I have been in Germany for 36 hours and so far it has been great. My first experience with German culture came just after I got my bag in the airport. Security in Atlanta must of left a zipper open on my bag (surprise) and when I picked up my bag in the Duesseldorf Airport all of my change fell out. When this happened, immediately, 20 people started picking up the coins and giving them back to me. That was really cool and I'm not so sure if this would happen in the US.
Later my first day I came home and met my host family, they are all really cool and have various levels of English. My host dad and brother are both fluent. My host mother has "OK" English and my sister- not so good. My German is ok for a fresh inbound but I still need a lot of help. Sometimes I am so proud of myself for knowing certain things but also there are a lot of moments where I feel like a headless chicken.
My first trip on the autobahn was amazing, my host brother was going over 170 KM an hour on our way to Cologne. I couldnt help but think we were going to get pulled over.
The food is really good, I have always been a fan of German food and over the past day and a half I have had enough to feed a small army. Currywurst, chocolate, different types of cheese, yogurt...it is all good.
Germany is a really clean place and the people are really into the "green" movement. Almost everything is recyclable and Germans are happy to take the time to sort it. The edges of the road are not trimmed like in the US. German driving is crazy and road rage is very, very common here. So much so that the government made it illegal for someone to give "the finger" to another driver. And every car, I mean EVERY, is either black, gray, or navy blue. Volkswagens, BMWs, Mercedes, and even Fords fill the highways to capacity.
I have not been here long but from what I have seen things are going to be absolutely super. It's fun to experience a different culture, learn a new language, and learn about your heritage. I cannot wait for whats next.
Wednesday, November 02, 2011
I have already been in Germany for two months and I can honestly say that the past two months have been the most amazing, exciteful, and challenging months of my life. I have completely fallen in love with the German way of life, and everyday I find myself becoming more and more German- in my thinking, in my behavior, and thankfully, in my speaking. I would now guess that I understand 60-70% of what is being said around me, and I take great pride in how far my German has come in the past two months, However, I realize that I still have far to go.
My life in Germany is very busy and fast paced. I keep myself occupied with school, German courses, and I'm even taking classical dance at a local dancing school. On the rare occasions that I have free time during the week I often go to different nearby cities with friends from school. I have met many people from my activities and have made many friends. I am liking school too, its very different than my school in the USA, with the German school having less hours, more pauses, and in general more freedom. While I still have trouble with the complex wording in use in the History, Geography, and Philosophy classes, I come to great use in the English class.
I have bonded with my school, my friends, and the community in a much closer way than in the United States. I find myself very fortunate in the fact that I made friends very fast and I am intergrating faster than I expected. Rotary Florida briefly mentioned something in the USA that I wish to be more emphasized to the future outbounds - Dont hang around other exchange students often!- I have found that the more time you spend with the natives of your host country, the faster you will intergrate.
I have just returned from a 10 day long "GermanyTour" which took me to many of Germany's beautiful cities, including Hamburg, Berlin, Potsdam, Dresden, and Munich. Germany is a really beautiful country and I am glad it's becoming my -second- home. I learned much about Germany during this trip, and also saw that Germany is a very diverse country, not only in it's people, but also in it's culture. The local culture of Hamburg is very different than Berlin, and Berlin different than Munich.. etc. This is also true in the accents, When speaking to locals in Dresden they could identify by my diction that I had come from the Ruhrpott area. I was very happy about that!. It was truly inspiring to see a country with so much history, so much culture, a country that I love. Never did I think that I would have the opportunity to visit Neuschwanstein, go to the house of Goethe, or have a picture next to the Brandenburg Gate. Things that I have only seen in books are now ingrained in my reality, and of this I am truly blessed. On the German Tour, we did make one very sad, however necessary, visit to the former Buchenwald concentration camp. I had never put much thought to visiting a concentration camp before, and after seeing it I am glad I did. I feel that after seeing a place which so much horror had happened, a place where humanity was at a truly low point, that one cannot help but have a different outlook on life. On the other hand, I take great pride in Germany as to how far it has come in the past 70 years.
While on my Germany Tour I kept having this strange feeling that I missed home. It wasn't until about the 6th day of the trip that I began to truly think about what I was missing. And then I realized, that what I was missing the most wasn't my home in the USA, but my home in Unna, Germany and my German friends and family. It's truly strange how much this place, 2 months ago just a dot on the other side of the globe, now feels like my home. And while these past 2 months have gone by much too fast (feels like 3 weeks), I cannot wait to see what's in store for the next 10.
As I sit in my room (with my new host family) I think to myself, How have I been here 5 months already ?! But then I begin to realize, how much I have learned, how much I have changed, and all the amazing things that I have been blessed to experience.
I am living the good life now. Two weeks ago, I changed host families for the first time. I was very sad to say ''auf wedersehen'' to my first family, I was very fortunate to be in their home and I will never forget the experiences we had together. What a job they had, to be my first insight into German culture and life. The late night curry chicken dinners, the fantastic Christmas with gluhwein, steak, gifts, and a beautiful German Christmas tree, And the endless laughter we shared together are things that not only introduced me to a culture, which I love more by the day, but also things I will cherish for the rest of my life.
That being said, I am very, very, very happy to be in my new host family! The transition was very easy and I am enjoying having a hostbrother who is a few years younger than me. We get along really well and I really feel as if I am part of the family. (It also helps that my host mom is a fantastic cook!)
