Wednesday, December 22, 2010

holiday blues

Well, Rotary was right; they usually are. I doubted all of the perfected charts and statistics at the orientation conferences, but I guess they've been at this long enough to be able to put it down on paper. For me, that dip in the emotional roller coaster around December/January is right on; the holiday blues are real. They started right before our exchange student Christmas weekend in Nürnberg. I went into the weekend with mixed feelings. We had to take a German test to track our language progress, and as soon as I heard the word "test" I automatically dreaded going. No doubt I was excited to see everyone together for the first time since Berlin, but on the other hand it was the last time we would be all together with the group we have now. Most of the January Inbounds are heading home before our next Rotex ski-weekend in Oberstdorf in late January. I was looking forward to seeing Nürnberg, one of Bayern's most prominent cities. Then there was facing the fact that one of my fellow Americans had left his exchange a few days before. Everyone would be so confused, not to mention dissappointed, at his absence since none of them knew he had left. The weekend ended up being better than my pre-conceived dreading had led me to believe. The test wasn't completely excruciating- in fact it was easier than all of the high school Spanish tests I have taken in the past two years. I wish that I done better than I did, but it was a pretty good score for most of the new Inbounds and, hey, I passed. We spent Saturday morning at the Dokumentszentrum, which is where the history of Hitler's regime is housed. It was rather dumbfounding just how big Hitler's empire was. We've obviously learned about WWII and the Holocaust, but I never thought about the impact he had on his own people. With the monuments and stadiums he had built, I can understand the German people wanting to be proud of something like that, even under such horrible pretenses. In the afternoon, there was a full-blown exchange student snowball war. If you ever get the chance to see Brasilians playing in their first snow, it will make you smile. We headed to the ice stadium, some of us still shaking snow out of our ears, pants, and other nooks and crannies. Despite horrible skates and a packed rink, we exchange students managed to have fun. I spent most of my time helping those who had never even seen snow before, let alone tried on a pair of ice skates. What a sight that was. That night, even though I had an earsplitting headache, we headed out into the Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt, which is apparently the "best" Christmas market in Bayern. On Sunday, I came home. I was tired from the weekend, sad from saying goodbye to those who I probably won't see again, and my headache was relentless. I was a bit miserable. I struggled through school on Monday and my host club's Christmas dinner. I felt like I just needed a good break down, which I got on Tuesday; I couldn't even get out of bed. I cried a lot. It hurt but it felt so good just to let it all out. I have been strong for almost 4 months and I deserved a good cry. After a chat with my mom and my best friend, Meagan, I did feel a bit better. Now, as I write this blog down in class, next to friends who have no idea how hard this life is at times, I think about what is going on in my life. I have one more day of school, then 2 weeks of break. Maybe I'll go swimming and to the Friedberger Christkindlesmarkt with my host parents this afternoon. I have English next hour. It's raining and my boots aren't amazingly waterproof. I still miss my family, but there is truly nothing to be done about that. So, I can either: A: wallow in self-pity at the life decision I made or B: suck it up and enjoy what opportunities I have, knowing how proud my support system back home is of me. I'm going with plan B. Holiday Blues aren't fun, but the holiday season is a time to be happy and only I have the power to change my attitude this Christmas. Whatever you celebrate, have a wonderful holiday and a happy New Year! See you in 2011!--sjinternational.

