“Hi, this is my first time at addicts anonymous. My name is Julia Nedimyer and I’ve lived in Germany for about one month now. I’m addicted to the chocolate, bread, cakes, ice cream, and fresh vegetables in Germany.” [:
I’M IN GERMANY! I am loving my year abroad so far! I have only been here for three and a half weeks and I’m already dreading the day I have to go home—and I mean that in the best possible way. My host family has taken me to so many amazing places so far! I really couldn’t ask for a better host family! I am so grateful for them! Now, trying to explain all of the new things I’ve done and learned could take me weeks; so, I’ll try not to write TOO much.
First time experiences are always interesting; and, so far I have had a lot. My flight to Germany was my first international flight alone. And, I’ll be honest, I was a little worried at first. Usually, when I travel with my family, I don’t have to think about where I’m going. I just follow them. So as soon as I found out that I wasn’t flying with the other German outbounds I kept thinking, “I’m sooo going to get lost.” But, I made it to all of the right gates and got on all of the right planes—apparently.
This past month has been way too much fun, confusing, interesting, amusing, amazing, difficult, exciting, happy, enlightening, and—honestly—indescribable. Now I know why some of the former outbounds didn’t know what to say when I asked them how their year abroad was. There is neither a word nor a short saying that can describe an experience like this. I have been here for a month and I am already having a hard time putting my experience into words. There is so much that happens when someone is put into another culture and lives in another part of the world. It would just be emotionally, mentally, and physically impossible. I guess the word to describe it would have to be…”FAB-U-LOUS!”
Thursday, August 5, 2010:
Today I got to meet my host club, Hildesheim Rosenstock RC. They seem like a lot of fun! We had an interesting lunch at a place where disabled people are given jobs. The word for it in German is called “Diakonie.”
Sunday, August 9, 2010
Today we went to a horse race in Hannover. It was really, really awesome! My host parents know that I love horses; so, they got tickets to the VIP box that overlooked the entire race track! It was AMAZING! To my surprise, an important part of a horse race is the attire. I found out that, when going to horse races, it is tradition to dress formally and wear big fancy hats. In between races, they even held a competition for the fanciest hat and dress. Another fun part or being there was that my host parents gave each of us—my host sisters and I—ten euro’s to bet on the races; and, I’m happy to say that one of the horses that I bet on actually won!
Saturday, August 14, 2010
So, today we went to the Zoo in Hannover—the biggest zoo in Germany. It was a lot of fun and it wasn’t like every other zoo. It was almost like Epcot in the sense that there were themes of different countries for different parts of the zoo (for example: India, Australia, Canada, etc.).
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Though I miss the things and people whom I love in Florida, I really like it here a lot! I feel at home, even though I don’t fully understand German yet. I spent the day with my host family today. Clara—my host sister—and I went for a nice long run together. Then, using my grandmothers recipe, we baked a delicious American apple pie. I was really happy to find out that she likes to bake and cook too. I’m looking forward to learning some German recipes.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Today was my host mother’s birthday! Clara and I made a surprise cake for her and placed it on the birthday table this morning. It had layers of homemade, creamy dark and white chocolate mouse and a crunchy, chocolate crust. Mmmm, German cakes are amazing! Clara also took me rock climbing and taught me some more German. After that, we enjoyed a lamb dinner, prepared by my host dad, and the cake that Clara and I made.
My German is getting better; I can say things without having to really think about it. I can have a basic conversation with friends in school. It seems like it has taken me forever; but, when I think about how much I knew when I got here, I know that I have made progress. I can understand a lot more than I can speak—which is quite amusing. People think that I don’t understand what they’re saying, so they say whatever they want around me. There is one problem though; I am actually starting to forget certain English words. :) I used to be so obsessed with speaking English correctly; and, now, I’m not really sure how English is spoken correctly (Or is it “correctly spoken?” See? I haven’t a clue). One thing I know for sure is that I cannot wait until I am fluent in German! I feel like a wet sponge in large body of water, trying to soak up every new word and experience I come into contact with. It can be difficult at times but I really cannot ask for a better experience than this!
The name of my school is Gymnasium Andreanum. Doesn’t it sound spiffy? I have really enjoyed it so far! Most of the people in school are really friendly with me. They are also incredibly helpful and EXTREMELY patient when it comes to my learning German. They speak slowly and clearly so that I can understand them better; and, if I don’t understand them, they translate word by word so that I learn and better understand sentence structure.
I’m so glad that I decided to go abroad! It has been such a great experience so far! I never thought it would be possible to change and learn so much in one month. I cannot thank my friends, Rotary, and my family enough for supporting me during my year in Germany!
