Ashley, outbound to Germany

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Fröhliche Weihnachten!! December was such an amazing month of my exchange! I did so much and had such an amazing time. First of all I want to start off with some AMAZING news. My Rotary district here in Germany tests all of the inbounds on their language at our first and second inbound weekends to track our progress and make sure we are actually learning something on our exchange. Our first language test was a basic introduce yourself, read this newspaper article to us, basically just seeing if we could talk a little bit. 

Our second test however, was an A2 language test for German. For those of you like me who have no clue what A2 means, let me tell you! In Germany, there are language tests that foreigners can take to test their German skills. A1 is the easiest and C1 is the hardest available for people of my age. All of these tests focus on speaking, reading comprehension, writing skills, and grammar, but they vary in terms of how hard the test is to take. People take these tests to show that their German is almost at a fluent level and if you take a B1 test or higher (wait it might be B2. I’m not 100% sure) a German university cannot turn you down for reasons of not being able to speak the language. They could for other reasons, but not for reasons of language barriers. Back to the story. I took the A2 test with Rotary at my second inbound weekend. This test was very important because if we receive a 5 or 6 we could receive a yellow card, and 2 yellow cards= a red card, and a red card= a plane ticket back home. I was so stressed for this test. I completely finished DuoLingo and kept all of the bubbles gold, I completed workbooks, went to German language school, I was making sure that I passed! The day came and I it and wasn’t really too worried about my score. I thought the test was kind of easy and that is what scared me the most. Whenever I take a test in school and I think I did good, that is usually when I received a really bad grade. I waited and waited for almost a month. The other students had already received their scores and it was just me left. I was so stressed out. Then I heard a ding on my email, and what did I see but an email with the subject, “TEST RESULTS”! I opened it and found out that I received a 1! That is the best score that you can get on this test. I was one of two people to receive the score and the other person scored only 0.5 points higher than me because I used an umlaut where I shouldn’t have. I was beyond thrilled that I was able to see that score after only three almost four months in Germany! That is my language update for this month. I know my German isn’t perfect, but it makes me happy to know that it is really getting somewhere.

School is going great! I am able to complete all of my assignments and homework now which is really cool. I think it makes the teachers happy too! They usually don’t grade the assignments because they know that my grades don’t count here, but they normally write in the corrections to my German and then they also write a little note at the bottom encouraging me about how my German has improved and things like that. I also write all of the exams with the classes. I received my Biology exam back (without a grade, but wait for it) and my teacher said that I was completely correct in the first section of the exam regarding the structure of a cell and the organelles and things like that, not even a little bit with the functions of a microscope, and partially correct on my experiment analysis! It made me happy to know that I was actually learning a little bit. Well, at least enough to write an exam and get some of the answers correct! 

I also continued the tradition of bringing Christmas presents to my teachers. I brought them candles with their initials engraved on them. Rotary gave me a glass engraver after we visited a glass museum and learned how to etch glass and let’s just say there is a theme to my Christmas presents this year… There is no tradition like that in Germany and all of the teachers were so taken aback and surprised. And they made sure all of the other students knew that people do that in the United States and they should start the tradition here too. 

Now, other than receive language test results and do school work what did I do in December? Well for starters, I visited a LOT of Christmas markets. They are just as amazing as I had heard about. I visited the 4 major ones in Cologne, a few in museums, a couple local ones, and even one in a castle! In Cologne, I must say that the best is Heumarkt! Everything was so festive and exciting! And the food was excellent! There are a lot of tourists and my friends that we were visiting the markets with said that this is the one year of our lives that we won’t be the tourists there, but we are part of the locals visiting the markets. Another favorite was the market in Engelskirchen, where my second host family lives. Okay, there is a story that goes along with it though. So, in Germany Santa Claus has a helper to help deliver the presents since they celebrate it on a different day. The Christ Child is the helper and the Christ Child actually lives in Engelskirchen. You can write a letter and receive one back. The coolest thing about this is that anyone from around the world can write a letter and they will send the letter back in the language that you sent it! I wrote mine in German so I got it back in German, but other students wrote it in both English and German as well as some with Spanish and got responses back in all languages. When you visit the Christmas market in Engelskirchen you can actually visit the Christ Child, give your letter to them, get a picture and then the post office will print your picture (free of charge) on a post card AND a stamp! That was really cool. 

