Vale Olano

 Germany

Hometown: Davie, Florida
School: Alpha Omega Academy
Sponsor District : District 6990
Sponsor Club: , Florida
Host District: 1940
Host Club: The Rotary Club Berlin Gedaechtniskirche.


My Bio


Hallo, my name is Valeria Olano. I am incredibly excited to become an exchange student. I am 16 years old, born in South Florida with a Colombian nationality. I have 2 younger sisters, Valentina ( 15 ) and Victoria ( 11 ) and 2 wonderful parents, Karen and Juan. I currently live in Davie, FL where I spend most of my time figure skating. YES, I skate in the sunny state of Florida. Because of my sport, I have had to sacrifice the social life that school brings; however, I enjoy homeschooling with my skating teammates. When I am not skating or being bombarded with rigorous school work, I always find a way to stay active while being accompanied by friends and family. Also, my favorite hobbies include dancing, acting, and singing. In past years, I was involved in musical theater, ballet productions, and several talent shows. Furthermore, my family and I love to have people over, which is why socializing comes easy to me. I love to meet new people and learn about different cultures. This past year, my family and I were able to open our home to a wonderful exchange student, Veronika, from the Czech Republic. She has been a great example of what being an exchange student is all about. Having her live with us opened my eyes and understanding that life can be more exciting embarking in a new journey abroad. Though living away from home is not always flowers and rainbows, it still is an unforgettable experience that I am so honored to have. I look forward to meeting my future families in Germany. Auf Wiedersehen - goodbye :)

Selfie with my mom and my sister in front of the Brandenburger Tür

Selfie with my mom and my sister in front of the Brandenburger Tür

My host family and me at the Berlin Tegel airport.

My host family and me at the Berlin Tegel airport.

Behind me is the Victory Column that Heinrich Strack designed after 1864 to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War.

Behind me is the Victory Column that Heinrich Strack designed after 1864 to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War.

Standing in front of Rathaus Schöneberg where P. John F Kennedy gave his " Ich bin ein Berliner" speech.

Standing in front of Rathaus Schöneberg where P. John F Kennedy gave his " Ich bin ein Berliner" speech.

Bellevue Palace, Presidents home

Bellevue Palace, Presidents home

Two good friends from school :)

Two good friends from school :)

Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie

German unity day, October 3rd. Reichstag Building

German unity day, October 3rd. Reichstag Building

Brandenburger Tur with exchange students

Brandenburger Tur with exchange students

Potsdam Adventures

Potsdam Adventures

French district, Lyon

French district, Lyon

Unity day at Brandenburger Tur with 2 exchange students

Unity day at Brandenburger Tur with 2 exchange students

Eiffel Tower at night

Eiffel Tower at night

Elbphilharmonie

Elbphilharmonie

Tourist picture touching the Louvre

Tourist picture touching the Louvre

Las Vegas at night from the Miniatur Wunderland

Las Vegas at night from the Miniatur Wunderland

Exchange friends on the Eiffel Tower

Exchange friends on the Eiffel Tower

Outside of Palais de Versailles

Outside of Palais de Versailles

Italy from the Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg

Italy from the Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg

Family picture at Christmas market drinking Kinderpunsch and Glühwein

Family picture at Christmas market drinking Kinderpunsch and Glühwein

Picture inside of the Fernsehrturm all the way up

Picture inside of the Fernsehrturm all the way up

Christmas dinner with Rotarians

Christmas dinner with Rotarians

Christmas Market in Kudamm

Christmas Market in Kudamm

Christmas picture with my first host family

Christmas picture with my first host family

Overview of Christmas market from Monkey Bar in Berlin

Overview of Christmas market from Monkey Bar in Berlin

Snow actively falling in Berlin

Snow actively falling in Berlin

The St. Moritz Ice rink

The St. Moritz Ice rink

The best Hot chocolate ever!

The best Hot chocolate ever!

