Stuart Brown

Germany

Hometown:Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Ponte Vedra High School
Sponsor District : District 6970
Sponsor Club:Ponte Vedra Beach Sunset, Florida
Host District: District 1870
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Neuss

 

My Bio


Hello! My name is Stuart, and I will be spending a year in Germany! I am currently seventeen years old, living in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. I feel like I can't do this without thanking everyone first, kind of like the Oscars. To Jeff Hart, Daphne Cameron, Al Kalter, Bob White, and everyone else involved in my exchange, thank you endlessly for your help! And of course, thank you to my mom and dad, for putting up with my last minute problems, and for helping me with my application. So, about me. I like to surf, and be around friends. Preferably both at the same time. I love being outdoors, and finding new and cool places (I guess that's the "adventurer" part of me Rotary was looking for). I also love to film things. A lot of things. When I see something I like, I enjoyed doing, or is cool in some sort of way, I want to share that. Be it a ski trip, a football game, or even just a sunrise in the back yard, someone will take joy in watching it. So to my future host families, if you're reading this, do not be surprised if we first meet with a camera strapped to my head. The application process was long, and stressful. When I finally heard that I had been excepted, I'm not sure if I was relieved that I was going, or that it was all over. All of the lost sleep, paper work, interviews, and nervousness, was more than worth it. And I'm sure all of my fellow outbounds feel the same, but there is no way to express the excitement and curiosity that I feel towards what is to come. That, and the long wait until we actually leave. That's the worst part.

Photo taken below Schloss Neuschwanstein

Photo taken below Schloss Neuschwanstein

-Overlooking Oberammergau

-Overlooking Oberammergau

Well we found a Rotarian in Munich. I'm not quite sure what he said, but I think he might have said he was the president...

Well we found a Rotarian in Munich. I'm not quite sure what he said, but I think he might have said he was the president...

-One of many Schutzenfest parades.

-One of many Schutzenfest parades.

-And then after it's all over, they turn around and do it again.

-And then after it's all over, they turn around and do it again.

-The walk up to our Oberammergau youth hostel.

-The walk up to our Oberammergau youth hostel.

-Neuss

-Neuss

Schloss Neuschwanstein!

Schloss Neuschwanstein!

Fresh snow!

Fresh snow!

Highest point on the mountain, overlooking Italy.

Highest point on the mountain, overlooking Italy.

host brother (Right), host mother (Middle) and myself.

host brother (Right), host mother (Middle) and myself.

Weather cleared up enough to see some of the mountains.

Weather cleared up enough to see some of the mountains.

entry-122-p1030430

entry-122-p1030430

Getting some back-country time in with the ski-class.

Getting some back-country time in with the ski-class.

Journals: Stuart - Germany

  • Stuart, outbound to Germany

    It hasn't been too long since my last one of these, however I figure I should make up for my lack of journals and just start pumping out what I can more often. I'm at about month 5 or so right now. Everything has slowly started to become more and more normal, easy, and just more fun in general. So here's a recap on some things and some other things, as best as I can tell them.

    I'm currently living with my second host family, on a nice (and rather large) farm just outside of town. I of course spent Christmas here, where we had the entire family over. German Christmas is definitely different. My favorite thing being the markets. Starting in late November or early December, many towns have Christmas markets, filled with little sort of huts, decorated all festive, with all sorts of nic-nacs and sweets for sale. And of course, Gl├╝hwein, a traditional German drink usually reserved for the Christmas season. It's a sweet, sugary kind of wine served hot. And let me tell you, people buy that stuff and down it like it's hot chocolate.

    Unlike in the US, Germans don't put up their Christmas trees until a day or two before Christmas, and then leave it up a few days to a few weeks afterwards. The only thing about the Christmas trees here that I still seriously can't wrap my head around is they way they do the lights. That's just the thing, there aren't any lights- There's candles. Yes, candles. Like real ones. With fire. ON THE TREE. As a person who's lit a Christmas tree on fire before, I still don't understand why anyone would think that's even remotely a good idea. I even asked and nobody seemed to think it was a bad idea. At one point a relative asked if I wanted to help light the candles. It's probably the only thing I've given a definite "NEIN" to while here, because quite frankly I don't want to share any responsibility for when the house burns to the ground.

