Stuart, outbound to Germany

So, my first entry. Finally stopped putting this off. Just gonna go ahead and give my apologies to Rotary, should have done this a while ago. BUT, better late than never! I've been in Germany for almost exactly four months now. Over those four months I've both seen, learned, and experienced a lot. So I guess I'll get to explaining myself.

The whole adventured started a few months ago in this mysterious place people call "The Jacksonville International Airport". Originally my flights were simple- Hop on a plane to Atlanta, sit around and eat some chinese food for a while, then get on another plane straight to Dusseldorf. But that's just too good to be true, isn't it? About a half hour or so before boarding, the pilot came to address everyone. It was something along the lines of "We're really sorry, but we ran into something the size of a bowling ball and the engine's a little messed up". So instead, I ended up getting rerouted through NYC-JFK, where I was blessed with the opportunity to take a lovely sprint across one of the world's largest airports. I then got on a flight to Amsterdam, where I again, I found myself running through the airport. There I encountered European customs- something I wasn't really expecting until Germany. With not a lot of time until my flight, I talked my way through with the nice Dutch customs officer, who I think was just as confused as I was. I finally arrived in Dusseldorf, 25 hours after I had originally gotten to JAX. And of course, hadn't slept a bit. My family was waiting for me at the airport, and we made the short drive to what would be my new home.

I live in the town of Neuss, a relatively small town just over the Rhein river from Dusseldorf. It's mainly industrial, with factories and smoke towers scattered across town. Neuss rather beautiful, with a busy main street, trams, old buildings and a few beautiful churches. It's located in the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen, an eastern state bordering Holland. Neuss is also about 20 minutes (by train) north of Cologne. My new family's house was only about a three minute walk from the train station, and a fifteen minute walk to school.

There's really no good way to put it, but my first few weeks were rather exciting and exhausting. After two weeks, started this thing called Schutzenfest. I really hadn't grasped the scale of it until it came around. Essentially it was five days of a (VERY) German celebration. What does it celebrate? Still no idea. I don't even think most people in it know, but it's fun and that's all that matters. It's almost non-stop parades, meals, and various parties and what not. I was given the opportunity to march in one of the first parades, which was absolutely incredible. At one point was the "Fackelzug" parade, which was two hours of hundreds of light-up paper parade float things. Some of which were rather impressive. The next morning was the Koenig's Parade, in which all 7,550 participants marched through the town in their various uniforms. On the last day was a shooting "competition", although I found it a little easy and no t much of a competition. However, still great to watch.

During October, myself and the other 50-some inbound exchange students in my district were able to go on our district's Deutschland Tour. For about two weeks, we travelled essentially around the border of Germany in a big ole bus touring various city's and places. Our first stop was Heidelberg (more beautiful than it sounds), then a drive through the Black Forest, and then Freiburg (Actually looks about like it sounds), a ferry across the Bodensee (big giant lake thing at the bottom of the country), and I think everyone's favorite stop was the next, Oberammergau. It's really just a small Bavarian town, settled into a valley.

Our youth hostel was way up on a hill, with a road steep enough that the bus couldn't handle the road-which meant walking. However the view along the way was well worth it. At the top it was absolutely beautiful, overlooking the town with a mountain to either side. Through out the trip, we were eating breakfast and dinner in our youth hostels, and lunch was on us. This one was certainly a change. The place offered a deal, where it's all you can eat. If you run the kitchen out of food, then it's completely free. I can assure you it was not free, but we didn't go down without a fight. I think ate at least a dozen pieces of schnitzel. And of course we got to visit one of Germany's most famous places, Schloss Neuschwanstein. Still can't pronounce it in one try.