The St. Moritz team! Leo,me, Frank, and George

The St. Moritz team! Leo,me, Frank, and George

Bob sledding team

Bob sledding team

Friends in theater watching Fahrenheit 451

Friends in theater watching Fahrenheit 451

Apres Skii in St. Moritz

Apres Skii in St. Moritz

Orientation picture with two of my best friends from exchange... Louna from Finland and Carol from Brazil

Orientation picture with two of my best friends from exchange... Louna from Finland and Carol from Brazil

Family picture ( second host )

Family picture ( second host )

Beautiful seal on the shore...

Beautiful seal on the shore...

Picture in Norderney with Lotte and Hans

Picture in Norderney with Lotte and Hans

Bob sledding certificates

Bob sledding certificates

Carol and me with our new hair

Carol and me with our new hair

A day in Salzburg

A day in Salzburg

Frau Luna card

Frau Luna card

Iciar, Valentina, and me in Vienna

Iciar, Valentina, and me in Vienna

Best friends from school

Best friends from school

My host mom, her friend, her friend's daughter, and me at the theater

My host mom, her friend, her friend's daughter, and me at the theater

Vienna with Valentina

Vienna with Valentina

Goulasch!!

Goulasch!!

Journals: Vale-Germany Blog 2017-18

  • Vale, Outbound to Germany

    I've made it to my 7th month of exchange! Just last August I put a pause to my daily routine in South Florida and took a plane to Germany to begin a new daily routine. It's truly an indescribable feeling because it's like I've lived my whole life in Berlin yet at the same time, it feels like I left just yesterday. If I were to share how much I've changed since the beginning of my exchange to now, I would never finish. The experiences I've encountered, the people I've met, the culture I've adopted, and the new language I've learned, are what have shaped me every day to becoming an independent, strong, and confident person, and just for that, I'm so grateful for this opportunity given to me by Rotary.

    So, this month is probably the calmest I've had since my exchange started. I had a wonderful dinner outing with a fellow Rotarian and my counselor. One of the exotic foods I had to try was Goulash and I can finally check it off my list. Just for a little extra info, Goulash is a stew of meat and vegetables, seasoned with paprika and other spices. Originating from the medieval Hungary, Goulash is a popular meal predominantly eaten in Central Europe but also in other parts of Europe. And all I can say, is that it is absolutely delicious! I enjoyed every bite. I'm blessed to have the counselor that I have. It's thanks to him that I've tried a variety of delicious and foreign food. We went to the Goulash restaurant near his home and chatted the whole night, just him, a Rotarian friend, and I. Chatting with adults in German is something I never imagined myself doing but now, it's something I plan to do as much as possible. It's amazing how much wisdom one can acquire when speaking to those who have gone through life's obstacles and overcome them. I can also say that the relationship I have with my counselor is very unique. There isn't a week I don't see him or do something fascinating with him. He's like a best friend to me, someone I can also talk to, whether I have a problem or not. He's always there and all I can say is that he's been the biggest angel on my exchange. The next exciting thing I did this month was attend a theater show called Frau Luna, a "burlesque-fantastic equipment operetta " by the composer Paul Lincke based on a libretto by Heinrich Bolten-Baeckers. The most famous pieces of music from the operetta are the march That makes the Berlin Luft, Luft, Luft, ( air ) the duet Give me a little bit of love and the aria castles that lie in the moon. It was so much fun to see a show in German and listen to the actors sing and see them dance. It is a very well known operetta in Germany, specifically to Berlin. I went with my host mom, a friend of hers, and her daughter. Definitely a night to remember.

    It was in this month that I decided to cut my hair! Right before Eurotour, I wanted a drastic change, so I made my appointment and what took me a year to grow out, only took a few seconds to cut. My hair is definitely lighter, healthier, and it was so much fun going to class with a new look. Everyone turning their heads as I walked by and then finally noticing the new look. Of course, my parents approved but for the first time, I made a decision for myself and made my own appointment. It doesn't seem like much but for me, it was a big step. It was also fun to do it with a good friend of mine from exchange. Carol from Brazil. As I cut my hair, she colored hers and it brought us even closer, as cheesy as it sounds.

