Ben, Outbound to Germany

Hallo everyone!!!

November was such a whirlwind month for me. I can't believe that I'm already more than 4 months into my exchange and that I am so adjusted to the language, culture, school, and daily life. I have a lot to catch up on so buckle up.

So I'll start by talking about the city I live in, Dresden, because it's pretty incredible. There are about 520,000 citizens, which is by far the biggest place I've ever lived, which includes the one other city that I have ever lived in. In America, most people know Dresden as a city completely destroyed in World War 2, which is true. But within Europe and Germany, it is known for it's incredible history and culture that extended hundreds of years back past World War 2. The architecture is from the baroque period, when Dresden was at the height of its wealth and stature. But as I just said, the city was completely destroyed. Now, it would be very hard to tell. Since then, the castles, churches, palaces, and apartments have all been rebuilt faithfully. In the center of the Altstadt, or old town, is the Frauenkirche, a grand Lutheran church that was originally built in 1723, but completely destroyed in World War 2. It laid as rubble until the 1990s, when enough public pressure mounted to rebuild it. Now it is fully restored and a symbol for the city and also for the rebuilding of Germany after the war. Running through the city is the river Elbe, which flows from Hamburg past Dresden and into the Czech Republic. It splits the city in half and still today, has meadows along the banks even throughout the city. Across the river from the Altstadt, is the Neustadt, a trendy neighborhood that is home to a lot of street art, cool restaurants, and little independent shops. In my time here, I've been able to explore a lot of the big attractions and museums, but also little places that I've discovered with my friends. This is all made easy through a good and reliable public transportation system of buses and trams.

Now, to give an overview of my typical day during the school week and on the weekend. I have school Monday through Friday, 7:45-2:30, so pretty similar to the US. I wake up usually about 6:30 and eat a bowl of Müsli, a super healthy breakfast cereal made from oats and something sweet like chocolate chunks or dried fruit. It's really actually quite good. Then I have to literally run out the door in order to not miss my tram, which stops very close to my house. It's very convenient and a nice departure from the US, where I had to drive about 45 minutes to school everyday. Here, it's about 20 minutes in tram and another 5 walking. In school, I am in the 10th grade and so I stay with the same class the whole day for all subjects. In the beginning of the year, I mainly sat there until I was bored enough to try to pay attention, but now I am almost fully integrated and do a lot of the work that my classmates do too. I'm even attempting to read the Faust, considered the masterwork of German literature, written by the German answer to Shakespeare. We'll see how good that goes. Now, I've also gotten to know my classmates a lot better, because they really like it when you are able to talk to them in German. After school, I either go home or into the city center with my friends, almost always the other exchange students that live near me. A favorite hangout is in one of the two malls in the city, at the Döner restaurant. Döner is pretty much the Turkish turned German form of the Greek gyro and it is to die for. I've definately eaten one too many. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, I go to rowing, which I've only started since I have moved here. The view on the water is stunning, but now as it is too cold, we only train indoors. And, I've only fallen in the water once!(!!!!) On the weekends, I'm either doing something with my host family, be it visiting a museum, of which Dresden has many and some of the best in Europe, going on a little day trip somewhere, or stayin in and spending time together, or meeting up with friends to do something. On the weekends, we don't eat Müsli for breakfast. Rather we eat a traditional German breakfast of bread, bread, butter, jams, bread, Nutella, bread, honey, and bread. It was so weird the first time, but now reaching for a third roll is completely normal. And bread means at least 4 or 5 different kinds of rolls from whole wheat to pretzel to yellow bread with raisins.

Another big part of exchange here in my district are the Rotary weekends that happen about once a month. In District 1880, there are 33 exchange students who all live pretty far away from each other, so the time we get to spend together is really cherished. So far, we have met in Chemnitz in September for our first orientation when we met each other. Then we had a weekend in Plauen, where we had to meet the future Outbounds and 'sell' our countries to them and make them want to go there on exchange. Then most recently, we just had a weekend in Nürnburg, a beautiful city in north Baveria. There, we had our Christmas weekend. Nürnburg is home to one of the biggest, most beautiful, and well-known Christmas markets in the world. We got the opportunity to peruse the stalls and drink hot Glühwein, a spiced wine drink that is traditional and eat Bratwurst. Then, we stayed the night with temporary host families who completely welcomed us for a night into their families. On Saturday morning, we took a 3 hour (!!!) language test so that they could see how well we were doing learning the language. I was really suprised when they announced that I had scored second overall out of everyone. It really made me feel validated with how my exchange and work is going. Then we went to ice skating and had a Christmas party, which created some of the best memories of my exchange so far. On Sunday, we went to a museum at the former headquarters of the National Socialist party, which was a hallowing reminder of the history of Germany that hasn't been erased, but rather confronted and understood. To end off the trip, we visited a factory of Nürnburger Lebkuchen, a cookie type treat made from nuts, fruit, and dough. As we left the factory, the most incredible thing happened; I got to see snow fall for the first time ever. Back in Dresden, the Christmas spirit continued. Germans really enjoy the Advent season, and every single person I know here has an Advent calendar to open each day. All of the houses now have lights and decorations, and traditional arches with Christmas scenes lay in the windows. Dresden also has over 10 Christmas markets, including the oldest in the country. This year marks the 583rd year that the market is taking place.

Apart from the Rotary weekends, there are 2 big trips that our district takes with 2 other districts. One to Paris in November, and one across many countries in Central and East Europe. The Paris trip was November 1-5, with 100 exchange students in total. We started with a 18 hour bus ride, which although sounds long and tiresome, really forced us to talk to everyone, have fun, and make new friends with the other districts. When we got to Paris, we ate and then went straight to the Louvre for a few hours. The trip was literally nonstop. After the museum, we walked along the Champs Elysee. We finished the first day off with a meal in a traditional French restaurant in the district of Montmartre, who's views were simply stunning. The next day, we saw Versailles and then went through the Gallerie Lafayette, a giant shopping mall that ran the whole gamut from H&M to Chanel and Louis Vuitton. The second day was a little more relaxed and we were able to just walk around for a while and see the city for ourselves, watch the street performers, and listen to the musicians everywhere. We finished by seeing the Eiffel Tower lit up at night and taking a river cruise of the Seine, which was definitely my favorite part of the trip. On our final day there, we went up into the Eiffel Tower. On the bus ride back to Germany, it was a lot quieter than the ride there, as everyone was catching up on all the sleep we had missed out on the past few days.

One last thing that I'd like to talk about is Thanksgiving. I find it a little bit ironic that in Germany, I celebrated one more Thanksgiving than in America. On actual Thanksgiving day, Thursday, I planned a big meal for all the exchange students in Dresden and my new friends from my school. It was really awesome. We had the day before off from school, so I spent the entire day cooking and getting ready. I had asked my mom to send me all of the best recipes that I loved from our big family Thanksgivings in America and I was able to find all the ingredients I needed here too. We cooked 2 5-kilo turkeys in our one oven, which was a tight fit, but we made it work. It was amazing to share a piece of American culture that I am really proud of, and one that not many people outside of the US know of yet. The next night, I was invited to another Thanksgiving celebration hosted by a Canadian woman from my host Rotary Club. It was also a great evening, and I got to meet other Americans and expats living in Dresden that still want to celebrate the Thanksgiving tradition.

It's so impossible to fathom how fast this time is going, and the further in I get, the more I realize that I need to make the absolute most of my time here. I'm frequently reminded of the words of my Outbound Coordinator Lania, who always told us and her exchange students to "sleep when we're dead". This really is good advice, because I feel like that if I even blink, I'll miss out on something exciting and worthwhile.

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