Our Turn: Finding a sense of direction
Last spring, I wrote an article about how I was applying to be an exchange student for a year in Germany. I am happy to say I was accepted and have lived the last five months here in beautiful Deutschland. I have been learning German, living with a host family and attending German high school. There are three questions I get almost every time I meet someone new: How long have I been here? Five months and counting. How long will I be here? Until early July. Why did I decide to make an exchange year in Germany, while having no experience with the language or the country? Well, I didn’t decide. I learned about the scholarship that made this year possible for me, the Congress-Bundestag-Youth-Exchange, from a teacher in my school, and immediately knew I was going to do it. I didn’t think about it, not for five minutes. It has been the best decision I never made.
I love Germany. My family here is amazing, my school here is incredible, my classmates are fantastic, the Deutsche Bahn (German trains) are really cool, the food is really good, the people are really helpful, the country is really, really beautiful. I haven’t, so far, felt much homesickness. It is not an easy thing, leaving your home, your family, your friends and everything you know. I’ve found Germany to be entirely different, in millions of little ways. For instance, the light switches and toilets look different, they hate ice, the stores aren’t air-conditioned, and there are no houses with wood siding. Moving in with a strange family isn’t easy. My family here is big and hectic, and don’t always have the famed German punctuality. And some people are incredibly fussy. My host sister once asked me, when I was getting ready for bed, to go back into the living room because I forgot to set the cushions straight on the couch.
School isn’t easy. The last two years of German gymnasium (high school) is the equivalent of the first two years of American college. I’m doing homework and taking classes entirely in a language I’ve spoken for five months. My classmates are all very nice, cool, smart people, but it’s not easy to make friends through language and the cultural barriers. Despite the incredible amount of cultural blending the Internet has done, it feels like we come from different planets sometimes. Or like Germany is in a strange alternate universe, where everything is the same but also completely different.
There are ups and downs. Things are hard sometimes. But I’ve been to Munich. I met German actor Florian Fitz. I’ve been to the Christmas market in Nuremberg. I’ve met people from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Bulgaria, Norway and of course, Germany. I’ve seen all the Harry Potter movies in German and read the original Brothers Grimm fairy tales in German. They’re really weird.
Those are really just the little things, specific examples to give you an idea of what I’ve been up to. The short time I’ve been here has given me more than that. I now feel a sense of direction, and I have a better idea of what’s out there. I know what’s possible for me, or I’ve forgotten what isn’t. I’ve been surprised by what you can get just by asking. I’ve gotten ideas of what I want to do after high school, and then college. That’s quite a good thing. I used to be scared because I didn’t know what I wanted or could do after high school. I really couldn’t see what comes next. Now, everywhere I look I stumble over ideas and opportunities.