My heart was beating so fast, so hard, pushing so much adrenaline through my body I thought I was going to explode. We heard the knocking for the third time, and huddled together for protection. One more knock. We screamed. Nobody was there.
This is the treatment we received as the only three girls on a school foreign exchange trip to Germany for three weeks. With 13 of us total, that makes 10 boys who unfortunately had not reached their maturity level and enjoyed playing pranks late at night.
After hosting Jana (a 17-year old girl from Hildesheim, Germany) for three weeks last year, and after much persuasion, my parents decided to let me go and experience her culture.
My head spun and my stomach churned during the entire nine hour plane ride. I have a small fear of being 40,000 feet above ground for long periods of time. The relief (and nausea) I experienced as the Lufthansa plane landed was a wonderful feeling.
Touring Salzburg, Austria during the first few days was my favorite part of the trip. I would go back to Salzburg faster than you can say edelweiss. In Mirabell Gardens (where The Sound of Music was filmed) we held hands and skipped through the same tunnel the Von Trapp family danced in. But, our attempts at re-enacting the “I am 16 Going on 17” dance failed when we saw that the gazebo was locked. Apparently too many Americans were jumping from bench to bench.
The next few days consisted of tours of castles, churches, and ice cream at 10:30 in the morning. Horse-drawn carriages escorted us to the Herrenchiemsee, giant slides took us through the Austrian salt mines, and our feet carried us up the mountain where the Neuschwanstein Castle stands.
But, out of all the places we visited, one still sticks out in my mind. The Dachau Concentration Camp.
Because my father’s side of the family is Jewish, walking through the camp was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Looking at the barracks, feeling the barbed wire, and staring at the watch towers made me sick to my stomach. There were rows of gas chambers that led right up to the oven, where they roasted people alive.
That would have been me.
That moment was something I will never forget, along with the many other experiences in Germany.
I spent five nights in hotel rooms before I was able to meet my new family, the Amfalders. Jana and I embraced the instant we saw each other, and her family was quick to make me feel at home.
Of course the fact that I knew very little German became a problem. Jana, Christa (her mom), and Dominic (her 15 year old brother) would sit me down at night and give me “lessons” which consisted of me embarrassing myself because I can’t roll my R’s.
But, after being away from my family for so long, I began to feel homesick. The talks with my mom on Skype grew longer each day and just looking at a picture of someone at home would make me break down in tears. Jana and I began to have many differences and I missed sleeping in my own bed.
Despite the homesickness, I plan on going back to Germany after college and re-visiting all of the amazing sites I saw at such a young age. This trip was the opportunity of a lifetime, and it was definitely the highlight of my summer vacation.
But in the end, there really is no place like home.
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