    Christmas is also celebrated more so on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas day. Presents and everything are done in the evening. In the US the religion part of Christmas is slowly and slowly fading, where as in Germany it's certainly the opposite. A big part of it is Advent. If your family is Christian, then of course you go to a church service Christmas eve. For whatever reason a thing people eat on Christmas eve here is Fondue. Delicious never the less. The next day was possibly the best thing I've ever eaten in my life. Fresh, locally hunted fawn venison (Bambi meat), made into a Gulasch type deal with this soft pasta kind of stuff.

    As my family lives on a farm, throughout most of the year they're, well, farming. And summer is especially busy. In Autumn, everything is harvested, and prepped for the next year's planting. And in winter, nothing. Paperwork and a cup of coffee. So every winter my family takes a vacation to Austria to ski, and they were incredibly nice and decided to take me with them. And let me tell you, it's one of the greatest things I've ever done. We drove all the way there (7 hours total), spending a night on the Bodensee before heading to our ski resort, Obergurgl. I've already been skiing a few times, so seeing snow and mountains and all that wasn't anything too new, but still always a little breath taking.

    We were all rather concerned when we got there, as there wasn't too much snow for being halfway through winter. However, the first three or four days of skiing was nothing but heavy snow. At one point on the mountain, visibility dropped to about 100 ft. Because it had been snowing so heavily for so long, I actually really hadn't seen any of the surrounding mountains. Although, there were still breath taking views here and there.

    At one point I was waiting with the group at the bottom of a hill, stuffed between some trees sitting in the snow. I was looking up the mountain waiting for the others, and for just a few minutes the clouds cleared a little. Although it wasn't much, the dark outline of a pointy mountain appeared, dwarfing the one we were on. It was the first I had really seen, so I really didn't have any idea of the surrounding views.

    The few days were mostly completely clear, and also incredibly beautiful. Because it had been snowing so heavily the first few days, there was heaps of fresh snow. And because it had also been so windy, cold, and just generally awful weather, most of it was untouched. It was possibly the best skiing I've ever had, and ever will. It was nothing but knee deep powder that never stopped.

    On the first clear day we went to a high point on the mountain, which over looked a vast range of mountains that continued into Italy. Despite the awful wind and cold on some days, it was still some of the most fun skiing I've ever done. We were all in ski school groups, and eventually people who weren't asked if they could join until the bottom simply because they had lost all orientation of where to go.

    The whole trip also made me realize how (for lack of better term) "Germanized" I had become since arriving. At least a third of everyone there was English, and I was constantly noticing differences, where as a few months ago everything would have just been the same.

    Because it had been snowing so heavily for so long, I actually really hadn't seen any of the surrounding mountains. As for New Years, I actually fell asleep early. But right as I was just about asleep, the clock struck twelve. Which meant fireworks. Twenty minutes worth the fireworks. After six days of skiing, we packed up and drove to Munich, where we spent two nights with some of my host dad's family.

    As far as other adventures go, it's come to be an unfortunately sad time of the year. While most students arrive in the district in August, some come in January. So when myself and the other 50 some exchange students arrived in Germany, a dozen or so had already been here for ten months. Mostly from Australia, New Zealand, and Brazil.

    Over the past few months, especially since I haven't really been in school, these people have come to be some of my closest friends, with the best memories. Sometimes it was walking up a mountain, sometimes it was hunting down a Chinese buffet outside the airport. Never the less, some of the most best people I've ever met. It's been bitter sweet the past few weeks, as it's come time for all of them to go home. With that, it also made me realize not only how fast time goes by, but how great the little things are that you never thought about. Before this point, I never really thought about the things we've done. But now it's a hard reality that some of those things aren't going to happen again.

    We used to meet Friday nights at a spot in Dusseldorf on the Rhein river at least once a month, but it's a strange feeling that it won't really happen again. Even small things like just hanging out in a train for hours, bouncing between cities. It's really made me just sort of slow down, and cherish things a little bit more than I did before, as I've realized that my year away is a lot shorter than a year. I keep thinking about "the end of my exchange" as being this mystical, imaginary far away point in time that I'll eventually reach. Kind of like the way one would think about the end of the school year.

    Of course, no I'm not at the end. I've still got time, but put into perspective it almost still feels like I've only been here a few weeks, but yet with no time left. What's also hard is not really being able to share what you're experiencing. Sure, you can send photos back home, send some candy in the mail and tell a story over Skype. But I can't ever just introduce someone to my friends back home, or my family, I can't just take someone to see a place, or try a new food.