Monday, December 13, 2010

'tis the season

Christmas is in the air. Snow keeps falling, lights illuminate the streets of every city, town and village, and the smell of glühwein- a traditional drink that is much more popular than eggnogg ever was- fills the christkindelmarkts that line the streets. Last weekend I went to a christkindelmarkt in Mering with my friend Sophia. I ended spending the weekend with her, becoming friends with her friends and dominating Sing-Star, partly due to the fact that all of the songs were in English. We made a record amount of plätchen (Christmas cookies) at her grandma's farm, where I met some of the cows and their babys. My host father has been away for about a week now, leaving me either alone or with my host mother every day after school. I feel like this time together has helped us get to know eachother a lot better. They always said get on your host mother's good side. I'm not sure if my host mother has a bad side per say, but I don't plan on finding out. Together we went to a Weihnachtsfeiern (Christmas Party) with the group of people I walked with in the Oktoberfest Parade way back in September. She took me to München to meet my friend Lily and we went to the München Christkindelmarkt, which is by far the biggest one I've been to. I ended up going to see Harry Potter 7 in German with my host mother and then, naturally, to the Augsburg Christkindelmarkt. It's safe to say that I'm all Christkindelmarkt-ed out. Yesterday was the third day of Advent, meaning there are now 3 burning candles on the wreath we made two weeks ago. Coming up in my life are some exciting things. Tomorrow, my class is heading to München to see 'A Christmas Carol'. Friday, I leave for Nürnberg for our Rotary Weihnachtswochenende with the other exchange students. I'd be more excited if we didn't have a Deutsch language test. I'm pretty comfortable communicating but tests just ruin any kind of confidence I've built up. It's also the last time we will be all together with our current group. The Australians and New Zealanders and a couple others will be leaving in January. That means that some of the people I've become really good friends with will be gone. Not exactly the most cheerful situation. In two weeks, our Weihnachtsferien starts! No school for two weeks! I am supposed to take snowboarding lessons after Christmas with Sophia. At the start of the New Year, my host parents are taking me to Berchtesgaden in southeast Germany where my host mother's parents have a house. See. Exciting things. Sidenote Story: Last weeks I gave a small presentation in my English class over the American High School. Through pictures and anecdotes, I gave my peers an idea of how my school life is back in the U.S. I got so many comments about how cool school looks in the USA and one boy bluntly stated, "I'm coming home with you." It was really interesting to explain my high school. It made me realize how much I miss the spirit, the classes, and yes, even some of the teachers. I'm excited to go into my Senior year with a whole new outlook. As I said, only two weeks until Christmas break and, like the rest of the student population, I'm counting down the days!--sjinternational

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


November has come to a close and sadly, we've left autumn as a thing of the past. Falling has become the theme of my life now. The first is the snowfall. I've woken up to a shining, white layer of snow for about a week now. I've never been a huge fan of the frozen water, but it certainly brings a sense of cozy, Christmas cheer with it. It also brings me to my second fall: me simply falling. With the first overnight freeze I fell off my bike on the way to school. I'm talking complete wipeout on the main road outside my apartment. I've fallen up and down the stairs in my house numerous times in the past week, leaving my body bruised from the cold marble and me running on ibuprofen. I spent the past Sunday in München falling in love with the Christmas market called Tollwood and the French-Canadian show 7 Fingers: Traces that we saw. I've never seen a show that I enjoyed so thoroughly. I also spent much of Sunday and Monday falling down laughing with my friend Hayley from Australia. I had an astoundingly good time with her.
Here comes the fall with the hardest landing: falling apart. It happens occasionally. I can't pretend that this exchange all snowflakes and Christmas cheer, because it's far from it. There are so many times a day that I have to ask myself "Why am I even here?". I say, "Sarah Jane, you have such a great life at home, why are you giving that up for even a second? You must be absolutely bonkers, girl." And maybe I am. I have given up a year with parents I adore, friends who know me better than I do, a dog who is on his home-stretch of life, and most of all, comfort in my life. This is what I chose. Every cloud has a silver lining, though. I can't remember the details of my last miserable night or day here, but I can vividly recall the pure joy I felt in the happy times: My new school friends taking me to ice cream for my sweet sixteen, going to see Blue Man Group with district 1840 in Berlin, Seeing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with my friends in München, Lily spending the weekend here, going to Tollwood with Hayley. Notice anything about my moments of happiness? They all exist because of the people I was with. So, you see, I may be miserable sometimes, but for me, the fleeting moments of joy to remember or to look forward to somehow make everything worth it. I want to stress something to any prospective exchange students (Rotary or otherwise): Make sure that a year of exchange is what you want. It's a big decision and a year is a long time. I applied on a whim, although I knew I wanted to study abroad, but it still wasn't as though I knew what I was getting myself into. Don't arrive and after three months decide that was enough. Rotary isn't for everyone and other programs can be just as fufilling. I know people who have made a mistake in choosing Rotary as their program and they have left their exchanges early. Although I support their courage to correct their path, it is always sad to see someone leave. Find something that works for you. I promised to write the truth in this blog and this is as raw as it gets.
On that delightful note, I begin falling into place (again). I believe that Rotary is right for me, if not for the program then for the people I've met through it. The people I have gotten to know and the things I have learned have convinced me that although a whim, my choice was right for me. I'm okay with the lonliness and getting better at dealing with the occasional misery. As I head into winter and more slippery accidents, I'm sure, I keep myself busy with friends and the ever entertaining book selection I have on my Kindle, Luka. I'm looking forward to my first skiing experience and holidays with a new family. Break out the advent calendars and brace yourself for Christmas: Winter is officially here.--sjinternational

