I have been in Germany for a month now! I feel like I have been here a week. Time flies by so fast! I have had great experiences so far and I have many more coming. Let's start from the beginning: It is very hard saying good-bye to everyone knowing you won't see them for a year. You want to be excited because you're leaving for an amazing experience but everyone is crying around you and you can't help but feel sad. I have never been through an airport or a plane alone so I was very interested to see how things would work out. Yeah, let's just say they didn't work out!! I made the mistake of taking too many things on the plane. I would walk down the aisle to my seat and my bags would hit everyone already sitting down. I was stopped in security at all airports and was told to take EVERYTHING out of my bags. The security people go through every little thing, messing up your neatly organized bag and then they are nice enough to give you the privilege of putting EVERYTHING back in your bags..alone. It turns out I had a bag for making pins for my blazer and that’s what set the alarm off. Oops! I just wanted to get there already!!
My host city is Leer. It is Northwest region of Germany and on the border of the Netherlands. It is a small town with about 35,000 people. My house is awesome! It is an old farm house surrounded by fields, cows, and horses. It is away from everything so it's very quiet and relaxing. My host parents are very nice and funny and my host sister is great! We have a lot in common: we both like shopping, Justin Beiber, The Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus, etc. ;) We ride our bikes everywhere so I am constantly sore but I think it will be good because I eat so much here.My family jokes around about when I go back to Florida, I will be the best bike rider they have ever seen! The food has been very good. My host mom is an amazing cook! She cooks foods of all ethnicities and we actually eat it like they would. For example, anytime we have chinese food, we HAVE to eat with chop sticks. They sure get a kick out of watching me try and eat with chop sticks. Also, German ice cream and chocolate is to die for! We have a lot of bread and cheese which is better here too. My favorite thing here is tea time. Anyone who will ever ask me what my favorite part about Germany was, I will answer “tea time.” We do this everyday and it is just awesome!
School has been difficult for me. We stay with the same people all day and the teachers switch classes. So my class has been together for years and they are very close with each other. I actually have two bilingual classes which I love because the rest of the day, I am trying to listen to every word and see if I can figure out what the teachers are saying. I have the two bilingual classes and then 12 other subjects. My German is slowly getting better but I wish I could understand everything. I have had multiple “OMG, why didn’t I learn the language more?!?” moments.
I’m just getting over being sick so I have been acting weird lately. It’s very different having to go through these problems when you aren’t with your parents back home. I haven’t been homesick yet but every now and then something small will remind me of home and it’s hard. I always remind myself that I am in Germany doing something that most teenagers won’t get the chance to do. I am crazy in love with Germany and I can’t wait to see what the future holds here!
December 27, 2011
Okay, so I’ve been in Germany for over four months and all I can say is, I don’t know where the time has gone. My journal is way past due but these past months have been filled with fun and crazy adventures. In my last journal, I was just getting started with school, my host family, and just Germany itself. Since then, my German has gotten 100 times better, I have switched host families, made friends in school, and had the time of my life.
Before I came to Germany, I took a German course that was only six lessons long. I thought I knew a good amount of vocabulary and grammar. When I got here, I was quickly proved wrong and realized I knew almost nothing. I learn something new everyday and I’m proud to say I can now understand a lot of what people say and have conversations with them. Yes, it has gotten better but I still have SO much more to learn. I wouldn’t say that German vocabulary is very difficult but the grammar is killer! It is so confusing and I am always trying to figure it out in my head when I want to say something. Sometimes, it comes out way wrong. With any language, you have to practice practice practice and the more you try to speak, the better it will get. Yes, you don’t want to be wrong or make mistakes but you can’t improve or be corrected without making mistakes. I have also noticed my English is getting worse, which also makes me happy. It means I am speaking less English and more German!
I have switched from a city of about 35,000 people to a village of 500 people. I attend the same school but instead of riding my bike to school, I take a 50 minute bus ride. It is very annoying sometimes but this whole thing is about experiencing different situations. My new host family is the best family I could ever ask for. There is my host mom and dad and then I have two host sisters which are 19 and 22. They have definitely helped me and made this experience awesome. We do many things as a family which I love because they are very funny and like to have fun together. I think that an exchange students host family plays a huge role in the whole year. You are with them the most and they know you better than anyone else in your host country. They do what they can to make your exchange a successful and happy one and all you can do is make sure they know how much you appreciate them!
School has also gotten so much better! At first, I found it hard to talk to people and make friends. It’s difficult when they already have their cliques and when there is a huge language barrier. And sometimes, there still are some things I don’t understand but I have tried really hard to listen and figure out what the students are talking about. They talk very fast and it can be very difficult. Once I started joining in on conversations and letting them know that I can understand most of what they say, they make it a point to talk to me and include me. It’s really great to talk and make jokes with them. I have definitely learned that you have to come out of your comfort zone and just go and talk to people. No one is really sure how to open up to someone new at first but you just have to make the first move sometimes. Since I am speaking with the students in German now, they find it easier to talk to me and we can do more things together. The best feeling is when you get invited to do things with people from your school! You feel like you have finally made it and are a part of your class. The smallest act of kindness really does make a difference especially to an exchange student who might be having a tough day.
