenburg throws. It’s hardcore. The streets were packed and bands were playing in little booths set up on the sides of the pedestrian zones. It was crazy. And last weekend, I went to a German 50th anniversary party, and a pre-party the night before. The pre-party had about 20 people, and the actual party had about 80. It lasted from 7 till 1. Well, my host family and I left at one, after the midnight buffet. Yup. A midnight buffet. Germans sure love their food. It had a DJ and there was lots of old people dancing. I had a great time. Seriously, no sarcasm intended. I even danced a bit. Fun stuff. Well, I think that’s a good start for a journal and I’ll do more in the future.
November 13 Journal
I haven’t written in a while and for this I apologize but it’s hard to explain how fast things move around here. Anyway, things are going pretty awesome around here. My average day has gone reasonably unchanged since my last update though. I still have school in the morning and language school in the afternoon and it gets pretty exhausting sometimes. I speak a lot more German in my everyday life and though it seems like an accomplishment, I still realize I have a long way to go.
I hang out on the weekends with my German friends and my exchange friends. It took me a while, but I finally found a good balance between the two. I have done a good amount of exciting things in the past months, including my Germany tour. The tour wasn’t a terribly big one, mostly we went to Berlin and a few stops on the way. Not that I’m complaining, it was amazing. Berlin is one of the most captivating places I’ve ever been. The evidence of a broken Germany and WW2 is still very apparent there. Also the Brandenburg Gate is one of the more impressive things I’ve seen in my life. It was really fun hanging out with the other exchange students too.
My Host Family’s pretty great. We’re, like, tight and stuff. I’m still technically an only child, but that actually works fine with me. There are also some very exciting things coming up. I’ve just signed on for the Ski Trip with Rotary to Austria. I couldn’t be more excited. Honestly, my enthusiasm doesn’t really translate on the computer but, I mean it. Legit. I continue to get more and more psyched for Christmas, mainly because of all the things everyone keeps telling me. The Christmas market sounds absolutely amazing. It will also be the first Christmas when it will be actually cold, seeing as I’ve lived in Florida all my life.
Speaking of which, it’s totally freezing up in here. Like I have to get new clothes and stuff. I also have to ride my bike to school for half an hour every morning, so that’s a bit of a change. I don’t mean to complain, like seriously, I love it here. Kudos to Rotary for setting this up. I’m in a language class (paid for by Rotary) that’s made up mostly of exchange students from all different programs and at one point we all decided to compare and contrast our exchange providers and those with Rotary had the best deal by far. By all standards, not just money wise. And I’m not trying to kiss up to Rotary either, but they deserve to be thanked.
Homesickness hasn’t really caught up with me yet, which is good I suppose. Christmas would be troublesome, one would think, but I believe that the excitement of the season will override that, at least a little. And as for Thanksgiving, some American friends of mine with Rotary in Bremen, a city an hour away by train, are having a dinner, that I was invited to attend. It can’t make up for not being with my family, but it should help. I guess that’s kinda it…. Bye?
December 3 Journal
This last half a month feels more like half a year looking back but has gone by so fast I can barely remember it all. I'll try to make this as chronological as possible but I'm almost sure my attempt will be futile.
On Friday the 20th several of the American Rotary Exchangers met in Bremen, the largest city in the area, for Thanksgiving. Technically we were 6 days early and the reason for that is quite embarrassing. None of us were sure what day Thanksgiving was and we guessed it was the third Thursday in November. We guessed wrong. Whatever. Despite having it on the wrong day, I think our Thanksgiving was quite impressive. We found what is likely to be the only turkey in Germany and cooked it by ourselves. None of us had ever done it, but it turned out all right. The stuffing was provide by someone's loving family member and we pot lucked everything else. I brought a Key Lime Pie. It was awesome.
The next day all the exchangers went to a Rotex funded sleepover in a small town by the Dutch border. They took us ice skating. It was only the second time I've been, that I remember and the first time I was about 6. It didn't go well. I mean I had a lot of fun but I fell down quite a bit. Whatever. You learn something new everyday, even more so on an exchange. After that we all just hung out together and prepared to give a presentation about Christmas in our own countries that we'll give for everyone at the next meeting.
The Rotary club here also took us to a professional soccer game, which was a really unique experience. I had never seen that level of soccer before and it was quite exciting and moved quicker than one might think. At the game, they bought us currywurst which is the German version of a hotdog and may I say it was delicious.
More recently, I went on a day trip to Hamburg with my school and enjoyed the city very much. It's very big and industrial, but neither of those things distract from the beautiful architecture. I hope I get to go back there one day. Well I guess that's kinda it.
January 5 Journal
Hey people! Merry Christmas! And Happy New Year! I personally had a great all around December. It started in early in the month when it snowed. Snow this early in the year is odd, even for Germany, so naturally every exchange student attributed it to their being there. I was freaking out. I've seen snow before but having it come to me instead of vice versa was crazy. Pretending to be pleasantly surprised while I was actually flipping my lid was quite a feat.
The first day it snowed I had about 8 snowball fights or "battles" as they're called in German. Oh, and a little tip, snow men are easier to make on Charlie Brown and such then in real life. On the first day of break my host family took me sledding with my friend Puzu, a Rotary student from Nepal. That turned out to be one of the most fun things to do in snow. I can't wait to go to the Rotary ski trip to Austria in January. It's gonna be crazy awesome! I love to ski and there's no trip like a Rotary trip.
Christmas in Germany is very interesting and different from the US. First off, everyone under the age of 18 gets an Advents calendar, and every morning of every day, you get chocolate out of it. They also have crazy winter foods like Grünkül which is a type of lettuce that resembles spinach. Not as bad as one might think. They also eat a lot of deer and goose, both of which are delicious. The old joke goes "In heaven the food is Italian and the engineering is German, in hell it's the opposite. I beg to differ. Currywurst and french fries are my new favorite meal, and I eat it at least once a week.