I am about to finish my second month in Germany! I have be come really attached to Germany and everything about it. When I ride my bike through Hildesheim and see all of the old German-styled houses, I can’t help but think ‘Man, I am going to miss this so much when I leave.” It is during moments like those that I think being here for one year just is not long enough.
I have to agree with the book that Rotary gave us at one of the orientations; the first couple of weeks on exchange are kind of the “vacation phase.” Everything is relatively easy and relaxed: Everyone at school wants to meet you. You have no homework. You haven’t weighed yourself (^y^). People are willing to give you the instructions in English if you don not understand what they said in their language the first time. You do not fully know how complicated the language is—at least in my case. ;) And, it just seems like you are on the most amazing vacation in the entire world.
The end of the fifth or sixth week was my real turning point. Reality had sunk in—in a good way—and I started to better see the challenges that I must work to overcome. I realized that I could not live as if I were in a fairy tale. Now, I know the more “relaxed time” will come eventually; but, right now, I have a lot of work ahead of me.
September 6, 2010
I went to my first inbound meeting in Hannover! The weekend was tons of fun! The first night we met in a big barn and had a group dance. Then, the next day, we went to a HUGE activities park. They had a skate park, BMX park, lakes, climbing courses, a huge pool, volleyball courts, soccer fields…everything. A group of us did the climbing course first; and, for that, we were attached to rope—about 8 feet long—which was attached to a wire cable that hung directly above us. Then, we walked on swinging ropes, logs, and other objects—all of which hung 18 feet in the air—to get from platform to platform. It was a ton of fun and I little bit scary for some; but, most of us completed it successfully.
September 17-19, 2010
I had my first Rotex weekend! It was tons of fun. We went shopping and explored Hannover. We also got to meet the Mayor of Hannover, who was the guide of our tour through the Hannover Rathaus (the City Hall/Government building). It was quite cool, we were treated like VIP, and the Mayor was extremely nice. She talked to us in a way that I would not have expected. Rather than making us feel small and unimportant compared to her, she encouraged us and did not “talk down to us.” I actually had a chance to talk to her one on one about some things that I had learned in my German Politics class. I also got to hear her thoughts on some of the economical and political aspects of Germany’s Democracy. Later, when I was in the city with some of the exchange students, a famous hockey player from the Hannover Scorpions—Chris Herperger from Canada—came up to us and started talking to us. And, we got invited to go to his game on Sunday and he told us to go visit his wife in the VIP section. Sadly, we could not go because we had to go home the next day.
Monday, October 4, 2010
So…changing from an island to a city can be quite amusing. I went to a friend’s house after school, along with several other girls, to finish a music project. It was about 7 o’clock and my friend found out that her dad was sick and that they had to go pick him up at the airport. The other girls had left early because they had their sport courses that day; and, I realized that I did not know how to get home from her house. So, she gave me directions; but, I must have misunderstood them. I ended up finding myself at a dead end road; so, I back-tracked my way to her house and rang the door bell. But, she had already left for the airport and she was not answering her cell phone. Now, Hildesheim is not huge, it has a little over 100,000 people. But, I am used to living on an island that only has two roads: one going north and one going south. So, rather embarrassed, I called my neighbor—Robert—and told him that I was lost and asked him for directions. He told me to go to the street and take a right. Then, when I asked him which street (the street, street or the straße street), he replied in English with “Hah! Umm…Julia…? Stay where you are. I’m coming to get you.” Haha, yeah, it was quite embarrassing. But, I can proudly say that I know my way around the city a little better now.
October 24, 2010
I have been here for almost three months now! Things are going well. I’m starting to get more comfortable with German. And, I am learning new things every day. The funny thing is that when people are talking, I can understand them. But, sometimes, when adults come up and start talking to me and asking me questions, I get nervous. My mind starts racing which causes me to blank out and forget everything. So, that can be frustrating sometimes. I actually do not like speaking English, unless I have to, because it makes me start thinking in English and then it is harder to speak German after that. I always find that it is hardest to speak German after being in my English class. I have also found that it’s better to speak as much German as I can before I go to sleep—that way there is a little bit of German in my dreams. As for that, I can not really say that I have had that special moment where I wake up and yell out “Oh my gosh! I had my first dream in German!” But, I do have dreams where I have conversations with people in German. But, nothing elaborate, mostly simple conversations.