I have seen some amazing things since I’ve been here. In October, Rotary took the kids in our district on a tour through Germany. I am absolutely completely in love with Berlin!!! It’s gorgeous. I am also really excited for the EuroTour in April! Christmas time here is gorgeous. The weather wasn’t what we wanted though. I still haven’t had a white christmas!! Christmas is celebrated for three days and let me just say, I think a gained AT LEAST 5 kilos in those 3 days. They don’t decorate their houses or trees like Americans do so it didn’t feel that much like christmas. It was great being able to meet the whole family and spend time with them and eat amazing food My exchange has been filled with everything imaginable. It’s has been great and I’m sad that it’s almost halfway over. This is the greatest experience and I have learned so much about my home country, host country, and myself. Advice for future outbounds: Don’t waste any time because it’s going to go by in the blink of an eye. Thank you for all the people who made this year possible!!! It is amazing and I know I will never want to leave.
April 18, 2012
Right now, I am sitting at the table with my host sister, in my third family, over 8 months into my exchange. 8 months. Before my exchange, I couldn’t even imagine what 8 months would feel like and now i’m here, leaving in 2 months. After time going so fast, the saddest thing to realize is that these last months will be the fastest. As if I even need to say it, I wish I could stay longer!!
The past 4 months have been great. I’m now at the point where I understand 99% of everything but I think my German should be better. I understand when people talk to me and in the school and I can respond and say what i need to but i’m not fluent. The only time I speak in English is on Facebook or when skyping. I love the German language and I really hope to continue learning after I leave.
School is going really well. I am on Easter break right now so I haven’t been in 2 months and then my grade does apprenticeships for the next 2 weeks and then I got on my Europe tour. I will not be in school for over a month. And when I return, I will have 20 days until I leave for Florida. Knowing this is truely heartbreaking because I know these next few weeks will fly by. School has gotten better as my German has gotten better. Being able to understand what is going on in my classes has really helped connect with the other students and I have made the best friends. Of course, an exchange student wants to be friends with everyone but I think everyone ends up with who they belong. I have met great people and can’t wait to come back and visit.
I’m in my last family now and they are really nice but totally different from my other family. I guess that is why we switch, to get different experiences, because that is exactly what is happening! All of my families have been totally different but I have been very lucky to receive actual families where I have siblings, both host parents, and who have been willing to show me how they live and introduce me to people who they interact with. Some families are harder than others but a good exchange year is really based off how good your families are and your relationship with them.
Last week my host brother had his Confirmation in the church. My third family is very church oriented so my host sister and I are in the choir and we sang at the Confirmation. It was really cool to be involved with something that means so much to my family and I have never sang in a choir before. In Germany, Confirmation is celebrated bigger and they work very hard for it. The whole family came to the church to see him. It was really funny because it’s a very small church in my small village so just our family took up half the church. After church, the all come over for lunch, tea, cake, and dinner. We started preparing for this a week before it happened so everything was perfect. Tomorrow is Easter and they also celebrate Easter bigger. The Saturday before Easter, everyone does an “Easter fire”. They collect trees and bushes and also have the Christmas tree and they set all of it on fire. I’m haven’t really figured out why they do this but it i s tradition. You can drive down the roads and see all the fires in peoples front yards. I’m not sure if this is a tradition just in my region or if all Germany does it. On Easter Sunday, they go to church and then celebrate with the whole family. Which means more food. Sadly, I will not be able to participate with Easter this year because my real parents are visiting and we will be traveling.
Speaking of eating more food, Germans eat like crazy. There is so much food! You will never be hungry here. Typical German breakfast is bread, cheese, and meat. They have the cooked, warm meal for lunch and dinner is bread again. In between, there is tea or coffee (depending on what region you are in) and cake. Plus, all the famous German chocolates and sweets. I never stepped on a scale since i’ve been here because I don’t even want to know how much weight i’ve gained. Let’s just say i’ve bought ALOT of clothes to fit the "new me."
My real parents are here visiting and we’ve been traveling a lot already. My dad used to live in Germany when he was young and then again when he was 18. He was really excited to be able to come back and see where he used to live. We went to a small town in Belgium, Frankfurt, Rodenbach, and we are going to Garmisch, Munich, Prague, and Berlin. My dad used to live in Frankfurt because my Grandfather was stationed there when he was in the Army. Back then when there were a lot of American troops stationed there, they had communities where the families would live and where the kids would go to school. We saw my dads old high school and stayed with one of his friends from high school. My parents have been here learning about the German culture and seeing what I have been living with for the past 8 months but it was really interesting to see where my dad grew up and how he lived back then. Apparently many things have changed!
I’m looking forward to these next 2 months and hopefully making them my best. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Thank you again to anyone who made this possible. Rotary is the best and I wouldn’t trade this year for anything.