My life in Germany is busier than ever. I recently had my ''abschlussball'', which is the German equivalent of prom. It's a bit of a right of passage for German youth after they've completed their first dancing course, and definitely the talk of the town as hundreds of people are there to watch. I went with a local girl, and after having her toes stepped on a ridiculous amount of time in dancing practice, we managed to do quite well in the dancing tournament.
Now that dancing has ended I am turning more focus to my American football team. We practice twice a week and we recently got a new coach from Canada, and he cannot speak any German. Therefore, not only am I playing football in practice, but also playing Translator.
My life in school is also changing. As the acquistion of the language goes up, as any exchange student will tell you, so will the expectations of teachers in the school. And also, I am no longer known as just the ''exchange student'' but as ''Taylor'', and I feel as if I have been with my class a lot longer than just 5 months.
Living in Germany and seeing a new society, as well as seeing the United States from an outside viewpoint, has dramatically changed my opinions on what we are, as a people, and as a nation. It has come to my attention, that, the future of the United States and its status in the world will depend on the willingness of the people to pull together and unite. The reality is that the world is becoming evermore interconnected, and countries are becoming more dependent on one another. The United States must use its influence in the world for good, and yes, the United States' influence abroad is almost unbelievable. Almost everyone speaks English as a second language. The same American TV programs and music that are at home are also topping the German charts. Everyone knows whos running for president, and even who just won the primary in Florida. We, as Americans, must use this advantage for good, and let the world know what were really about. Being proud of where we came from, a nd confident in where we're going.
I can't believe this experience is half way over, and the thought of going home in 7 months is not something I like to think about. I love Germany, and sure, I miss my family and friends. However I am still not homesick. I have never had the thought ''I wish I was back home'', because everyday, more and more, I am at home.
Taylor - June 25, 2012
It's been a long time since I wrote a journal, so I will now try and conquer the task of putting the last life changing 4 months into words.
In April we took a trip around Europe with Rotex. "Eurotour'', I have to say, was 3 of the most awesome weeks in my life!. 3 weeks, 53 exchange students, 8 countries. Such an equation is sure to pack a lot of fun. We began the long trip in Czech Republic, made our way to Hungary, Austria, Italy, Vatican City, Monaco, France, and ended in Belgium. The chance, and the pursuing reality to see so many things that were once a dream in a book or on television is an opportunity which few people can experience. And I could never thank Rotary enough for affording me the opportunity. To name everything that we saw, would be almost impossible, but I can honestly say I've had the true ''grand tour'' experience. From eating spaghetti on the streets of Rome, swimming in the French Riviera, to spending a day in the year long circus in Vienna, I have lived it all! I also got a chance to spend time with a great friend and fellow 2011-12 Florida RYE stud ent Alayna Mobley in Budapest, Hungary!
Since my return to Germany I have been in whats called the ''highpoint'' of my exchange. This period of time, before the bitter end, is where you will reep what you sow. You have made friends, you can speak the language, and, hey, you even have a clue about the public transportation. It's seems that I am no longer an exchange student in my class. I have friends, I know them and their familes well, and they treat me as one of their own. My exchange student fame has captured the entire town. I walk down the street in Unna, and people know who I am. It's a great feeling. My weekends are an endless string of Birthday parties, watching soccer, and exploring the many nearby cities of 'RUHRPOTT' with my friends. Sausage, bread, and schnitzel continue to be a normal diet staple and yesterday I realized I had just as much German language music on my Ipod as English!
My relationship with my guest family has also reached new levels. Having to live with someone for 5 months really lets you learn a lot about them. They treat me just like one of their own, the feeling of being a guest has long since disappeared. In April, we celebrated my birthday by going out to eat in an American style restaurant. It was a great 18 birthday, I got a pocket knife, a photo shoot with friends, - and a little taste of home.
In May, myself and a fellow exchange student from Mexico did a service project with Rotary, we went to many nearby Hospices and passed out flowers to the residents and talked with them. It was a rewarding experience, it allowed me to bond a little more with my adopted German community and also give a little happiness to people who need it the most.
Last month I took a leap foward for Rotary Youth Exchange by becoming a two country exchange student. Myself and 10 other students from my grade flew to England for a week long exchange. I was to help translate and also be a representative, not only of the USA, but also of Germany!! When my teacher told me this I knew I had made it. I have accomplished the task. Myself a foreigner in Germany for 10 months, to be chosen as a representative of my school, my city, and my classmates was an honor. I had a great guest family, and learned a lot of Britain and it's culture. (and also learned that English food actually isn't all that bad! )
It's starting to feel all like a dream. I know have just over 1 month left and my life seems to be so perfect know. My life here established, the task 90% accomplished. I take great pride in my country, and of the position I have had over the past 10 months as an ambassador of the American people. While I have much waiting for me back in the US, it is beginning to be a sad time here in Germany. All the friends I've made in the past year are beginning to ask ''Taylor, when are you going back?'' and it's a painful reminder that I will have to leave them....temporarily. The next month will be spent tying up loose ends, enjoying my final few weeks with my best friends, and preparing for my family to visit in July. Maybe they will notice a difference in me? The past 11 months have been so life changing, the experience so great I can hardly put it into words. I wouldn't trade it for anything.