Also, I just finished my two week fall vacation, and during which, I got a weekend visit from my sister and her German fiancée. I also had the (challenging) privilege of being the main speaker for my Inner Wheel club. For which I gave a half an hour speech (in German) about me, where I come from, what I have been doing in Germany in the past couple of months, and a little bit about my family’s coral restoration project. After that, my host family took me to Spain for 10 days. It was absolutely amazing! However, now, I am even more language confused because while I was there I tried to speak Spanish to some of the locals. But, the only thing that came out was German; and, now, I am back in Germany but I am mixing in random Spanish words. We were in Mallorca for one week, where I got to enjoy some good ‘ol island time. Then, we spent the last weekend in Barcelona. It was so gorgeous; it is definitely one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. My host family is the coolest!
School is also good. I am starting to understand what my teachers say—even though they speak rather quickly. My DaF (German for foreign exchange students) class is going much better and I am starting to learn the more complicated parts of German. Taking a German class in Germany is really interesting because it is not like taking a language class in school that is required of me. Rather than being afraid of writing essays and tests in German, I look forward to it because I know that it will only help me improve.
Thinking back, I remember always wanting to know what it would be like to speak another language fluently. ‘Do people dream in both languages? Which language do they think in?’ But, I thought that it would not be possible for me to learn another language fluently—especially while being a little bit dyslexic and all. Also, for some reason, I used to have the impression that when one learned a new language the words that they would hear would just—in their mind—translate into their native language. Now, I look back on that and laugh. It is definitely not like that at all! It is easier to just try to think and talk in German that it is to think in English and translate it all into German. In fact, if I tried to directly translate from English to German, I would not make any sense at all because the two languages are so different. The good and bad thing is that my German is getting much better; but, on the other hand, my English is getting quite..."schrecklich..." horrible.
I am about to finish my first week of exams in a German school. Let me tell you, school over here—well at least Andreanum—is NOT like school in America. In my opinion, it is much more difficult over here. We are learning things in math that I have never seen in my life; and I have already finished all of the Geometry, Algebra I, and Algebra II courses required for high school. In language courses, the students are reading books written in the language and writing essays on them. This week my school started writing Klausurs—written exams lasting anywhere from two to six hours. I took a politics Klausur on Monday and an English Klausur on Tuesday (yesterday). For the SAT, in the United States, people are required to write an essay about the topic provided; and, they are given 30 minutes to do so. I have always heard that that was one of the hardest parts of the SAT. However, for my English Klausur, we were given two hours to read a text and hand write three standard college papers about various subjects of the text and class book. Surprisingly, I found this rather difficult because, at the moment, I am a little bit handy-cap when it comes to English. I keep getting the German and English spelling and grammar confused. The scary thing is that we were actually supposed to have four “Aufgaben” (essay assignments, in this case); but, our teacher said that he had not adequately prepared us for the subject of the last Aufgaben, but that we would write all four next time. Gee, ich freue mich auf das…nicht.
Happy Thanksgiving! I thought I would miss out on Thanksgiving this year. But, as it turns out, Zane (the other Florida outbound from district 6970) came over for the weekend; and, together, we made an entire Thanksgiving dinner for my host family! It turned out great and my family really liked it.
I just passed my four month mark! The past month has been probably the hardest month so far. I feel like being an exchange student is like being on a ropes course—there are obstacles that one would have never thought about before hand, positions that are rather awkward at times, and times when one’s feet and hands get tired of holding on; but, everyone knows that taking a break it will only hold up the progress. But, on the other hand, there are also challenges that bring amusement, laughter, friendship, intelligence, wisdom, coordination, patience, joy, and rushes of happiness.
It is cold over here! I love it! It started snowing in November and snow has remained on the ground ever since. Getting around the city can be hard at times because riding a bike in the snow is not a good idea. My town has uneven cobble stoned road therefore, it is rather easy for the bike’s tires to slide. But, nevertheless, it is a challenge that I like to take.
Christmas time in Germany is beautiful. There is live music in the streets, snow on the ground, and—best of all—the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market)! Almost every Friday, several of my friends and I meet at the Weihnachtsmarkt and eat Schmalzkuchen, Bratwursts, and roasted chestnuts. At night everything is lit up with Christmas lights; and the people from the town meet there to socialize and drink warm Glühwein, beer, Kinderpunch, or Hot Chocolate. At school, in the break, the students have snowball fights and many times bring cakes and Christmas cookies to school. Christmas time in Germany is definitely not like it is in Florida; but, I am loving it even more!
