When I decided to host an exchange student last April, little did I know I would become one myself. The student in question was a 17 year old girl from Boeblingen, Germany named Anja who would be staying with me and my family for two weeks. The experience was utter chaos as the exchange group of 12 students and two teachers crammed every possible activity into that small period of time. Obviously this was not enough time to really experience life in the United States. I saw my German sister scarcely and when we were together, it was in the shopping mall with the other students. This approach of theirs annoyed me to no end. That they seemed to care so little about culture and more about what they could buy at a cheaper price while visiting. So when I found out I would be reciprocating the visit, I promised myself that I would go with a different attitude in mind. A good attitude, and one of openness to Germany’s culture.
I traveled to Germany with my German teacher and three fellow students. There were many things that we immediately noticed to be different. The houses, the transportation methods, the school system etc. These were all to be expected. Other cultural differences stand out more. One is their dislike of people who appear or act different. A question I was constantly asked was if I liked the band Tokio Hotel. Tokio Hotel is a German rock band who I actually do happen to enjoy. Regardless, as this question continued to be asked, I found myself countering the accusation with the question of what was so repulsive about the band. The answer I always received was negative comments on their clothing style and such. They dressed differently than the general population and therefore were shunned.
Another difference involves our stay in the Alps for four days. We stayed in a cabin with four teachers from Max-Planck Gymnasium, the German school, and five of the 13th graders who had just graduated. Talking to these students gave us a great insight to cultural difference that our host families did not expose us to. Upon arriving the German students were intrigued by the sleeping arrangements, males in one room, females in another. In German culture apparently it is acceptable to have a mix of genders in one room. This fact spurred on a conversation of the largest cultural difference we experienced. In Germany most females start taking contraceptives at an early age, and it is acceptable to have intimate relationships from then onward. If a female becomes pregnant, it is no big deal to have an abortion. This utterly shocked all of us American students. This involves one of the biggest political debates taking place in our home country! So different…
Focusing on German culture, there are many examples I could continue to give, but these are the ones that will always be first on my mind. It is natural to remember what one deems as negative. Now I must remind myself to be open when I want to close myself off so much. I must continue to tell myself that it is only different, not necessarily bad. However, reflecting back, there is more to remember than that. If I came home concentrating on the negatives, I would have only fulfilled half of my goal. The rest is to concentrate on the positive. So as I reflect, I must remember the good times. Just like when my German teacher tried to break or playing with the small children on the beaches of Reugen.
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