    During the month of March, German schools in Berlin have Easter vacation, from the 23rd until the 8th of April. However, I have Eurotour from the 8th until the 26th of May, so for an entire month I'll be missing school. Of course I am so excited for this trip and I've waited for it since before my exchange; however, I've made such great friends at school that not seeing them for a month is just a bit sad for me. So we took a group picture before the break started and now I can post it in my journal as a memory. The next and greatest adventure I've had this month was visiting my sister in Austria. The last time I saw her was for New Years when she came to Germany to visit me so for this vacation, my host family took me to visit her and it was a beautiful Easter gift. She lives in a small village called Ried Im Innkreis. I left early on Sunday morning from the main station in Berlin and it took about 8 hours to arrive to her station. Monday we walked to the center of her town and Tuesday the adventure began. We took an early train to Salzburg which is only 2 hours away from where she lives and without a plan in mind, we were on our way. The German spoken in Austria is different from in Berlin, accent wise. So, thankfully Valentina could understand them because I could not. We had no idea how to get anywhere; however, people were really nice and helped us out. We saw Die Mirabell Palace, a historical building in the city of Salzburg, Austria. The palace with its gardens is a listed cultural heritage monument and part of the Historic Centre of the City of Salzburg UNESCO World Heritage Site. They also filmed a scene from the movie " The sound of music, " when the von trapp family and the nun walk up and down the stairs singing the famous song DO A DEER. The day was also beautiful, very sunny! Then we walked to the birth house of Mozart and then the house where he grew up in. From there we went to the famous Cafe Tomaselli, and we ate the famous Sachertorte, a specific type of chocolate cake, or torte, invented by Austrian Franz Sacher in 1832 for Prince Wenzel von Metternich in Vienna, Austria. It is one of the most famous Viennese culinary specialties, yet we ate it in Salzburg. Wednesday through Friday we spent tim in Vienna with an exchange student from Valentina's district. Iciar from Spain, a great hostess. We also spent some quality time with Valentina's families, her second and third one. Unfortunately, it was time for me to leave her and head back to Berlin but over all it was a beautiful week in Austria. I could go on about how amazing my 7th month was but these were my highlights that I wanted to share. Until next time!!

    Click HERE to read more about Vale and all her blogs

  • Vale, Outbound to Germany

    Schon 6 Monate in Deutschland!! Just a tad late but better late than never. This is my 6th journal and every month has more surprises and adventures!

    From my last journal, I forgot to post more pictures so I will be posting a few from my wonderful trip to St. Moritz!

    Early in February, for winter break, my second host family and I went on a trip for a week to Norderney. It is one the East Frisian Islands off the North Sea coast of Germany. Its sandy beaches include Weisse Düne and family-friendly Westbad. The island is part of the Lower Saxony Wadden Sea National Park, home to seals and waterbirds. It was a lot colder than I expected with temperatures below 30F, but still, the sun shined and the sound of the ocean brought good memories of back home. During my trip there, I saw a seal on shore, up close and personal, my first time ever being so close to one. It was so beautiful, small, and white!! I've never walked so much in my life, everyday for about 6 hours, 10km ( 6MILES ) and for a Floridian that is always in a car, it's a lot. But it's something about walking with family that makes the time pass so quickly. This trip definitely brought us closer, even more than we were. I shared a bed with my host sister while my host mom shared a bed with my host brother. Every morning, my host mom walked to the bakery to buy us warm toasted bread with incredible toppings and at night we walked to the center to go grocery shopping and we cooked delicious food along with great desserts. I took some cool pictures along the beach and just for the pop of colors, I took my jacket off, in freezing weather. That was quite a thrill!! After our trip, it was back to reality. I had my Rotary presentation, FINALLY! But the best part was, I did it all in German, a great accomplishment for me! I never imagined myself speaking in front of my Rotary club in German and rarely having to switch back to English. It's insane how much my German has improved!! It's very frustrating to not completely understand or follow a language when you really want to, and now, I can feel it coming, I can feel it becoming more and more fluent which makes me so happy!! I can now carry a conversation and when people speak to me in German, I no longer have to translate it to English, it just sort of clicks which is something I've been hoping for. Now, I just have to dream in German and my goals will be complete! Another cool thing I did this month was attending a an American play with my English class. We watched Fahrenheit 451 and it was so entertaining and touching at the same time. I had read the book in school, but the play was really cool. Also because it was in English so I felt somewhat at home.