Monday, November 22, 2010

erutedankfest - thanksgiving

Danke/Thanks. I have used this word a ridiculous amount in the past 3 months. In perspective, I don't believe I've said it enough. My first thanks is to Rotary International. This is my life right now. Thank you for this exchange that is teaching me how to appreciate the life that I have. I'll never be able to thank my parents enough for my life, my idols, and my best friends. I'm thankful for the McGaw YMCA Camp Echo, where I learned to enjoy life and be myself without any inhibitions. The list continues in no particular order: my friends. My brother. GLEE. My pets. Good movies. Good books. Peanut butter and Nutella (which are NOT the same thing). My mom's cooking. My dad's smile. Sunshine. Blue skies. Ellen Degeneres. My bed. Smartwool socks. Good music. Chicago. Public transportation. Meeting new people. Hot chocolate. The list will always grow, but these are just a few things.
Now, when Rotary talked to all of us about the "Holiday Blues", they were talking about Christmas time. I think that for me that starts now, with Thanksgiving rolling around. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday with all the food and family. I'm not unhappy where I am. I actually have a lot going on in my life that I'm excited about, but there is an unpleasant feeling that come with the revelation that life goes on without you on the other side of the world. At first, I had this illusion that life in the US would cease to exist while I'm living my life here, but that's not the case. A bit of advice to future exchange students: try not to feel excluded and remind yourself that it was you who chose to leave them.
One last thanks before we wrap up this post. I'm so amazingly thankful for the friends I've met in Germany. My fellow exchange students have become shoulders to cry on, comedians to laugh with and peers to confide in. I wouldn't be able to make it through the year if I didn't know they were going to be right there with me the whole way. Happy Thanksgiving.--sjinternational

