September 9, 2013
I have now been in Germany almost exactly a month. Despite this, I still feel like I am seeing, hearing, and experiencing new things each day. While I hope this unique feeling of new discovery continues through my year, I'm hoping my ensuing confusion to new situations will gradually fade. There are such simple aspects of life here that no one ever explains to you.
It's hard to describe my impression of Germany. Although I've been here a month, the middle 2 weeks were spent at our district's mandatory language camp. It was phenomenal to be able to meet all the other students here from around the world, however I couldn't exactly use it to decide what I thought of the German culture.
People in Germany seem to be much less open to strangers. After spending 2 weeks with other exchange students (almost all of whom were from South America), it was a very different experience and takes some getting used to. School is extremely hard some days if people don't want to talk to you, but other days may be really enjoyable. I've found the teachers are extremely varied as well. Some have been extremely nice and inviting, while others I think didn't even notice a new student was in the class. Right now it's extremely confusing as I don't have a schedule, so I never know what class I will go to next. It also doesn't help that each class can be in all different classrooms through the week. What's more, teachers can simply decide not to show up, in which case, class is canceled. Altogether it's a truly unique experience.
I imagine the quality of an exchange frequently depends on the quality of your relationship with people you meet. Even though I've been in school for a week, it seems to take much longer to feel like you belong here. I'm hoping as time goes on, I'll meet more people and be able to feel involved in the student life here.
My time here has definitely been hard, but it has also had its moments of real enjoyment. Of course, this is precisely what Rotary said it would be during the first few months. Therefore I can only surmise that over time the hard parts will become easier and the fun parts will be even more common.
October 18, 2013
It's hard to believe I've been here two months already. It’s much easier now that I actually know people and understand how the school works and everything. School is still quite an experience as I can’t understand everything, however my German is slowly improving and I’m sure eventually I’ll be able to join in the discussions and be even more involved.
It’s funny, everyone said that I’m going to miss so many things about Florida, be it the weather, my family, the beach, or the people. However, for the most part, I’m getting along fine and haven’t had the huge homesickness for those things everyone said to expect. No one said anything about the food though. Others may feel sad because they haven’t seen their parents. I feel sad because my family can’t send fried chicken through the mail (yet). I have literally found myself fantasizing about all the things I’ll eat when I come back. As it turns out, explaining fried butter to Germans is quite difficult. Not even McDonald’s can satisfy me. Just an example, the small drink size here is 300 ml. The small in America is 700 ml. That’s bigger than the large here. Plus America gives you free refills. I have yet to find a restaurant that even gives free refills for water.
That’s not to say the food here is bad by any means. Actually I must say I’ve developed an affinity for Turkish food. I can’t pronounce half the things on the menu, but that certainly doesn’t diminish the taste. In addition to that, the German food itself is delicious. Obviously Schnitzel is becoming a favorite of mine, though it is rare I get to have it because my family doesn’t eat meat very often. I suppose I should be thankful as it’s probably kept me from gaining 15 pounds, but it doesn’t stop me from dreaming of fried food. Also, just an observation of eating habits, in my family the main meal is lunch. As in, that’s when the whole family sits down together and talks and whatnot. Dinner is actually quite unorganized, and often simply involves just each person getting something to eat on his or her own. I don’t know if that’s a German thing or a European thing or just a my-family thing, but I thought it was interesting.
My entire stay here has been full of little observations such as that. It’s like John Travolta said in Pulp Fiction, “The funniest thing about Europe is the little differences.” I’ve never left my country before, so every day I see little differences that everyone here sees as normal. Before coming here, I had never seen a small, standalone butcher shop or bakery. All I’d seen was Publix or Panera and such. Certainly those places exist in America, but here, you don’t even have to try to find them. Those little differences all add up and really are what make up an exchange.
I have no idea what the rest of this year will bring, however I know that I will do my best to make sure I have the greatest time possible. Obviously priority number one is learning German, but I know in another month or two, I’ll be able to speak easily with people. I won’t be fluent, but enough to have a full conversation. My biggest goal for this year is to eat a massive meal at Waldgeist. My second biggest goal is to be near fluent in three languages when I return. “Three languages?” you ask. Yes, as it so happens, more than two-thirds of the exchange students on my district are from South America, and seeing as I had four years of Spanish, it would seem a waste to not better it. Obviously German takes priority, however in the latter half of my year, I hope to learn some Spanish as well. I know it will be difficult, but hey, why not? As long as I stay positive here and try everything Germany has to offer, I know I will have a good time with anything I do.