    Just this past weekend, I had my 2 and last orientation :( In my district we are around 50 exchange students, and we've created such a special bond that thinking about saying goodbye breaks my heart. I was a bit nervous going into this weekend because it was the "oldies" German test, which basically is a way of showing the district and yourself how good or bad your German is. The first exam was 50 questions of German grammar and then 100 word essay of our exchange. The second exam was an oral test, and you had to maintain a conversation with a German adult. At the end, they would call up the exchange students that had the best scores in either the written, oral, or both. I can proudly say that I was called up, among 7 others, for the best grade in both the written and oral. The biggest accomplishment from my exchange. It really showed me that my hard work is paying off and that watching German shows, reading German kid books, and forcing myself to only speak German in school and at home, is all worth it, no matter how uncomfortable or annoying it may be.

    MY TIP to all exchange students and especially to those going to Germany is to push, even when it gets tough.

    " When the going gets tough, the tough get going." I live by this quote and it has helped me push through the difficult times throughout my exchange. It's been a beautiful 6 months and I am beyond blessed to be in Berlin and in district 1940!!

    Click HERE to read more about Vale and all her blogs

  • Vale, Outbound to Germany

    Fünf Monaten!! Wahnsinn! The first month of 2018 and it's been unglaublich ( incredible ). I definitely want to stay in this beautiful city, I love it so much. I have been incredibly blessed with an amazing Rotary club, counselor, and host family. Early this month, a Rotarian member: George Brenninkmeijer, invited me to go on a trip with him where 2 of his friends would also join. It was a road trip to Switzerland where we stayed in the beautiful St. Moritz. The scenery was breathtaking and the people were so elegant and welcoming. We stayed there for six amazing days and I can honestly say, I was in paradise. Our hotel was called Hotel Baeren and it was located right in front of the Cresta Run, which was one of the main reasons Mr. Brenninkmeijer goes to St. Moritz. The Cresta Run is a natural ice skeleton racing toboggan track. The 1.2125 km run is one of the few in the world dedicated entirely to skeleton. This sport is quite elite and only men are allowed to do it. Women can only be invited by a Cresta run member to ride down the icy track. Thanks to Mr. Brenninkmeijer, I was able to enter the exclusive Cresta Run club where I could watch all riders go down the tracks but still stay warm. In St.Moritz I was also able to figure skate on the natural ice lake, outside, surrounded by mighty white mountains. Almost everyday it snowed so I had the opportunity to skate while the snow hit my face... An amazing experience I wouldn't get in South Florida. I was also blessed to eat delicious food in the best restaurants in St. Moritz. We ate at the Kulm Hotel, Kempinski Grand Hotel Des Bains, Hotel Reine Victoria by Laudinella, and the Carlton Hotel St. Moritz. St. Moritz was without a doubt one of the best trips I have ever taken. I also had the chance to ski the beautiful South Eastern Alps. It was amazing to come down the black slopes and see the beautiful sun shining down on the small village. Every where you looked, it seemed as though it was a picture or a painting... The most outrageous attraction Mr. Brenninkmeijer arranged for all of us to do was bob sledding. An activity I had seen on TV since I was little but never in a million years thought I would be able to try. There we met Vera and Jan who were the two main trainers of future world and Olympic competitors. They gave us the grand tour of the Bob sledding area where we walked for about 30 minutes and saw some of their teams train. I rode with Mr. Brenninkmeijer and I can't even begin to explain the adrenaline and emotion I felt inside the sled. Even before I got on, I was freaking out of excitement. It was the fastest two minutes of my life. We had Jan, the driver, and Alec, the breaker. I was second and Mr. Brenninkmeijer was right behind me. The only thing we had to wear was a helmet, the rest was up to you. The entire time we went down, I felt a strong pressure and sometimes it felt like I couldn't sit straight. However, it was totally worth it to watch everything and fight the pressure. Every 5-10 seconds, we would twist or turn, and it got to a point where the wind was so strong I felt my eyes were drying out. It was the most unreal attraction I've ever lived, far better than any rollercoaster in Disney. That same day we got into one of the most if not the most exclusive club St. Moritz has. Thanks to Vera, we were able to reserve a spot and enjoy a fantastic night. The name is Dracula club, where the celebrities and Cresta run Members go to party until late. It's in the bob sledding club house, and you would not recognize it in the day because it is completely transformed at night. There I saw one of Germany's playboys, Rolf Sachs... Unfortunately, because of how exclusive this club is, no pictures were allowed so I didn't get a picture with him; however, I did get his signature on my bob sledding certificate. I can't express how thankful I was and am to have been invited to his trip. It was the best way to start my year!

