Ashley, outbound to Germany

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This is it. The last journal describing a full month of life in Germany. Not gonna lie, it’s a little weird to have to start admitting to myself that in just a few weeks I won’t be living in a tiny village near Cologne, where I can eat Schnitzelbrötchen in school with my friends, eating Müsli when I get home from a long day of hard school work, hanging out with my German friends, watching movies in German with my host family, and doing German schoolwork! If you had told me this time last year, that all of these different things would just become a part of my Alltag (daily routine), I would have told you to wake up because you were dreaming! It isn’t that I didn’t think this year was going to be as amazing as it has been, or even that I wasn’t expecting it to rock my socks off, but the fact that I decided to go into this year with absolutely no expectations, because I didn’t 100% know what I should have bee n expecting. How are you supposed to predict making friends on the first day of school when everyone told you you’d have to work for 3 months before finding anyone to even talk to? How are you supposed to expect and predict that you would find some of the most amazing host families that you could have even dreamed of, and that you could feel right at home in a place that used to be so foreign. That’s the thing though. A foreign country doesn’t have to be so foreign! It’s how we perceive the people, the land, and the culture that makes it foreign or not. Okay, enough of the sappy and nostalgic philosophy, let me tell you about the crazy cool and blur of a month that June was!

I started the month out with a field trip to the Mathematikum! Not gonna lie, I did not have high expectations for this math museum that was a 2.5 hour bus ride, but you know what? It wasn’t half bad! Maybe it’s just the fact that my German friends can make anything better and funnier, but it was actually pretty cool to learn about shapes by blowing bubbles and standing in mirrors to learn about angles! After that, I went straight into Girl Scout mode because I was going camping. If I’m quite honest, I was not really looking forward to the trip as it got closer. It was supposed to be cold and rainy and I wasn’t going to know a lot of people there… as we got there, however, I was pleasantly surprised by the warm, sunny weather and the amount of people that I actually did know! I had a fantastic time and even participated in the annual camp talent show! I sang “I will always love you” in the style of Whitney Houston (sorry mom, I know its not your favorite version, but it’s the better known), and actually won an Ehrenpreis for my performance! What is an Ehrenpreis? Since Google Translate doesn’t know, and I had never heard of this award before and wasn’t entirely sure what I had won, I asked my trusty dictionary/best friend, Isabel! She said, “It’s a prize for something very honorable or special! It’s usually more on an appreciation or special recognition of something someone did than a competitive prize!” It was really cool to be a part of the camping trip, and I felt like I fit right in! 

The weekend after that was one of my most awaited experiences of this year, the TenSing Marienheide Konzert/Musical!!! It was such a success! We sold over 350 tickets, which was a lot more than we were expecting, and everyone loved the show! I sang the songs “Oceans” and “Catch Me if you Can” as solo/group solo songs and then played the role of Melli in our self-written show! It was such a fantastic experience, but also a little saddening to know that this was probably the only time I would get to perform with this amazing group of people! 

After that was Schützenfest! Basically, this is a huge sporting event with a festival and lots of other stuff to do and see! In Germany, most people are not allowed to shoot or own a gun. Of course there are a few exceptions to the rule, and one of them is if you are in a Schützenverein, a shooting club. The club/team meets up every week to practice for the Schützenfest where one of them will be crowned the king! To become king, you shoot at a wooden bird with a crown on its head. You have to first shoot at the crown, left wing, right wing, and then body (I’m not 100% sure on the order, but I’m pretty sure this is correct), and once they fall off, the teams of people shooting become smaller and smaller, until the last person is named king! They also have a version of this for citizens of the town, which means I was also eligible to participate! I unfortunately didn’t become the citizen king or queen, but I came pretty close! 

The weekend after that was a very busy one! It started off with my very last inbound weekend… ☹ Friday evening was pretty much just everyone saying hello, playing games, eating dinner, and then the local Rotaract threw us all an awesome party! I have now officially been named the gringa who tries to hard to dance like a Latina, but you know what? That’s okay! I’m definitely more comfortable and confident dancing around the others now than I was at the beginning of the year! We danced to lots of south American music, Karneval music, and a few good old 80’s songs that all the Americans sang along to! By that time, it was like 3am so we all headed to bed! The next morning, we took a tour of the Dom, ate Dunkin’ Donuts, then ate in Früh Brauhaus, and then had some free time! During the free time, I went around the city with one of my good Brazilian friends and we climbed the Dom together, went up another tower to look over the city, and then ate some ice cream together because we had earned it! We then met up with Rotary again, and traveled a little out of the city to go go-karting together! I did a pretty good job and won second place in my group by just a few seconds! We then spent the rest of the night together playing, talking, and just enjoying the last moments that we had as a completed group. Sunday was a day of many tears because so many of us were leaving and we wouldn’t see each other again for a very long time. It wasn’t goodbye though, it was a see you again! And a few of us even saw each other the weekend after that because there was a district conference in Aachen, and we were all invited to participate! It was a lot of fun, and I stayed with some of my really good exchange friends since they live a lot closer to Aachen than I do, and because they are some pretty cool people in general! 