Anyway, Germans always open their presents on the day before Christmas, because of some age old tradition. I got lots of warm clothing, which I desperately needed and money, which is always nice. On Christmas Day, the only really Christmasy thing I did was call my parents to wish them a Merry Christmas. Not that I was disappointed, it was just different.
So that was that. Oh, the exchange students got together and did a Secret Santa which was nice. On a more recent note, I switched host families. And by recent I mean a few hours ago, so forgive me if I still don't have pictures. They seem nice, but who knows? Alrightly then. Peace.
March 3 Journal
This month was one of the better months in my exchange. It started off while I was in Austria on a Rotary Ski Trip. That was truly an amazing trip. I’ve only skied twice before, and both of those were for short periods of time over 3 years ago, so it’s safe to say I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing. But I learnt quickly. I didn’t feel it was necessary to enroll in Ski School, like 9/10ths of the group, so I went on the first day with the leader of our group and the two other exchange students who knew how to ski (Brazil and New York).
The view from the top was absolutely mesmerizing. The Alps are probably the most awesome things I have ever seen. And I mean awesome in the old sense of the word. Like awe-some. So after about 3 seconds of behold the Alps, I began to get terrified. The small amount of skiing I had done could not hold a candle to this. The lead of our group was picking the direction we would go, naturally he picked a black that was essentially a 90 degree angle, for the first run of the trip. The discussion we had after he had picked this trail amounted to something like this (translated): Matt Botkin: “I don’t think I can do that. I haven’t skied in 3 years and I’m pretty sure that’s beyond my ability”. Ski Group Leader: “Cooommmmeee onnnnn! You’ll be finnnnnee!”. Needless to say, I fell. A lot. Luckily I was not injured in any other sense but pride, along with everyone else on the trip. The Leader of our trip’s tactics may have been unorthodox, to say the least, but they were very effective. Right at this moment, I am able to say that I am an excellent skier and by the end of that trip, I was doing that 90 degree trail as a cool down.
All of that took place in Austria, as I have already mentioned, which isn’t Germany but very similar. Their German is very hard to understand for me, but if they spoke slowly and clearly, communication was not a big issue. It’s like if an exchange student went to the US for 6 months, learning English then went on a trip to Ireland. Austria is a very scenic place, as I noticed driving through, but, as we spent all of our time skiing in a secluded mountain resort, we didn’t see very much. I’ll see more of Austria on our Euro Trip, when we visit Vienna, among other things.
My German is alright, for a foreigner, and especially considering the giant complicated mess that is the German language. I was loaned a book by an American RYE student in my district by Mark Twain, titled The Awful German Language. The book contains both the English and the German version, both by Twain, and I highly recommend reading it, if for no other reason than it perfectly explains the confounding riddles of the German language to a stranger to the language. It’s also really, really funny. Germany is usually considered to be the most efficient country, what most people don’t realize is that they have to be, in order to compensate for their language. No one can make fun of you if you can build a Mercedes in 15.3 seconds, even if you have 12 words for the word “the”. Oddly enough, the more a challenge I find German to be, the more I want to learn to speak it perfectly. A paradox, I suppose.
Okay, back to the month of February. My second and current host family and I are getting along famously. I have only one host sibling, a brother of 16. He and I aren’t exactly best friends, seeing as I have my own friends and plans and he has his, but I think we match just fine. It is a little awkward, as I am about 2 feet taller than him, and the rest of the family, but it’s becoming an inside joke of the family to call me his “littler brother”. Other than the mild awkwardness, there are other drawbacks to living with a very small family. Door frames, for example. My bedroom door has been placed, quite strategically, 3 centimeters above my eye line. By now, I’ve gotten used to it, but it took me a good while and lots of forehead bruises to do so.
We had a Rotex sleepover, this month, in a shipping city called Pappenburg. Normally, these things always take place in a school with some activity before it. Pappenburg is the biggest ship building city in Germany so, naturally, we went on a tour of one of their dry docks. Growing up not far from Port Everglades, I didn’t exactly see anything I haven’t seen before but it was very interesting to see the German way of things.
To sum things up, life here is awesome. In both meanings of the word.
April 15 Journal
Hello world! Welcome to my next report. I am seriously loving my time here. I can't get enough of it. Literally. I'm so terrified of leaving and not having wasted my time. As the end of my exchange slowly creeps up, my thinking of it increases. I don't know what it will be like leaving this life and entering another one. Of course I've done it before, but it is somehow completely different this time. In the words of Lewis Carroll, "It's no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then". I really feel like I've changed over this year. More so then the average 15 year old for sure. I have Rotary to thank for that. On the kissing-up subject, I would strongly recommend this program to literally anyone ever. You grow so much. You meet people from completely different cultures and it's an eye-opening experience. One of my best friends ever is a Rotary Exchanger from Nepal. 2 years ago, I would have considered that an impossibility. Anyway.
This month has been full of good things. I went on a vacation to the middle of Germany and visited lots of castle and mines and other fun things. The really weird thing is that everything was so old there. It sometimes amazes me how old Germany is. My host grandparents live in a house that their family has lived in since before 1900. That's almost inconceivable to me, as an American, but normal to my German side. I really feel like that side is growing in me. And I feel like I'm finally grasping this language. My German friends help daily and I go to movies with them and that helps a lot as well. And, let me tell you, there is nothing that feels as good as getting complemented on a foreign language. I have been told my German is quite good for someone who's been here as long as I have.
My Eurotour is coming up, and I'm excited to the point where the last time I've been this excited was the day before I arrived. I hear stories of past Eurotours and every time I hear someone say those words, I automatically start beaming. I can't wait.