    After coming back from St. Moritz, I changed to my second family, the Loges. I have 2 small sibling, Lotte ( 13 ) and Hans ( 11 ), and Katharina ( my mom ). I absolutely love them. They are quite different from my first family but amazing in their own way.

    Some great things I have done this month are go to the Opera with my counselor. My host brother, Hans, is in the children's Deutsche Oper, and we went to go see him perform. We watched Carmen and it was sensational. The Deutsche Oper is the country's second largest opera house and also home to the Berlin State Ballet. I found a new love for Opera and I can't wait to watch new ones.

    This month was exceptional and I am so blessed to be here.

    I LOVE BERLIN!

    Click HERE to read more about Vale and all her blogs

  • Vale, Outbound to Germany

    Vier Monaten in Berlin! Every month just gets better and better and I say that honestly. December was quite an experience, nothing like back at home. To start off, the weather got a bit colder and I experienced two beautiful days of snow. According to people, it was so early for the snow to start falling in Berlin. Normally, it starts in January - February. Unfortunately, because of the amount of people walking, riding bikes, and driving on the streets, the snow only lasted the night and then morning it disappeared... Nevertheless, it was the beginning of a real Christmas, sort of like the ones you see in a Hallmark Christmas movie. At big shopping centers and touristic areas, there were big and small Christmas markets where you could enjoy a famous glühwein is a Scandinavian mulled wine from red wine and grain or vodka and spices, such as. As cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and cloves and is now one of the most famous drinks in Scandinavia. They also give kinderpunsch, which is like glühwein except no alcohol. It's really nice to drink this because the drink is so warm and when you're holding the cup, it warms your hands as well as your body. Aromas of flame-kissed sausage, roasting nuts and gingerbread fill the air as well as festive music that fills the ambience. During this time of year, a lot of tourists come, so naturally, almost all Christmas markets are quite full. My favorite Christmas market was the Christmas Market at Gedächtniskirche. This market is very known because of where it is situated and sadly because of the terror attack that occurred in 2016. When you walk through it, you can see lit candles and beautiful written signs that serve as a reminder of those who died that day. The reason it was my favorite is because it's smack in the middle of one of the chicest shopping centers in Berlin, so all the trees and light poles are decorated with bright colorful lights and the stores are also elegantly decorated. Even though it was cold outside, I enjoyed the real Christmas atmosphere. I am quite proud to say that I got through the month of December without feeling homesick... I was quite worried how I would feel around this time being away from friends, family, and of course home traditions, but experiencing such a different tradition was so pleasing that I didn't have time to think about Christmas back home. Which leads me to the best tip I have learned... The more occupied you are in your day to day life, the less time you'll be homesick. Of course you won't be out everyday because you go to school and you have other responsibilities but meeting friends, going to the gym, or simply walking outside and spending time with your host family will be of great help emotionally.

