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Today marks 1 month here in Berlin, Germany and I have never loved a city and a country more in my life.
It's crazy to think just 9 months ago, I went to my first orientation back in Florida and how I spent everyday dreaming about my arrival in Germany. This month has exceeded all of my expectation.
Let's start from the beginning, my departure and arrival. On August 27th, I left Miami international airport at 4pm and it was one of the hardest goodbyes I've ever had. It didn't sink in that I was leaving for a year, even the week before my departure. I gave my " see you soon " hugs to my family and I made my way to the gate. My first stop was in Detroit and I was so exhausted I slept the entire plane ride. At 8pm, my plane left to Amsterdam and there, I had 2 hours to rest until my final flight to Berlin. I have never watched so many movies in my life as I did on all 3 plane rides. I was so excited and nervous at the same time about meeting my host family for the first time that I couldn't sleep.
I arrived early afternoon, around 1pm, to Berlin Tegel and as soon as I got my luggages and headed out, my family was standing together with a beautiful welcome poster that said, " Herzlichen Wilkommen Valeria," which means, " Warm Welcome Valeria. " I expected for them to greet me with a simple handshake but NO, I got 4 loving hugs. Right there, I knew everything was starting off on the right foot. The first person to greet me was my brother, David, who is 21 years old. Then my sister, Sarah, who is 19 years old, my mom, Renate, ( I don't know her age but she looks young and beautiful ), and lastly my counselor, Jan, who handed me 2 small German and American flags. Although I had known my host parents were divorced, I didn't know they were good friends. We all got in the car and my dad drove us home.
HOME SWEET HOME! I live in an apartment now which is very different but I was ready for it. We live on the second floor and lucky for us, the building has no elevators so I walk up 44 stairs. YES, I count them everyday, in German just so I can practice remembering them. My mom showed me to my room and that was the biggest surprise yet, it was HUGE. Bigger than my room in Florida, and I honestly, didn't expect that. It's actually the biggest room in the entire apartment which I felt very blessed to have. There are 4 bedrooms including mine, and 2 bathrooms, but only one has a shower, which has been a lot of fun to share with my hostfamily. My sister made a DELICIOUS chocolate cake for us and there it hit me, this is my wonderful family that I can't thank God enough for. They were perfect!
Later that evening, I unpacked my luggages and my sister took me biking to the supermarket. Yeah, everyone bikes here. I've never seen so many in my life. It was a surprise to me that I was biking on the road and cars were passing by not even an arm length away. They're used to it here. Cars respect bikes and vice versa. After going to the supermarket, my mom and her friend took me " sightseeing" around Schöneberg. I live 0.3 miles away From Rathaus Schöneberg where President John F. Kennedy gave his speech, " Ich bin ein Berliner. " I pass by it everyday and it's unbelievable to see something in person that I only saw on youtube. The " quarter" which I live in is called the Bavarian quarter, and back in World War 2, Schöneberg had many Jews living there. On every street, there are signs with a different picture and behind it are also different laws passed by Nazis of privileges that had been stripped away from the Jews. My mom told me that these signs are a reminder for the people currently living in Schöneberg so that they don't forget their origins. Also, some buildings have gold square shaped rocks in front of them engraved with the name, birthday, and death of the Jews that once lived there. This keeps the history alive for anyone that lives there or passes by it. Night time quickly came and my first dinner was at an Indian restaurant. First day and I was already trying new things. We ate with my sister, her boyfriend Julian, my brother, my mom, and her friend whose name I don't know. My jet lag wasn't too bad since I had traveled to countries with a 6hour difference, so I was still pretty awake. My brother invited me to a get together with his friends and as I learned in my orientation, don't say NO to going out, I wen't with him. I spoke a lot to his friends and they were very enthusiastic to hear about my life and why I had chosen Germany. No one believed me when I told them it was because of the language, the culture, and the history. It's absolutely fascinating!!! At around 12pm, my brother and I wen't home with the Ubahn, underground train, and the Bus. Although I couldn't fall asleep until 2am, it was an amazing first day.
My mom and my sister took me sightseeing on Tuesday and I took pictures everywhere. We went to see the victory column, the Brandenburger Tür, the Spree River, and the president's home. Spectacular to say the least. My first week was adapting to my parents rules, expectations, and of course lots of sightseeing. I went to a beautiful lake called the KRUMME LANKE and after a good 30 minutes, I was able to get in. The water was FREEZING! I was shivering the entire time but it was so worth it. One of the biggest shocks I had was the nudity. Here in Germany, it is very normal to be naked when going to a lake, the beach, or just lying in the park. I think no American is ready for this shock but I am now starting to adapt to it. About a week later I started school. Absolutely AMAZING! I love it. In fact, I hate missing school. I've made such great German friends, and some were on exchange the year before so they are even more understanding of how I feel.
Waking up for the first day of school was a mix of emotions. I was super excited to meet people my age but I was nervous about how I would talk to them or interest them. I understood some Germany but when they started talking fast to each other, I was lost. It didn't hit me how much I had to learn this entire year. My schools name is Marie Curie Gymnasium and it's 15 minutes away from my home. I take the train everyday and I feel very independent now that I learned how to use the German transportation system. I am in 11th grade and it's awesome because when I have lunch break or simply a free hour, I can go home, or leave school. There is a delicious Bakery right next to my school and I go there almost everyday for lunch. My school starts at 8am and finishes at 2:40 pm. We have courses, just like in the US. Of course, everyone speaks really fast in class so I don't understand the majority of it but I am making progress. I can proudly say I understand more German n ow than I did 1 month ago.
I recently had my first Rotary orientation and it was so much fun. We danced all weekend, and saw so many country presentations. It's crazy how being away from home brings people together. We are 55 exchange students in Berlin and we all get along so well, which is a blessing. We hangout every weekend and we're always having great laughs and getting to know each other more. I couldn't have asked for a better group of exchange students to do exchange with.
All in all, I have loved my exchange. It was the BEST thing I've ever signed up for and I am more than grateful to my family for giving me this opportunity as well as my AMAZING Rotary Davie/ Cooper city Club for sponsoring me. Germany, you have my heart!