October 6 Journal
This is my third week in Heidelberg, Germany. And I figured it’s about time for a journal…
First let’s get to the beginning of this journey, when I was accepted into the program. While for most others, the next six or so months were full of excitement and preparation, mine was more or less dominated by the constant struggle with the visa system. The "emotional” roller coaster started much earlier for me because up until about early September, there were three or four times when the chance to go went from hopeful to slim, then to almost non-existent. And just as I thought it was over, new information would arise to give hope, only to have it demolished sometime later to begin the cycle again. Even when I was in the Amsterdam airport I was held by Customs until about 20 minutes before my flight to Frankfurt.
But none of that matters now, as I am, at this moment, in my room where I will wake up to the gorgeous Neckar and the mountains everyday for the next six months. Call it the "honeymoon” period if you want, but I am feeling absolutely great and am having no doubt about how great this year is going to be.
My host family consists of a father, a mother, two sisters, a brother, and another exchange student from Brazil. Everybody is nice and very helpful. The house is beautiful and I live on the top floor along with the Brazilian student and the older sister, who is extremely helpful in my German progress.
School…is a little bit more uniform than what I am used to. There are noticeably fewer "categories” of people, but at least it’s easier to fit in to most of them. The only bad thing is that EVERYBODY speaks English. I can, in all practicality, live here for a year just fine without learning German, this is giving me much less practice than I would like as everybody loves to practice their English with me. However they also help me with my German whenever I have questions. Classes aren’t easy to follow, most of the times it’s downright impossible as of right now. But there are a few classes I can easily follow, like Math and Physics. Surprisingly I’m following French class just better than most of my other classes, hopefully I’ll pick up a little of that too eventually.
As for the food, I’m really starting to think I have the potential to be really fat, because I have been eating so much here and everything is so good! The only thing that took a little to get used to is the switch in roles between lunch and dinner. Here lunch is the main meal, and usually there is no warm food for dinner. For someone like me who is used to eating a big meal for dinner, 2 slices of bread and butter doesn’t exactly satisfy. But that is really just a small complaint as I am absolutely loving the food here.
Before I end this journal, I would also like to mention how great the Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung (Frankfurt Auto Show) was. The tons and tons of people never took away how beautiful these machines are. Thank you to everything who worked on them! My favorite of that day was, surprisingly, the Lexus IS F, and not the Audi A4 (though the A4 definitely did not disappoint) as I expected. I absolutely LOVED the cockpit, and only got out of it because I felt bad for the long line of people outside.
Anyways, I would really like to thank EVERYBODY who has supported me up till this point. It has been hard, but I got through it with the help of all of you. Thank you.
November 22 Journal
Three months in Germany. In this journal, I really would like to focus on two things. The finances while overseas, and one of the larger goals of Rotary Youth Exchange: "integrating into the culture".
First, please allow me start off with the money issues. People are NOT lying when they say "things are expensive in Europe", if you have not yet been here, be prepared. Also, if you plan to be on the program and a Rotex tells you "you will spend a LOT more money than you are given," unfortunately, that turns out to be true most of the time also. To me there are three components of my spendings here. The big trips that are planned, the little (only in comparison) necessities that are also planned, and the evil hole in your pocket that just LEAKS money.
Here in 1860 of Germany, there are three main planned trips. One to Berlin for 280 Euros, one ski tour to northern Italy for 380 Euros, and an Europe tour as a grand finale for 1300 Euros. That totals to a staggering 1960 Euros. According to the current exchange rates, this yields to about 3000 dollars, or in other words, bad time to be on exchange with US dollars in a financial sense. The main method of paying for these, as I have observed here, is to ask your host club. The Rotary club members of Germany are, for the most part, very resourceful people. Out of the fellow exchange students in my district, I know a few who are getting the Eurotour completely sponsored, and many who are getting large portions of it waived off. HOWEVER, this is never a guarantee, once in a while there is somebody who, out of principle, gets nothing besides his "taschengeld" (I actually don't know the word in English, but it's the money you are supposed to receive every month). Fortunately, I happen to have a EXTREMELY nice family who made it possible for me to enjoy skiing, Madrid, Vienna, and Florence, among many other places. But please know that if you're like me and will not receive much support from home, the host club is not the last resource. Ask for things you can do, babysitting, walking the dogs, whatever it is that can help, and many times it works.
Now the big chunks are out of the way, let's get to the "small" things. How wrong of me to think of them as "small". As I have discovered here, if you are not watching your spendings closely, you will VERY easily end up spending more than you could imagine. My biggest spending related to the Berlin tour was NOT the 280 Euros fee, it was the 300 Euros I brought with me that did not come back to Heidelberg. Granted that it did contain some legitimate purchases relating to the weather differences, 300 Euros in 5 days is simply unacceptable. This was easily solved by keeping a record of things I buy, and I hope it could serve as a warning to the new outbounds. As for the necessities, THE MORE YOU BRING, THE LESS YOU HAVE TO SPEND. I'm not saying there should be four oversized luggages containing everything you will ever need in the year, but having to spend 30 euros for a mic when you can bring one over for free is just...stupid.