    My Christmas day was quite calm but so beautiful. My family and I woke up and had a big brunch at home where they bought exotic meats that were only sold on Christmas, delicious baked bread, and expensive cheese and toppings. From there, we slowly started to get ready for the night celebrations. My host mom planned to stay home and that night, we would only be close relatives... So as I got ready, I also helped cook which I had never done in previous years. Around 7pm, we all went to a catholic church where the service laste 1 1/2 hours. The interesting thing is that my host mom doesn't have a car and the train would take even longer so we walked 15minutes which is also very different from back at home. As of right now, I am getting used to it. From church, we went back home and ate a traditional German meal. Goose, Sourcrout, and Potatoes. I felt quite full after just one serving. Underneath the Christmas tree were all the gifts. Also a new and exciting fact is that in Germany, everyone buys real authentic Christmas trees and then they decorate it with beautiful ornaments and real candles. The next three days after Christmas are called Feiertags which means holiday. Every morning we had huge breakfasts and every evening we had traditional meals, like the one at Christmas. Just a few days after Christmas, I was able to go up the fernsehturm which is a well known monument in the East of Berlin that is 368 meters and is the tallest building in Germany and also the fourth tallest freestanding structure in Europe. Up there, you can see all of Berlin. Luckily, I chose a day where the sun was shining and the clouds were no where to be seen.

    The last, most exciting thing I experience in 2017 was New Years! That was absolutely crazy. On the 31st, I had dinner at home with the whole family where we ate Raclette, a very traditional meal enjoyed during Christmas and New Years. At around 9:30, I met up with some exchange students and we went to a home party and at exactly 12;00, we were outside and everyone in the streets started lighting up fireworks, they call it war, because it can be beautiful but dangerous at the same time. Some people have told me that sometimes, fireworks are thrown at people but thank God I was safe and sound. At around 1;00am, I left to Hauptbanhof which is the main station in Berlin and from there you can see the big and colorful fireworks that are ignited from Brandenburg Gate. This Gate is like being in NYC when the ball drops, it's so packed that at around 7/8, the gate is closed and no one can come in. The night last quite long for me but it was so different from celebrations back home. I simply enjoyed myself at every moment.

    These past 4 months have been incredible and I earnestly say, I can't wait for what 2018 will bring!

