When I was first presented with the idea, I never thought I would actually get to go. It seemed so surreal to me, so unlike anything I had ever done, that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to hope for it at all. I hate asking for anything from my parents; they already send me to a private school and ensure that I have everything I could ever need, but I knew there was probably no way I could pay for it on my own.
I couldn’t let my dream slip away though; I worked up the courage and I asked them and after they thought about it, they said yes, and I was going to Germany. As excited as I was, I was also scared. The farthest away from home I had ever been was Florida, but there people still spoke my language.
That was one small comfort. Even though I had taken German for three years, I was still afraid. Learning the language and speaking it fluently are two different things.
Could I say everything I wanted and needed to? One of the other key things I worried about was my host family. By the time we left, I was one of only a few people who hadn’t heard from their host families. What would they be like? Would they like me? What if they thought I was strange? I knew that I might be their only impression of what an American was and I wanted to make a good one.
Last of all, I was worried about the flight. 8 hours seems like forever for a school day and at least then you get to get up every once and a while and stretch. We flew out of O’Hare Airport in Chicago because it was cheaper to fly out of a major city airport and because it meant no connections.
It was a long flight and between that mixture of scared and excited, I couldn’t sleep. That, of course, made the time zone difference even harder when we arrived at Frankfurt at approximately quarter to six in the morning.I could talk about a lot of things, but I think the one event that affected me most was the once in a lifetime opportunity to stay with a German family for a week. I got to see all the customs and culture up close as I lived with them.
It was an experience unlike any other. They made me feel so welcome at their house. I ate meals with them, played sports with them every night in their backyard, and went to school with the oldest boy.
I think experiencing school in a different culture was the most interesting part for me. In a lot of ways, it was the same: some teachers were cool, others were strict, while still others were loose and the students talked all through class. One thing I could not get over though, is that their schedules change every day.
It’s hard for me to comprehend how they can remember what they have on what days because I’m used to having the same classes at the same time until the end of semester one, and I only change a few classes then. Somehow my host brother managed to know that the double German he should have had on Monday morning got replaced with English. I don’t know how he knew that, because he hadn’t known on Sunday night.
Overall, my experience and my time there was one of the most wonderful experiences I will ever have, but it also gave me a newfound understanding and appreciation for the values of my country and the place where I live. Simple things I realized I take for granted. For example, in Wisconsin where I live, we drink a lot of milk and when I was in Germany, I don’t think I ever had any that wasn’t heated up with cocoa mixed in it. My first drink of milk when I got back was so cold and refreshing that I wonder how anyone could give that up. Despite having said understanding and appreciation, I still really did love it over there and I’d jump at the opportunity to go back.
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