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

time, expectations, and fairytale castles

After the Berlin trip with Rotex, which set my new standard of fun, I thought November was going to be long and torturous as I wait for our next exchange student gathering in December. I quickly figured out that life isn't pre-planned and I can't live from Rotary event to Rotary event. That is no way to enjoy exchange or life. With a little prompting from my mom, I took matters into my own hands. She reminded me that I have the resources to make things happen and if I haven't tried then I shouldn't feel sorry for myself. Wise words of a mother. In less than two days, I had made plans to meet a friend in Augsburg and now my best friend on exchange, Lily from Canada, is coming to spend the weekend with me. Now, November is halfway over. I'm not counting the months in anticipation to go home, but as an exchange student time is both a friend and an enemy. It's hard not to be constantly thinking about time. I've been here 2 and a half months already. My friend Hayley only has a month and a half left of her exchange. That will be me in 6 months. But who's counting? This is how my mind is constantly working. Not to mention trying to keep up with the language 24/7. I do feel like the language is always getting better, but I find I'm always tired from the overtime work my brain has to do. Language remains the main obstacle in life. I don't have any intense homesickness. However, the thing I miss the most is comfort. I miss being absolutely at ease in my own home or being such good friends with someone that their home is yours as well. That's a luxury I don't have here. I may be part of my host family, but at the moment I feel as if they will always only be my HOST family and I'm still a guest in their home. I've realized this month that exchange, put simply, is life with more challenges. If anyone reading this blog is thinking of going on exchange to fufill their European dream, they should get that out of their heads right now. I was a bit naive and thought more of travel opportunities than being content with life as it is. You know how it goes: the grass is always greener in France when you're in Italy. A lot of Rotary clubs are different. Some are really laid back with their exchange students, whereas others, like mine, are very straight-laced and don't let me do much without consulting the rulebook. It's frustrating when I don't have the same opportunities as the other exchange students and sometimes it feels like I can't sneeze without asking permission, but I know they really care about me and are simply following the rules. I do have amazing opportunities with Rotary and my family, but most of the time I should let them come to me instead of constantly seeking them out. Which brings me to my last point. The beautiful air over the Alps from the Mediterranean called Fühn that I love so much visited Bavaria last weekend. The weather was absolutely fabulous and this resulted in a trip to Schloss Neuschwanstein. King Ludwig II's fairytale castle truly is out of a dream. Whatever he wanted, it was incorporated into the architechture. That's probably why he was cut-off and declared insane. You can't always get what you want... After 16 years of building, only 16 rooms were finished (and even the throne room is missing the most important feature.) He only lived in the castle for a total of 400 and something days before he mysteriously died in a lake nearby with the doctor who declared him insane. His family only waited 4 weeks after his death to open the castle to the public. It was a huge money maker then and it still is today. There's a little history lesson for you. I do pay attention when I go on tours. I ran into another exchange student at the entrance of the castle: Enrique from Argentina. We ended up going on the tour together. To get the best view of the castle, we went up to the Marienbrücke. It is a bridge over a gorge just behind the castle. Although it is beautiful, it's not exactly reassuring to feel the wooden boards moving under the weight of 50+ people. It was a pretty perfect day. After that beautiful weather, the snow came today. It will be a while before it coats the ground, but winter is in the air!--sjinternational