Then of course there was Christmas! It was a little strange because they celebrate it in the evenings, but it was a beautiful Christmas nonetheless. I do have an important cultural message though. Despite what your “Christmas Around the World” books say, THERE IS NO PICKLE ON THE CHRISTMAS TREE IN GERMANY!!! I asked my family about it as well as my friends and they all looked at me as if I had three heads. Sorry to disappoint you all but it had to be said. They also have two celebration days. I thought it was only my host family, but I asked my friends and they said that there are two! The first one is normally celebrated with just your immediate family and then the second with the extended family. We celebrated “Holy Evening” (Heilige Abend) by going to a church service, eating a fantastic dinner at home, opening presents, and then we watched Christmas Vacation (in German of course and without English subtitles). We then celebrated the second day once again in the evening at my host grandparent’s house with all of the host cousins, host aunts and uncles, and then my host family! We celebrated the same: dinner, presents, and socializing. Both evenings were so beautiful and I just felt so happy and blessed to be a part of my host family. Everyone was so kind and thoughtful and it is just hard to think about starting my exchange with another host family. 

We don’t have anything really planned for the December part of Christmas vacation, so that means that I’ve had a lot of free time. Sort of. I go to my host grandparents a lot for afternoon coffee which is almost like a German version of high tea in England. One time after coffee my host grandma invited me to stay a little longer and watch a traditional Christmas movie. The movie comes from the Czech Republic, but the Germans watch it every year. Let’s just say that I have found another Christmas favorite. It’s the story of Cinderella, but it’s a little different than the cartoon that I grew up with. I’d say it’s more similar to the live action film than anything else. I’m a little sad that I can’t find it in English to bring back for my family in Florida, but I now have the film in German so I guess I’ll just have to translate everything! They have a version with English subtitles, but the language they are speaking is Czech . I have nothing against the Czech language, but I do think that it can get confusing trying to listen and read at the same time. Like when I started my exchange and would watch movies with subtitles, I’d listen for the words I did know in German and translate it. I now have the problem that anytime I see subtitles in a movie now, I do the same thing. It really isn’t much of a problem, but it can get confusing especially when one word can mean something different in another language. It really was a great movie and my host grandparents even gave me a copy of it! 

I also had a lovely day with my host aunt. We baked waffles and she gave me a book to fill with German recipes that I can take with me back to Florida! We also were talking about books and things like that and long story short, I now have over 100 audio books in German! Don’t worry because all of them are computer downloadable so they won’t take up space in my suitcase! I’ve already started listening to them and am surprised by how much I can understand. I was a little worried because sometimes they can talk really fast or with funny voices, but I am able to pick up just about everything. It was such an amazing day and she said I am welcome anytime. 

Another awesome thing that happened was that I was in a German newspaper, in an article featuring my exchange as well as the other exchange student in the area. If you want to read it in German the link is: http://www.rundschau-online.de/region/oberberg/engelskirchen/aus-mexiko-und-den-usa-was-zwei-junge-maedchen-an-oberberg-lieben-25340810.">http://www.rundschau-online.de/region/oberberg/engelskirchen/aus-mexiko-und-den-usa-was-zwei-junge-maedchen-an-oberberg-lieben-25340810.">http://www.rundschau-online.de/region/oberberg/engelskirchen/aus-mexiko-und-den-usa-was-zwei-junge-maedchen-an-oberberg-lieben-25340810. If you don't speak German, you could 1) learn the language by going on exchange or learning in some other less-cool way of learning a language or 2) go to the website and copy and paste it into a translator. Personally, I'd go with the first option, but it might be easier for the majority of you to use the second. 

I feel like there is so much to say that I haven’t. There are literally not enough pages to fill and not enough time to try and write down everything that happened! I have an exciting week ahead of me because I am travelling to Austria to see the lovely Isabel! For those of you who don’t know who Isabel is she was an inbound last year in Tallahassee who was not only a classmate and German teacher, but also is now my best friend! I am thrilled I get to see her! We are going skiing in the Alps with her family. Speaking of the trip mentioned above, I better get packing! I’ll tell you all about my Alp adventures and much more in my next update! Until then, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!