December 25, 2010
Merry Christmas! Or, Fröhliche Weihnachten! I have been here for about 5 months now! It seems like I have only been here a month or two—time is flying, and I hear the second half of exchange seems even shorter. So, as I said before, Christmas is quite different here in Germany. There are three days of Christmas: Heiligabend (24th), Weihnachtstag 1, and Weihnachtstag 2. Yes, that is correct; they celebrate the 26th as well. On Christmas Eve my family and I went to church, where we sang German Christmas songs and heard the Christmas story (not the Santa Claus one, which—by the way—is different than ours in America. What!?! Yeah. They say that Santa Claus lives in Finland and does not have elves). We had a delicious three-course meal for dinner. And finally, we sang, opened presents and read old Christmas stories. Christmas without my real family was not exactly easy; but, I felt quite comfortable with my host family so I enjoyed my first Christmas away.
December 27, 2010
Yesterday my sisters and I started building an igloo. And, to be honest, it was a lot of work. We packed snow into plastic cartons and made real snow bricks. It has taken us two days and it still is not finished. It can fit about four teenage people, with a decent amount of leg room, and about eight without. At the moment, it is almost six feet tall and all we have to finish is the roof. It is actually quite impressive; I never thought I would learn to “build” on exchange.
Everything has changed and is still changing—the way I view America and the freedoms we are given, the way I value my friends and family, the definition of a “hard situation,” and the way I view world and life in general. Going on exchange is definitely one of the most life-changing decisions that I have made. One thing that seems to change when one goes abroad is the teenage “know-it-all” stage. Now, I grew up with three older sisters; so, I was quickly taught that I did NOT know everything. Nevertheless, it is still in the teenager’s mind-set to think that they are wise enough to look after themselves. When I look back on the day that I left my family and made my way through airport security line alone, I realize now that I was strong at heart but young-minded and still rather dependent. I have grown so much since I left; and I know that I still have a lot more to learn.
I have learned so much in the last seven months, and have developed new confidence in myself, strength in personality and stronger willpower. But, most importantly, I have learned that the easiest way to gain wisdom is to listen to what more-experienced people have to say. And, there is a key word in that sentence: listen. That means listening to what they have to say and using my OWN principles and beliefs and opinion to judge whether it is wise or not. Before exchange, I always seemed to think that it was weak to just listen to other people’s opinions instead of making my own. Yet, now I realize how narrow-minded and naïve I was for thinking that.
At the beginning of exchange, I could not say a whole lot in German; therefore, I learned to watch, listen, and learn from the people surrounding me. It certainly was not easy for me at first because I am usually the type of person who likes to put my ideas out there and say what I have to say over the topic being discussed—which is not a bad thing. But, instead of being the first to make a possibly unwise comment, I have learned to be the last to comment so I can listen to the others and take their view into consideration. I have to say, this method has saved me a lot of embarrassment.
So, those are just a few of my self-discoveries. As far as life in Germany, things in 2011 have been quite different. My new years resolution was ‘No Speaking English—no exception other than in English Class.’ After the first two weeks of solid German and no English music, my German blood kicked in. I began dreaming in German, writing in German, thinking in German, and would even get nervous when I raised my hand to say something in English class. Now, after three months of solid German, it is easier for me to speak in German than in English. In fact, I find it rather exhausting to speak and write in English now. Last week, I agreed to help a friend with his English presentation—therefore, it involved speaking a little bit of English. When I heard English coming out of my own mouth, I was shocked and instantly stopped talking…which, shocked me even more and caused my friend to start laughing.
So, how is school in Germany? One word: different, and extremely so. I can understand everything in most of my classes. The only problem is that I have not learned all of the important basics, which the other students have been learning and memorizing since fifth grade. It is quite incredible how early the kids begin learning things such as Calculus and the Chart of Elements—things that the tenth grade students learn in America. Catching up with the other students—in a language that is not my own—is certainly not easy and not always successful. Nevertheless, I have learned a lot in school. When I left the US, I was afraid that I was going to forget too much of my school knowledge. And, though I have forgotten a lot, I have also learned a lot and developed more motivation to excel when I return.
At the end of January, I switched host families. I am not going to lie; it was not the easiest thing to do. I was very well settled in with my first host family. I could tell them everything and always go to them when I needed encouragement or advice. They treated—and still treat—me like I am their own daughter. But, I think that is what makes Rotary Youth Exchange so unique. With most organizations, the students stay with one family throughout the entire exchange. Technically, yes, they learn about their host culture and language, but only through one set of eyes. The two families are so different from each other that one might wonder if they are both from different German states. Switching families was difficult at first; but, nevertheless, a great experience. I am currently living on a Farm in a tiny village, several miles outside of Hildesheim. I have three older host brothers and one older host sister—that is quite a change being that I have only ever had sisters. But, I am learning lots of new things, new words, new ways of speaking, patience, meeting new groups of friends, and further developing my own character and opinions.