Saturday, November 6, 2010

quoting berlin

This past week was easily the best of my exchange so far. I will never again take for granted the happiness that comes with being with a group of people that I love. Distrikt 1840 is wonderful. Our Rotex organized everything for our trip to Berlin and I'm sure that keeping track of 34 exchange students in the largest city in the country isn't the easiest feat. I appreciate them so much and probably will never be able to thank them enough for the experience. The trip began on Sunday, October 31st at Augsburg Hauptbahnhof. It was extremely exciting to see everyone trickle into Augsburg by 11:30 p.m. We left on our bus and headed north. There's one thing about a bus full of exchange students: it's not very quiet. It took about 4 hours for everyone to quiet down and sleep. By then, the sun was coming up and we were almost to Berlin. This was where the sleep deprivation started. Upon arrival in Berlin, we checked into the hostel and made our first museum visit to "The Story of Berlin", where we got to see a real bomb shelter that thankfully was never used. This would be the first of MANY museums. We went to Germany's largest shopping mall, KaDeWe. IT WAS HUGE. I had the traditional Berliner Currywurst for lunch and it was delicious. We had dinner at the hostel and spent the night doing karaoke in the hostel's bar. Bedtime was about 2 a.m.: Alarm was set for 7:30, breakfast at 8. Day 2 was spent in Potsdam, just outside of Berlin. We visited Cecilienhof, the place where the Potsdam Conference took place during World War II. It was also where the orders to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were issued. Then we travelled to Schloss Sanssouci, where the most beautiful gardens are and walked through the Holland section of Potsdam. We spent the afternoon and had lunch in Potsdam. A couple of us found a great Thai restaurant where I had really good Pad Thai. That night we went to a club. It was my first club! At first, we were the only people there, but once others started showing up and the dance floor started filling, it was more fun. Once again, another late night. Day 3 started off with the Bundestag, or the German Government building. It was amazing how there was such a blend of modern and classic architechture. The dome was a really cool addition to the building. We made our way to the Brandenburg Gate, just down the block. Lunch was my first doner. It was delicious. We went to the Memorial and museum of the Jewish people killed in the Holocaust. It was a beautiful memorial, but if the true number of lives lost was represented, the memorial would have been about the size of Berlin itself. It was hard to read the letters in the museum from children to their parents saying that they are going to die soon. It hit home. The rain decided to show up as we had to walk through the city to the GDR Museum. At least we got the rain as part of the experience. We had the option to go to the club again that night, but a bunch of the Englisch speaking kids stayed back and hung out in the hostel. It's amazing how amusing YouTube can be... Our last full day was spent at Checkpoint Charlie. I found it amusing that right next the Checkpoint Charlie, which was the entrance of the AMERICAN sector, lay a McDonald's. Down the street there was also a Starbucks. We had Thai again for lunch. I had Pad Thai, but the waitress accidentally gave me a different entree at first which I ate half of, THEN she gave me the Pad Thai. I was full from 2 entrees for the price of one! The Rotex told us that our itinerary that night consisted of a Rotary meeting in Berlin so we should dress nice. JUST KIDDING! They took us to see Blue Man Group in one of the theatres! It was absolutely amazing! That was the highlight of my week, along with spending time with other exchange students. It was sad to come home. After a week of weightlessness, I was coming back to reality with bad German and a longing to spend more time with my friends. I haven't laughed so hard since I left the USA. Hopefully I can get together with some exchange students before our next gathering in December. That seems too far away for me. Now it's time to come back to life in Friedberg, without exchange students and with daily challenges. I'm a bit of a funk or Post-Berlin Depression. Once the week starts again, life will go back to normal. I have one more week of Deutschkurs and then I return to Realschule. I hope this was an enjoyable recap of my week of bliss.--sjinternational -Me on top of the dome of the Bundestag

The Dome Brandenburg Gate


Sunday, October 24, 2010

ich bin sat!