I also gave my end of the year presentation in my Rotary Club. I was feeling pretty good about it as the day kept slowly getting closer and closer. I mean, this wouldn’t be my first time in my Rotary Club, I’ve presented things before (some of them were improvised or I wasn’t given notice a head of time), I was well prepared, and my powerpoint was AWESOME! I had a cute little Florida quiz show with prizes and lots of awesome pictures! I was ready to do this thing! I brought my first host mom with me as well as a future outbound to Taiwan, and two of my best school friends (we had all of our classes cancelled so they decided to join me for moral support!) and I had my laptop and a USB stick as back up in case anything was to happen. I was prepared! It was a pretty full meeting of about 35 members, maybe a little less, and I went to set up my laptop with the projector, and there it was, a projector that didn’t fit with my laptop’s cable. Okay, I told myself not to panic, I had a USB stick. I could just use that! Nope, my USB stick also didn’t work with the projector USB drive. At this point, I head over to my counselor and host mom to see what I should do. They both said, “You are in a room full of businessmen. Someone must have a laptop in their car, or maybe at the front desk?” Well, after asking every Rotarian and the front desk we still had no laptop. I’m starting to give up hope. I wasn’t feeling nervous before, but now it was all starting to get to me. What was I gonna do? My host mom even drove to her workplace to see if she could find something, but unfortunately that cables that she found also didn’t hook up with my laptop… at this point, it’s now or never. I stand up front, clear my throat, take a deep breath, and hold the laptop in my arms so that they can all hopefully see the powerpoint that I spent a lot of time making. And then I start. Of course there were a few more gra mmar mistakes that were made than I obviously hoped for, but I’ve decided to blame it on the unusual circumstances. I went through the slides, they all laughed at some of my jokes, and then it was over. In Germany when you give a presentation, normally they knock of the table. I don’t know why (and I’ve asked) but clapping is reserved for concerts or something really special. That’s why I was so surprised when they all started clapping, and not just a light clapping sound, but a big mighty roar! My counselor wrote me later that evening saying that she had never seen so many Rotarians show up for an exchange student’s presentation or ever heard them clap that loud. I don’t know if she was just saying that or not, but it still feels good to know that everything turned out okay in the end. 

I have also started the process of saying Auf Wiedersehen to more and more people. I feel like I need to take a moment to explain that in German, you have two different ways to say goodbye: 1) Auf Wiedersehen 2)Tschüss The second one is more of a casual goodbye. It’s actual definition is goodbye, unlike the first one, which is a more formal version of saying goodbye, but the direct translation is “to the next time we see each other again”. I’ve chosen to say the “Auf Wiedersehen” because I know this isn’t goodbye for many of my friends that I’ve made here. The first big Auf Wiedersehen for me was the exchange students. Especially in these last few months, I have become a lot closer with my exchange student family than before and it was even harder for me to say Auf Wiedersehen, knowing that I missed out on hanging out with them in the first half of this year (@sushisquad), or the fact that they weren’t even here (@myawesomene wbies). I also finally had to say Auf Wiedersehen to my awesome theater group. Not gonna lie, I sobbed like a little baby at my last meeting. TenSing was the very first activity I joined here in Germany, and so they’ve literally known me from the very beginning. They were always so patient and kind and I just always felt welcomed there! Theater in general is something special to me, and they were my first German theater performance! That’s really special to me! I have made some of the best friends I could have possibly hoped for there, and also made a ton of wonderful memories that I will forever cherish and keep with me. It was so hard giving everyone the group hug and singing our favorite songs together, but I will definitely be keeping in contact with them, and look forward to seeing what they are going to do in the future! 

It’s getting close. The day is approaching to when I will finally be back in Florida. It still doesn’t really seem real that I’ll be leaving this home to be going back to my original one. Don’t get me wrong, I am SO looking forward to getting a big bear hug from my family every day and also giving a few big bear hugs myself, but it will still be weird to be back living in a place where the street signs aren’t in German and that there will most likely only be songs in English on the radio. I know that I’m not leaving Germany forever though, and that I will be back before I know it! I’m just going to keep on enjoying the days that I have left here and will make the most out of them! After all, it’ll be over before you can say Unabhängigkeitserklärung (my favorite word in German!)! Until then, know that I’m having a great time and will see everyone again soon!