So, am I happy here? Well, let me put it this way: I was quite sad the day that I received my return flight information—and I mean that in the nicest way, Florida. Sure, the sun is not always visible and it is not always flip-flop weather in Germany; but, nevertheless, it is an extremely remarkable country, and I love it here! I feel so welcome and at home in the community—more so than ever. I think one of the most altering effects of going on exchange, is one’s ability to start over, start fresh—no longer have reputations or past events holding him back. The student is able to move on without people constantly reminding him of the failed test in school or getting arrested or being the fifth grade nerd or having alcoholic addicted parents or siblings. It gives one time to find out who he/she really is and wants to be. Leaving Germany is going to be even harder than it was to leave Florida; and, starting over in Florida is going to be even harder than it was to find my place in Germany. But, hey, learning to adapt is part of being an exchange student.
Spring in Germany was extremely gorgeous! Never in my life have I seen trees and grass SO green. Season change is something that I have not fully experienced because everything is always "green" in the Florida Keys. I have come to the conclusion that in order to enjoy summer, there has to be a winter. And, in order to enjoy winter, there must be a summer. Whether you find my conclusion pointless or not, ist mir egal...I just thought I would share my personal opinion.
What's new with me? I am currently with my third and last host family and am living across the street from my first host family. I went to Berlin for the first time a couple of weeks ago and met and spoke with the Minister of State--Eckart von Klaeden. I also recently took a three-week trip through Europe with my Exchange group. That was a real eye-opener. We were in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Vatican, France, Monaco, Luxembourg, and Belgium. And though we were only in each country for a couple of days, I was able to learn a couple of sayings in every language, as well as lots of history. I was blown away the entire trip--being able to stand next to the tour of Pisa, walk through the streets of Rome, climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower, see the Pope of Rome...the list goes on. It was simply incomprehensible.
So… I have to be honest; I find it difficult to write about my year abroad (as you may have noticed from the opening paragraph). There is just so much that has changed and is still changing that it is sometimes difficult for me to keep up. I find it hard to write about something that can only be understood when one experiences it personally. There is so much that I have learned so many new things that have become known to me. But they are not really things that I think can be written about.
The one thing that I can write about is this: being an exchange student will change your life. Whether that change is good or bad, is your decision. Some people lose themselves and self-control. Some people learn responsibility and grow up. Some people gain self-confidence. Some people become depressed and miss their family. Some people learn to be independent and think for themselves. And some people just have a good time and learn about a new culture. I would definitely say that my experience is/has been a positive, fun, challenging, and life-changing one.
Being an exchange student has enabled me to see America and Americans from another perspective--through another culture’s eyes. Sometimes I am proud to be from the United States and sometimes I am shocked and ashamed to be American. I have heard all kinds of opinions about the United States and Americans, and from international perspectives. I do not want to go into details; so, I will just list one pro and con that I have become aware of while being on exchange. I am proud of our woman emancipation progress. Though Germany is not looked at as old-fashioned or behind in trends, there seems to be a stronger 'men-before-women, women-belong-at-home' mentality in Germany than in the United States. However, on the down side, many Americans who have lived in the US their entire lives are quite uninformed and arrogant. Many Americans seem to have packed themselves inside of the boarders and only think inside the box. They often do not know much about what is going on in the outside world because they are so focused on what is going on in “their world.” And really, what could be better for this problem than student exchange programs?
I am constantly asked, “How is Germany?” And every time I am asked this, I find myself at a loss of word. I sometimes have to laugh. I mean, when one really thinks about the question, it is not a very practical thing to ask. How am I supposed to answer that? “How is Germany?” Germany is a country; should I describe how it looks? It looks different in every village, state, and region. Should I explain the way the government works or talk about politics? It will only take a couple hours, maybe even days. Should I talk about how I am doing in Germany? It has been different everyday and will continue to differ from day to day. Should I describe the people? Once again, they are not something that can be easily generalized. Should I ramble on about all of my crazy stories? Should I compare Germany to the United States? Say which one is better? Once again, it could take days; plus, why compare apples to oranges? I am constantly asked to give speeches on this and write about it. But, in my opinion, it is better to just accept that not everything can be compared. It seems to be such an American thing; we make a pro’s and con’s list instead of simply enjoying things as they are and accepting them as different.