    Click HERE to read more about Vale and all her blogs

  • Vale, Outbound to Germany

    THREE MONTHS! It's unbelievable how amazing this past month was. I keep falling in love with this city and the people. It's starting to feel like home to me and it's the best feeling an exchange student can have. I had my second orientation in Paris from the 1st of November to the 5th and our Rotary district took us to Paris!! We left one of the main central stations here in Berlin ( Ostbanhof ) and drove in 2 buses about 16 hours from Berlin to Paris. It's true when people tell you that you don't get sleep on a bus when you're with friends because the entire time you're talking, laughing, or even dancing. Poor bus drivers, they didn't get much rest on our way there and back... When we got to Paris we had a pretty tight schedule which was wonderful because we had the opportunity to see such beautiful sights and learn about the cities history. The first day we got there we went to the " Louvre " a beautiful well known museum with lot's of art and old artifacts. From there, we had some free time to walk around the " Champs-Élysées " which was the main touristic area for shopping. The next day, Rotary took us to the " Palais de Versailles " and it was simply stunning. It was also great weather, a bit chilly but the sun was out so it was the perfect balance. Later that evening we went on a tour around " La Seine" which is a 777-kilometre-long river and an important commercial waterway within the Paris Basin in the north of France. Our first time seeing the Eiffel Tower up close. Our last day in Paris was a trip to the Eiffel tour where we went up half way and saw all of Paris. It was breathtaking to say the least... Everything looked like it was a painting, all the buildings with their different structures and colors made the 600 stairs worth it. Of course when a trip ends it's bitter sweet, great memories were made but it's back to reality. Recently, I was able to go to Hamburg to visit some friends and there I also got to do some sightseeing. It's crazy how different Hamburg is from Berlin, not only physically but also the accent they have. What I mean by this is that the way they pronounce German words sounds slightly different from the way Berliners pronounce them. Much like in the US, depending in which state you are in, people have different accents and even slang words. My friends took me on a boat tour around the Elbe where I got to see the Elbphilharmonie. It's absolutely beautiful! It is a concert hall and is one of the largest and most acoustically advanced concert halls in the world. The last thing I got to see in Hamburg before I left back to Berlin was the " Miniatur Wunderland " a model railway attraction and the largest of its kind in the world. The detail that went into this project is astonishing. Everything was so carefully built and thought through that people that have visited these countries in real life say it looks exactly like them. Truly a wonderful experience.

    This month was filled with so much exploring and learning the great wonders of this country. Like I've said before, everyday is a new surprise, there is always something new to see, learn, and enjoy. If there is anything I can tell the future exchange students from Florida is that now is the time to enjoy the warm weather, because if you're going to any country in Europe, prepare to freeze! But seriously, I am loving my exchange and I can't imagine coming home again... Berlin has my heart! Happy 100 days in Berlin to me!!!!

    Click HERE to read more about Vale and all her blogs

  • Vale, Outbound to Germany

    Click HERE to read more about Vale and all her blogs

    Today marks 2 months in Berlin and I couldn't be happier!! It is seriously unbelievable how fast time is flying by...

    This month has been very calm for me, more about adapting to this new life and culture than anything else. Luckily, the language is only getting easier and I am starting to understand about 50-60% of conversations which gives me so much hope about these next few months. It has definitely helped to speak only German at home, with friends at school, and even with some exchange students. That is my number 1 tip, to learn a new language, you have to force yourself to speak it, even if you can't fully express yourself at first, eventually you'll learn how to... Some people just want to speak English with you or any other language other than the one you need to learn and you just have to keep telling them no, only German, no English. In this month I was able to celebrate with other exchange students, Germany Unity day, " Tag der Deutschen Einheit 2017 " It commemorates the anniversary of German reunification in 1990... Therefore, the name addresses neither the re-union nor the union, but the unity of Germany. Lots of museums were open and the entry was free which was a great advantage for all tourists and exchange students. In this month, lots of Rotary districts are traveling and I got to meet the French district from Lyon. As a matter of fact, I met up with a friend of mine that is from my district back home and it was a great time. I met amazing exchange students from that group and we all got to get to know each other. That's what I love about exchange students, we all have one thing in common, we are all away from home and ready to make new friends everywhere we go. And the best thing is that since everyone is from different countries, they give you a great reason to visit new places around the world. Also, as I am writing this journal, I am on vacation. From October 23rd until November 4th, Berlin has Herbst Ferien, Autumn Holiday. Since I am not traveling with my family, I have been to many museums, I've hung out with friends from school and other exchange students, and I've been able to catch up on sleep. Much needed sleep. The weather has only gotten colder, and living in the Sunshine State of Florida, anything below 75 degrees is FREEZING. Doesn't matter how many layer I have on, I am still cold. It is the one thing that will take me a while to get used to. It has also been raining a lot, which makes sightseeing not enjoyable since everything here requires a bit of walking. I seriously have walked more these past 2 months than I have in my whole life. It is true blessing to be here on exchange and share with you my journey. Berlin, you still have my heart!

  • Vale, Outbound to Germany

    Click HERE to read more about Vale and all her blogs

    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!

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