January 13, 2014
I wish I could find the words to sum up the last 4 months of my life but I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t. I simply cannot throw a mix of letters together that will amount to this once in a lifetime experience. Leaving was a whirlwind of emotions. The week leading up to departure, all I could do was cry but when it was really time to go, I was ready. I didn’t want to think about everything I was leaving behind but instead, I wanted to focus on all that was about to begin! And so it began, my 14 hour trip to the beautiful country of Germany. When we landed, I was overcome by a rush of emotions. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Munich.” I felt absolutely beside myself! I couldn’t believe it! Even the dreadful two-hour wait for my luggage and 15 minutes of searching through an ocean of people for my host family couldn’t rain on my parade. The drive home from the airport was so surreal and I had t o keep pinching myself to know that it wasn’t a dream.
September 4th, 2013- the start of the most enriching year of my life. I have been in beautiful Bavaria for 132 days. Time is flying by and I wish I could slow it down. I have made new lifelong friends, I have another wonderful family, I am convinced that I live in one of the most breath-taking parts of Germany, I am surrounded by history and culture, I have mastered the public transportation system, I have learned (well am in the process of learning) a difficult language, and I am starting to find out who I really am. I have traveled more than I imagined I would and I have hiked in knee-deep snow up a very intimidating mountain. I have seen my first snowfall and I have sledded 7km down a winding slope. I have become a pro (okay, I wish) at ice skating, I have walked through castles older than the United States and I have danced on top of the tables at Oktoberfest (strange tradition these Germans have.) I have had a lot of “first time’s” away from home; my bi rthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s. I have cried due to homesickness, frustration with the language, sometimes feeling alone but all of this has only made this experience even better. Exchange isn’t just about partying and having fun. Exchange is about finding out who you are, realizing that once you make it through this year, you will be a better you. This year is about starting your life all over again. You are literally like a baby and listening to 5 year olds speak better German than you can sometimes be discouraging but that is what this whole thing is about! Living this new life from the ground up, growing as your days pass by. Exchange is about making connections with the world and being an ambassador for your country. I have faced a lot of negative preconceived notions being here in Germany but everyone I have had a conversation with has told me that I have completely changed their opinions of Americans. I think that is what makes RYE so amazing . Your eyes are opened to the world and you realize that you are the one in charge of your life. Your decisions are what decide how your days will be. When I do get homesick, I always remind myself of the life I am living. This opportunity has allowed me to experience something that at one point, I thought I could only dream of.
I live in Dachau which is a town of about 42,000 inhabitants and is conveniently located 7 miles outside of Munich! I love having the feeling of living in a small town while still getting to experience life in a big city. Dachau is small but is such a beautiful quaint town with history dating back to the Middle Ages. Munich is also unique and full of life. There is always something going on and I never get bored because of all that the city has to offer. Being in this central area of Southern Germany means that I can hop on a train and be in a completely different country with a totally new culture in a couple of hours. I have been to Switzerland and Austria already and plan on going to a few more countries before the end of my exchange. In April, I will be doing a 3 week tour of all of Germany with the rest of the exchange students in my district.
There are many differences between Germany and Florida: one of the biggest is the weather. It is soooo cold here! However, you do get acclimated and like my host mom says, “There is no such thing as bad weather! Only poor choice of clothing.” Another difference is the way Germans are with others, especially foreigners. Do not expect to be accepted with wide open arms and people eager to become your friend. You really do have to try! In the beginning, it was very difficult for me as the students in my school didn’t make an effort to really talk to me. I had to talk to them. I even told my teachers, “listen, I will be friends with anyone. Seriously, ANYONE. Advertise me to your other classes!” It sounds ridiculous but it worked and I now have the best friends I could ever ask for. The diet here is also very different. Back home, I rarely ate red meat and carbs like potatoes and bread were a small part of my diet. Here, bread, potatoes, and red meat are a staple in the Bavarian cooking. I have gained weight but it’s okay because after all, I am an exchange student. The chocolate here is absolutely amazing and I have adjusted to drinking sparkling water from the bottle. The most obvious difference is the language. Many people here speak English and though some are too shy to speak it, others want to practice their English with me all the time. I have to remind my friends that I really need to master German so it is necessary that English is rarely, if ever, spoken. Don’t be afraid to speak your host language. In the beginning, I was so scared of sounding ridiculous and I thought people were going to be offended by my lack of German. Turns out, they love when you try to speak their language! Don’t be afraid because sounding ridiculous will be inevitable. I’ve learned to just laugh at my mistakes, fix them and move on. The only way you will learn your language is if you practice it enough to fix th ose mistakes. You can’t learn a language by osmosis (although how great would life be if you could?) so you have to try very hard to learn! But the moments of understanding others and instinctively speaking your host language is what makes it all worth the frustration. Your first dream in your host language will also make you feel like you’ve just conquered the world- well at least for me it did.
My days here in Germany have been indescribable and it is sometimes unfathomable that I moved to another country I had never been to before, to live with people I had never met, to speak a language I didn’t understand, and to live a life I never thought I could. Yet I am here and I am pursuing a dream of mine that I have had since I could remember. I have grown so much in these last few months and with all of this I have developed a new appreciation for my family and the place I come from.
Exchange is truly a life in a year.