    Culture wise, Germany isn't too different from the US. With that said, I never really thought about anything being too grand. I may not be Alice in Wonderland, but I've still come to realize there's just great little things. Like taking the morning train over the Rhein, or just being goofy with friends in the Christmas markets. It's just not something that can be shared. So for those of you new outbounds who may or may not be reading this, take note. Time goes fast, and there won't always be a next time. The Rotex and Rotarians will always tell you to make the most of your exchange in any way possible, and the easiest start is by just cherishing whatever it is you're doing.


  • Stuart, outbound to Germany

    So, my first entry. Finally stopped putting this off. Just gonna go ahead and give my apologies to Rotary, should have done this a while ago. BUT, better late than never! I've been in Germany for almost exactly four months now. Over those four months I've both seen, learned, and experienced a lot. So I guess I'll get to explaining myself.

    The whole adventured started a few months ago in this mysterious place people call "The Jacksonville International Airport". Originally my flights were simple- Hop on a plane to Atlanta, sit around and eat some chinese food for a while, then get on another plane straight to Dusseldorf. But that's just too good to be true, isn't it? About a half hour or so before boarding, the pilot came to address everyone. It was something along the lines of "We're really sorry, but we ran into something the size of a bowling ball and the engine's a little messed up". So instead, I ended up getting rerouted through NYC-JFK, where I was blessed with the opportunity to take a lovely sprint across one of the world's largest airports. I then got on a flight to Amsterdam, where I again, I found myself running through the airport. There I encountered European customs- something I wasn't really expecting until Germany. With not a lot of time until my flight, I talked my way through with the nice Dutch customs officer, who I think was just as confused as I was. I finally arrived in Dusseldorf, 25 hours after I had originally gotten to JAX. And of course, hadn't slept a bit. My family was waiting for me at the airport, and we made the short drive to what would be my new home.

    I live in the town of Neuss, a relatively small town just over the Rhein river from Dusseldorf. It's mainly industrial, with factories and smoke towers scattered across town. Neuss rather beautiful, with a busy main street, trams, old buildings and a few beautiful churches. It's located in the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen, an eastern state bordering Holland. Neuss is also about 20 minutes (by train) north of Cologne. My new family's house was only about a three minute walk from the train station, and a fifteen minute walk to school.

    There's really no good way to put it, but my first few weeks were rather exciting and exhausting. After two weeks, started this thing called Schutzenfest. I really hadn't grasped the scale of it until it came around. Essentially it was five days of a (VERY) German celebration. What does it celebrate? Still no idea. I don't even think most people in it know, but it's fun and that's all that matters. It's almost non-stop parades, meals, and various parties and what not. I was given the opportunity to march in one of the first parades, which was absolutely incredible. At one point was the "Fackelzug" parade, which was two hours of hundreds of light-up paper parade float things. Some of which were rather impressive. The next morning was the Koenig's Parade, in which all 7,550 participants marched through the town in their various uniforms. On the last day was a shooting "competition", although I found it a little easy and no t much of a competition. However, still great to watch.

    During October, myself and the other 50-some inbound exchange students in my district were able to go on our district's Deutschland Tour. For about two weeks, we travelled essentially around the border of Germany in a big ole bus touring various city's and places. Our first stop was Heidelberg (more beautiful than it sounds), then a drive through the Black Forest, and then Freiburg (Actually looks about like it sounds), a ferry across the Bodensee (big giant lake thing at the bottom of the country), and I think everyone's favorite stop was the next, Oberammergau. It's really just a small Bavarian town, settled into a valley.

    Our youth hostel was way up on a hill, with a road steep enough that the bus couldn't handle the road-which meant walking. However the view along the way was well worth it. At the top it was absolutely beautiful, overlooking the town with a mountain to either side. Through out the trip, we were eating breakfast and dinner in our youth hostels, and lunch was on us. This one was certainly a change. The place offered a deal, where it's all you can eat. If you run the kitchen out of food, then it's completely free. I can assure you it was not free, but we didn't go down without a fight. I think ate at least a dozen pieces of schnitzel. And of course we got to visit one of Germany's most famous places, Schloss Neuschwanstein. Still can't pronounce it in one try.

