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The past eight months have given me some of the best experiences I could have ever asked for. It’s pretty reasonable to think that living for some time in a country where you at first didn’t know anyone or speak the language can lead to something truly interesting and unique.
I am now in my third and final host family and I couldn’t be happier. My first two host families were also amazing and kind, but different. For my first three months, I lived alone with my host mom. She has three children, the two oldest sons work and live alone, one in Hamburg and the other here in Dresden. The third child is her daughter my age who is currently in Texas doing her exchange year. The daughter, Clara, left two weeks after I got here but in those two weeks we were able to really get along and share some good times. After she left it was obviously different in the house, since it was then me alone with my host mom. Through the next three months I was able to learn about the differences that different family dynamics lead to. For example, living alone with someone as an exchange student means even better and more effective communication is needed so that both parties are always on the same page. As an exchange student it also means that I had more of a spotlight o n me 24/7, which can be stressful at times. One of the biggest things I can take away from these three months is definitely how to better communicate one’s thoughts and intentions, which proved to be especially difficult in another language. I’m lucky to have been with such a loving and kind host mother for these three months.
In my second host family I then lived alone with my host dad, who is the father from Clara. The change in families marked a shift in my exchange as well, I felt that with what I had experienced in my first host family I was able to be a better child to my host dad. With my host dad, Christoph, I learned a lot about how to live better day to day. With him I got myself into good habits like: planning out the week to be more organized, reading more books, and being more aware of everything happening in the world and why they are happening. Christoph also likes to cook, so we’d cook dinner together every single day, which at first was a little challenging for me since I had minimal cooking experience before, but I was able to get the hang of it all and enjoy it. The best times I had with Christoph were when he would be teaching me something new or explaining a topic I hadn’t heard very much of before. With him being a smart and experienced lawyer, one can imagine we had a lot of these times.
My first two host families were extremely good to me and I am eternally grateful for everything they did for me. It was enlightening to live in such a different family dynamic. I come from a large latin american family where we are all close and frequently together, so to go from that to living alone with a stranger was quite different. To then come back to a more “traditional” family dynamic in my third host family then seemed more familiar and comfortable.
I live now with my two host parents, 6 and 19 year old brothers, and 21 year old sister. I get along with all of them really well. The 6 year old, Maxi, frequently asks me to play with him when he’s at home, and of course I always accept. I cook and talk a lot with my host mom as well. My host dad makes me laugh every time we talk, which has led to a nice and friendly relationship between us. My two older siblings have to work and study quite frequently, but we still get the chance to talk with one another and have a good relationship. The contrast between this family and the last two is that here I have a little less of a spotlight on myself, so it’s a bit more relieving.
Moving on from host families, I’d like to talk about Dresden. In these eight months I have come to love this city. The city makes one of the harder parts of exchange easier, which is keeping oneself busy. I live fairly close to the center of the city so it doesn’t take long to get anywhere I need to go through the public transport. This means I have easy access to places like my gym, city centers to hang out with friends, and the river that runs through Dresden. This river, the Elbe, is also one of the most amazing parts of Dresden. I had dreaded this Winter because it had robbed me of one of my biggest joys, taking my longboard out and riding it on the Elbe. It truly is such a nice and tranquil place to go to on an afternoon. Now that spring is coming it will once again be one of my favorite pastimes. I can't believe that a city I barely knew existed a year ago can mean so much to me now.
Exchange in Europe also means quite a few travel opportunities. In October I traveled around a bit with my first host mom. We drove to Prague, Vienna, and Hamburg. Every city was truly unique in its own way and each astoundingly beautiful. In the first two cities we visited all the famous landmarks which were all really remarkable. In the third we were then with my oldest host brother who lives and works in Hamburg.
Then in November we had a Paris tour with about 100 exchange students from my district and two neighboring districts. This was my first time in Paris and I quickly saw why it is talked about as much as it is. We visited places like Versailles, The Louvre, The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Arc de Triomphe. Finally, I have also visited Berlin a couple times. One can see first hand and learn about the history of the war and how it affects Germany still today. I’m lucky to have gone once with my second host dad and we was able to teach and explain a lot about the times when Germany was split into East and West Germany. Having everything so relatively close in Europe can lead to great possibilities in terms of travel.
More recently, I’ve just last week finished a 2 week internship at Dresden’s Institute of Technology. I spent my time at the Nuclear Energy Research and Technologies Department. In my time here I used previous knowledge I had learned in school back home to program a simulation of neutron growth and decay in a nuclear reactor. Through talking and learning from the engineers who work there I was able to become even more interested and curious about engineering than I already was.
I find myself thinking frequently about where I would be if I hadn’t gone on exchange. It would have been just another school year, in the same school as always, in the same city I’ve lived in my whole life, doing the same things I’ve always done. When compared to with what one does on exchange it is strikingly apparent how much a year like this can give and teach. The past eight months have given me moments that I will never forget and forever cherish.