On to the next subject. What constitute as "integrating into the culture"? Must one adapt to all there is a culture has to offer? In a society that still holds to their hearts the traditional view of women are supposed to stay home and raise children, should a female student from the US accept her identity in the society? This would eventually bring on the topic of conformity, which I can talk about for hours, but will refrain to do so. Now for me, I have a more or less established position in dealing with differences. But it seems for a few it would take a little bit more time to figure out as not every country has teenagers that lead student lives as similar to the US as Germany does. The situation is even worsened when sometimes the family doesn't understand that coming home early from a party because of a promise does not mean the student isn't fitting in. Being a social butterfly is definitely not a requirement to understanding a country, not to mention that many natives in the said foreign country live just fine without going out everyday. I'm going a bit off tangent, but the point is that I do not believe a person has to change to fit into the culture, change into the direction you believe is good for you, and use the culture as a helping hand in discovering that direction.
And with that I close this journal. Until next time.
February 21 Journal
It's mid-February, and I believe it is time (it means well past) for another journal...I will do my best to cover mostly everything that has happened.
And a LOT has happened. First let's get to the travels. There's one advantage in living in Germany: some of the most famous and most visited cities are within 50 dollars in train. Let's see...let's make a list...
Paris: The city was, for me, everything it was hyped up to be and more. Unfortunately my host family and I stayed for only one weekend, which was definitely not enough for the gorgeous city of 2 million. But we did hit up many of the major attractions. It's the city that taught me certain things cannot be done justice through photos. The magnificent Notre Dame de Paris, the grandiose Champs-Élysées, or the famously aggressive French driving (it is everything you have heard of and then some, at least in Paris) simply cannot be captured by a piece of paper or any other media, for that matter.
Berlin: Unlike Paris, my visit to Berlin was more focused on a somewhat recent part of history. The pieces of the Berliner Mauer that remained and the museums thereto remind us of what had happened only twenty years ago. The part of the city that left the most impression on me, however, was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Despite the more than depressing Museum underneath, there, in the midst of all the suffocating grey stones, was a sense of hope, a strip of light at the end of road. Though I definitely did not leave the place with a lighter heart, it sure did show me some things that weren't elsewhere.
I also had two snowboard trips, one to northern Italy in a town called Südtirol with the rest of the exchange students in my district, and the other to Bellwald in Switzerland with my host family. I have always said that the mountains are more beautiful than the seas, and I think that even though it's all opinion, the point might be made better from hotels during those trips. The moonlight gently gleaming on the side of the snow-covered mountains might not be a rare sight to the locals, but for me it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever laid eyes upon. And I'm somewhat proud to say that after a few bruises and a few days of not being able to sit in a comfortable position, I can snowboard quite well and was the only newbie leaving Italy knowing how to carve (even though I'm almost equally exclusive in the club of "falling so much he can't sit" because trying to LEARN to carve was not exactly fun and cakes).
Back in Heidelberg, things have largely stayed the same. Except that I am moving to my new host family today. I have not yet met all of them, but I have heard good things from my roommate who has. This family has not been completely a smooth sail, but we have worked out our difficulties and ended up where everybody's happy. My host father is an extremely educated and polite man who can be a bit stubborn at times but is mostly very nice. The host mother is somewhat hot tempered, sometimes skipping the talking-it-out procedure and goes straight into shout mode. The host brother and two sisters have been very nice to us, even though sometimes not so much to each other (the host brother has some SERIOUS growing up to do, as all 13 year old boys). My hardest challenge here, in Germany, has actually not been accepting the culture as it is not so much different from that of the US, but actually getting used to a "family". For the past 6 years, I have lived with my mother. And it's a very different situation when you are living with 6 other individuals. For example, I usually try not to disturb my mother when I go out or come back to the house, but here my host mother gave me a whole half hour of shouting because she didn't know when I was in the house.
On the language, it's been...well, good. I can still read 100 pages in English in the time I read 30 in German, and I do still need a dictionary to completely understand absolutely everything, but talking is a much easier job when you're in the country. I can tell stories that come to mind without the help of a dictionary, or listen to my host sister talk about her ski trip in 32452 words per minute and still understand what she's talking about. I've completely eliminated speaking English in a country where EVERYBODY speaks it for a while now, and it feels good. I've actually started learning French through German, which I forgot all about despite my two A's in French I and II. It's been all in all going ok with the language, it is not where I want it to be, which is where I don't have to hold a dictionary when reading a book. But I'm getting there steadily, and I'm sure soon it will be completely fine.
And with dem pictures I will end this journal entry. Enjoy!