    We also got to visit the memorial site of one of Germany's larger concentration camps, Dachau. Walking through everything was strange to say the least. We moved onto Munich, Rothenberg, Dresden, Berlin, and Hamburg. One of the best parts of everything was getting to spend time with a lot of awesome people from all over the world, and also the shenanigans to go with it. Singing along to Abba and various songs in the back of the bus, and all 50 of us suddenly yelling "AUSSTEIGEN" (Get off) in the subways never got old. At one point one guy managed to break an entire door. We mysteriously lost two people in the red-light district of Hamburg for two hours. Making fun of our Rotex, for being (although great), the absolute worst people on the planet. I'll never forget that three mile walk to see a cathedral that was entirely covered by scaffolding, from a tucked away corner by a construction site. Forgetting my passport and hanging out in the Berlin train station instead of the government building. Wouldn't have changed any of it.

    For my first four months, I haven't actually been in school. Instead, my host club placed me in two different German courses, that lasted about all day. The first, was actually at my new highschool. However it was mainly ages 8-13, the teacher spoke just about no English, and also never gave me any actual lessons. So after a few weeks I put in a request to be removed. However instead of getting circulated into school, I was then moved to another course located in Dusseldorf. This one turned out to be far, far better though and actually really enjoyable. With that said, after four months I'm able to hold up a conversation, answer questions, and understand about half of what is being taught in school. I'm currently only in my first week. German school however is much like American highschool. There's no sport teams, or really any elective classes either. But, it runs a lot more like a college. Your schedule is different every day, which is nice. So you only have each subject two or three times per week. You're also aloud to actually leave school. So if your teacher isn't there, ya just go home. A lot of people leave or go home for lunch as well. Looking at it now, I find it rather ridiculous how it's such a big deal to leave campus back home.

    There's not too much different in culture, by as time goes on you find more and more. It's however mainly just little things. Where the line generally gets drawn is politics.

    -Food: Bread. It's the answer to everything. It's generally what's eaten with breakfast, usually with butter and some sort of jelly. Sometimes for lunch, sometimes for dinner, but then with some slices of salami or cheese. Coming from eating Angie's or Firehouse Subs on a weekly basis, I'm convinced Germans just haven't had someone explaint to them the potential a sandwich can have. Table manners are for the most part the same, except you eat just about everything with a fork and knife. Especially if you're in a restaurant. I think I've finally got the hang of eating pizza like this.

    -Sleeping: There's a pillow case for the blanket. Found that interesting. The blankets are also just big enough for one person, even if it's a larger bed, and even if there's two people in the same bed. My family also sleeps with the windows open. Still can't wrap my head around this, as it drops below zero during the night.

    -Commuting: Trains. Trains everywhere. And busses too. You really don't have to drive anywhere, you can just take a train. My host club pays for a regional transportation pass as well, so I can pretty much get where ever I need to go, up to three hours north of me. People also take their bikes everywhere. They're also treated more like cars here. You have to have a light at night, use the bike path, or ride in the road. If it's a one way street, you have to go in that direction. It's actually not unlikely to get a ticket from the police while on a bike. People also will always stop at crosswalks for those lights. Like, the ones that tell you when you can cross. Even if there's no oncoming traffic in either direction what so ever, if the light's red, you stay.

    -Fashion. Well, it's European. But it sometimes makes me laugh. Some people follow really, really closely to fashion trends. People everywhere wear those yellow/tan Timberland construction worker boots. Every one. You walk past any shoe store and there's a wide selection of almost identical construction worker boots. I can also tell you that there are more people wearing Chicago Bulls hats in Dusseldorf than there are actually in Chicago. Sometimes people just wear big snapback hats with "New York" or "Miami" written on it. I'm still not understanding it.

    -Driving: My god it's like a roller coaster. Everything is fast. EVERYTHING. Accelerate fast, stop fast, fast speed limits, fast turning, fast everything. There is no relaxing and cruising on a German highway. But at the same time, it's rather nice.

    Okay, so some of that may have come off negative (I think everyone has that problem when writting these), but don't get me wrong, Germany is absolutely wonderful and absolutely great. I'm looking forward to every day, and every new opportunity. So that's my journal. They're a lot harder to sit down and write than you'd think. But I promise to write another one (for the most part) on time!


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