Ashley, outbound to Germany

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March, what is this strange month that seemed so much faster than February??? I am honestly not joking, if someone could give me a moment to catch my breath or for time to slow down, that would be really great! Where to even begin? I guess I’ll start with school because that is what I just got back from! I’m doing much better in my classes than in August for starters. I’m sure you are probably saying duh Ashley, but really! The teachers are finally willing to give me grades on my participation and things like that rather than just saying that it isn’t necessary. Okay, not all of the grades are up to par with my academic record in Florida, but let’s say I have a C+/B average. That may not look like a lot to you guys, but for me that means the world. Most of my teachers in December decided to not give me a grade during the exam season because it would have been a failing grade, but now it is at least a C! I’m proud of that and that’s the most important thing. I also am a little sad because one of my favorite teachers is not coming back after our spring break in two weeks. I’m excited for her because she’s having a baby and that’s exciting, but at the same time she was just always so sweet and patient with my poor German skills at the beginning of the year. She sat down with me in the extra German class I had to enhance my grammar skills and asked me what I wanted to learn and where she thinks I should focus on next. She was absolutely amazing and I am sad to see her go, but I’m glad I got to have her for most of the year!

I also had a wonderful inbound weekend with my Rotary district! We were in Monshau which is a gorgeous tiny village about 45 minutes away from Aachen. The place where we stayed was so cool! It was literally an old castle type of situation with an amazing view over the town! Seriously, the town looked like it was out of a fairytale. We visited multiple coal mining museums and an actual, still working coal mine! That was really cool because my host dad had worked there a long time ago so when we were telling him about it he was able to describe everything in much more detail than we were. We also visited Vogelsang, which was a very interesting stop on our tour. The location was located in the Eiffel national park and had many different uses throughout the year, but the one that our tour focused the most on was the use of a National Socialism school. It was one of three schools in Germany to be set up and train the workers and soldiers of the National Socialism party during the Third Reich. I am not sure I have the right words to put the experience into an emotion or something. It was very, shall I say, eye opening. When you are living here, in modern day Germany, it is sometimes hard for you to think about the past and history that they have because that just seems so different from the life that you are living. It isn’t that the history is forgotten or not there, but it doesn’t seem as up front as when I was touring the grounds of the school. It hasn’t changed my thoughts or views on the beloved country I’m living in, but it has just educated me more about history and how we should make sure history doesn’t repeat itself. I had a wonderful time with all of my exchange student friends, and it was a strange feeling because I love being with all of them, but I was also so excited to go back to my German friends and school and host family!

I did a lot with my friends and host family this month too! One of my friends is actually coming to visit me this year in October/November so we were having a Skype session with her mom and my mom to work out the details and things like that. We finished pretty early so she called her friend and asked if we could come over to visit. So we went to her friend’s house and little did I know, her friend lived on a farm, like professional grade really cool farm! I got to see a lot of newborn calves, feed some chickens, play with ducks, and met some pretty adorable dogs who love to be played with and petted! It was so much fun and they said I am welcome back anytime I’d like! They even sent me home with a bottle of milk from their cows! We also had a very exciting week where we celebrated 3 of my friends birthdays back to back. I mean Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday three of my friends all had birthdays. Talk about a crazy week! I also have been introduced to some new German cand ies produced here in Cologne, Hitschler. I gave up Haribo for Lent, and these are nothing like Haribo, so I don’t feel guilty about eating them! A colleague from my host mom works for the company and brought her a HUGE bag of different varieties for Alejandra and I to try out! They were really good, but now my room smells like chemical fruit odors. The taste is worth it though! I have also been frequently traveling back and forth between Cologne and my home here. I have visited the Cologne City museum and learned a lot of cool things. For example, one of my Karneval costumes was actually a historical/fictional figure in Cologne legends and I had no clue! I also saw the No. 4711 House where the perfume is made! It wasn’t open because it was a Sunday, but I plan to go back and visit it again so I can maybe take some home with me or even learn what it smells like because I have no clue! I also visited the Zoo in Cologne with my host-brother. We saw a lot of amazing animals and also a week old baby elephant! It was so adorable and such a cool experience! They are celebrating being open for 150 years this year, which I think is just amazing! One of the things that I though was really cool, was the fact that you could literally forget that you were in a major city in Germany. It felt like you were transported right into the world of these animals. I also got a great picture on top of a tower in Cologne as the sun was setting! It was unbelievably gorgeous! 

Now I just want to say that the theme of me still doing a lot of stuff involving entertainment and television is still continuing! First of all, my host mom got tickets for me and two friends to go sit in on a filming of Die Millionär Show, the Austrian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Fun fact: according to my sources here in Germany, the concept for the show actually comes from Cologne!! The show is so popular that the waiting period to get tickets to the German version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire is five years! Luckily, they film the Austrians and Czech version in Cologne too, so we were able to get tickets to the Austrian one. First of all, I am proud to say that I understood 75% of what they were saying! People think that just because they speak German in Austria and Germany it is exactly the same, BUT IT IS NOT!!! They have a very strong dialect and accent which can make it hard sometimes to understand what they are saying, but for the most part I can understand what is going on. I also was able to answer all of the audience lifeline questions correctly which made me feel pretty smart! I’m saving the best for last right now, the place we got to sit. STORY TIME! I’m ready to go. We are leaving in five minutes to start the drive to Cologne. 

I am wearing a cute red top because they look at everyone’s clothes before giving them a seat to see if they will blend in okay or not. My host mom comes running up the stairs and said, “Ashley, I think you should wear your Dirndl to the filming because lots of people wear a Dirndl in Austria to special events!” I thought about it for a second and then put it on and became a cute little German/Austrian girl in her Dirndl! We got to the studio, did a tour, and then they gave us the tickets for where we would be sitting. Little did we know, but they gave us front row seats DIRECTLY BEHIND THE SHOW HOST!!! Literally, if the camera was on the host, you could see us, the entire time! So, if any of you want to watch the Austrian Who Wants to be a Millionaire on the Monday after Mother’s Day, feel free to do so because you will most definitely be seeing me! It was really funny because they asked everyone before the beginning of the show who was from Austria and when we didn’t raise our hands they got really confused and actually “interviewed” my host mom and I about why on earth we were wearing Dirndls and where we came from. That wasn’t filmed so you won’t see that, but it happened! Finally, I also saw a new take on Les Miserables, the musical, called Barricade. It was basically the same story and characters just in German and with completely different songs. It was interesting and I bought a CD to take back with me because the songs were really really good! It was exciting to see a musical in German and understand what was going on! 

Overall, I had a fantastic month and am looking forward to the coming months. It is a little weird that I don’t have a lot of time left in Germany. It has just become a part of life that seems like it was always there. I am going to enjoy all of the time I have left in the beautiful country before I head back to Florida!