We also got to visit the memorial site of one of Germany's larger concentration camps, Dachau. Walking through everything was strange to say the least. We moved onto Munich, Rothenberg, Dresden, Berlin, and Hamburg. One of the best parts of everything was getting to spend time with a lot of awesome people from all over the world, and also the shenanigans to go with it. Singing along to Abba and various songs in the back of the bus, and all 50 of us suddenly yelling "AUSSTEIGEN" (Get off) in the subways never got old. At one point one guy managed to break an entire door. We mysteriously lost two people in the red-light district of Hamburg for two hours. Making fun of our Rotex, for being (although great), the absolute worst people on the planet. I'll never forget that three mile walk to see a cathedral that was entirely covered by scaffolding, from a tucked away corner by a construction site. Forgetting my passport and hanging out in the Berlin train station instead of the government building. Wouldn't have changed any of it.

For my first four months, I haven't actually been in school. Instead, my host club placed me in two different German courses, that lasted about all day. The first, was actually at my new highschool. However it was mainly ages 8-13, the teacher spoke just about no English, and also never gave me any actual lessons. So after a few weeks I put in a request to be removed. However instead of getting circulated into school, I was then moved to another course located in Dusseldorf. This one turned out to be far, far better though and actually really enjoyable. With that said, after four months I'm able to hold up a conversation, answer questions, and understand about half of what is being taught in school. I'm currently only in my first week. German school however is much like American highschool. There's no sport teams, or really any elective classes either. But, it runs a lot more like a college. Your schedule is different every day, which is nice. So you only have each subject two or three times per week. You're also aloud to actually leave school. So if your teacher isn't there, ya just go home. A lot of people leave or go home for lunch as well. Looking at it now, I find it rather ridiculous how it's such a big deal to leave campus back home.

There's not too much different in culture, by as time goes on you find more and more. It's however mainly just little things. Where the line generally gets drawn is politics.

-Food: Bread. It's the answer to everything. It's generally what's eaten with breakfast, usually with butter and some sort of jelly. Sometimes for lunch, sometimes for dinner, but then with some slices of salami or cheese. Coming from eating Angie's or Firehouse Subs on a weekly basis, I'm convinced Germans just haven't had someone explaint to them the potential a sandwich can have. Table manners are for the most part the same, except you eat just about everything with a fork and knife. Especially if you're in a restaurant. I think I've finally got the hang of eating pizza like this.

-Sleeping: There's a pillow case for the blanket. Found that interesting. The blankets are also just big enough for one person, even if it's a larger bed, and even if there's two people in the same bed. My family also sleeps with the windows open. Still can't wrap my head around this, as it drops below zero during the night.

-Commuting: Trains. Trains everywhere. And busses too. You really don't have to drive anywhere, you can just take a train. My host club pays for a regional transportation pass as well, so I can pretty much get where ever I need to go, up to three hours north of me. People also take their bikes everywhere. They're also treated more like cars here. You have to have a light at night, use the bike path, or ride in the road. If it's a one way street, you have to go in that direction. It's actually not unlikely to get a ticket from the police while on a bike. People also will always stop at crosswalks for those lights. Like, the ones that tell you when you can cross. Even if there's no oncoming traffic in either direction what so ever, if the light's red, you stay.

-Fashion. Well, it's European. But it sometimes makes me laugh. Some people follow really, really closely to fashion trends. People everywhere wear those yellow/tan Timberland construction worker boots. Every one. You walk past any shoe store and there's a wide selection of almost identical construction worker boots. I can also tell you that there are more people wearing Chicago Bulls hats in Dusseldorf than there are actually in Chicago. Sometimes people just wear big snapback hats with "New York" or "Miami" written on it. I'm still not understanding it.

-Driving: My god it's like a roller coaster. Everything is fast. EVERYTHING. Accelerate fast, stop fast, fast speed limits, fast turning, fast everything. There is no relaxing and cruising on a German highway. But at the same time, it's rather nice.

Okay, so some of that may have come off negative (I think everyone has that problem when writting these), but don't get me wrong, Germany is absolutely wonderful and absolutely great. I'm looking forward to every day, and every new opportunity. So that's my journal. They're a lot harder to sit down and write than you'd think. But I promise to write another one (for the most part) on time!