This week was a good week. By 'good week', I mean I always had something to do. The first exciting thing took place on Wednesday. I was the closest to having tee with royalty as I ever will be. This is how something like this happens: I have an exchange friend, who has a host mom, who's the vet of a duchess' pets. Connections are good in life. We drove to Schloss Kircheim in Baden-Wurttemberg to meet Angela, a duchess who still inhabits one of Bayern's castles. She answered the giant door in the garage bigger than my house wearing jeans, a flannel shirt, and a vest. That's when I decided I was going to like her. He two dogs, Othello and Sirius, were named after two of literature's great works: Shakespeare's 'Othello' and J.K Rowling's 'Harry Potter'. While the vet checked out the dogs, much to their dismay, we had a private tour of the castle. You know those thick ropes that forbid entry in castles or museums? We were allowed to go right through them. I loved being able to see the ins and outs of the castle. I couldn't believe that she still lived there! Who has gold trim and 400 year old paintings in their office?! Angela. After the tour we had tee with a duchess. I just like saying that. She is a past governor for Rotary, so she was very interested in us and how we like exchange. She spoke great Englisch and complimented our German. She was really funny and used so much facial expression I had the flashing image of me being her when I'm older (without the title, of course). That night, my Kindle arrived! My mom and I decided that my tearing through books and her sending me more was a ridiculous idea, so she bought me a Kindle, which I named Luka. He is wonderful and I spent the next afternoon playing with him. On Friday, I went home with my friend Marisa, who is living in Augsburg. Her host mom and Oma cook so well that I was very excited to have lunch. We had a wonderful lasagna. Then we watched 'Wall Street'. Instead of them putting it in German with Englisch subtitles for Marisa and I, which would have made sense, they put it in Englisch with ENGLISCH subtitles. I've never understood the language they speak on Wall Street, but I got the jist of it. I have no idea how the others fared... Saturday was the highlight. Manuela and Henner took me to Munchen! We saw the main points of interest for tourists: churches, government buildings, breweries. It was a gross day, weather-wise, but the city was beautiful. One of my favorite things I saw was a memorial to 'Die Weisse Rose' by the Bayern Parliament building. 'The White Rose' was an organization of students in Munich who stood against Hitler and were killed for it. I couldn't have imagined how much I'd be affected by the significance of the act until I saw it. It's something I'll never forget. We wandered through the city and stopped at an Italian cafe where I was practically eating my hot chocolate, it was so thick. By the time the Sun burned through the clouds, it was a sunset. We headed to Jetzendorf, where Manuela's sister lives, to celebrate her sister's birthday. I was able to keep up with parts of the conversation, which made me feel really good. Also, the food was magnificent. The last time I was that full was my last dinner in the USA, but at that time there was a knot taking up half of my stomach telling me I was crazy for embarking on this journey. This time, it felt much better accompanied with laughter and happiness. There was so much laughter that I couldn't help joining in, even if I didn't really understand the jokes. They could have been laughing at me for all I know, but it was funny! It was a very satisfying night. I love my German family and they remind me a lot of the people I love back home. Hopefully today I will be riding a horse! Our neighbor, Norbert, has two horses and he's invited me to ride, but we've had to put it off all week. Flexibility is a wonderful thing to learn as an exchange student. Things are always changing right under my nose and it's good to just roll with it. Well, I have one more week until I'm with my distrikt 1840 exchange friends again for our Berlin trip and I can't wait! Until then, ciao!--sjinternational Tee with Duchess Angela Die Weisse Rose memorial: der Widerstands= 'resistance' Munchen Rathaus: Imagine a town hall like that!
With my host mom, Manuela in the Rathausplatz
'Ich bin sat!' = 'I am satisfied!'

Sunday, October 17, 2010

you want to know what the difference is between you and me?

I just wanted to use that line from 'The Parent Trap'. There's not much to pinpoint from this past week. Life went on, I had my deutschkurs every day, excess water fell from the sky, and there was no Sun to speak of. I need some Vitamin D, Deutschland! I wanted to take a blog post to highlight some of the changes my life has undergone since I've arrived in Bayern. I have to be really careful when pointing out differences between my German home and my USA home, because I know that some of the differences are case sensitive to me and my personality. So here is what is different for me: Food: The one thing I can say about food is that I feel like it's 'fresher'. Henner always gets food from the market or the biological/organic food from the store. I love it. Never underestimate the power of some fresh cheese from France. There is also bread here like you wouldn't believe. The bakeries are going to be the death of me. They lure me in with their warmth and smells, not to mention that there are usually about 5 on one street. One of them is bound to get me. I have not been eating so much meat. I had nightmares about getting wrapped in wurst by a man in lederhosen, but that has not come to pass, thank goodness. Also, beer has not been so prevolent, like the stereotypes say. Granted, I'm not supposed to drink beer with Rotary, but there is the same amount of beer in my life here as there was back in the USA, without me drinking it. Milk is my biggest problem. I drink a LOT of milk. In Deutschland, the milk comes in these little cartons instead of hulking gallon jugs. I feel bad for Manuela and Henner, who've now taken to buying at least 3 cartons at a time to keep up with my calcium intake. School: As of right now, I'm in a deutschkurs for 4 more weeks. Going back to my 2 weeks in Realschule I can say this: It's not overly different. Sure, the set up might be different. Instead of six 70 minute classes until 3:15, I have six 45 minute classes until 1:10. Everyday I have different classes instead of having the same classes everyday for 9 weeks. The teachers here also move from class to class instead of the students, which I think causes much less chaos in the halls. As for discipline, I feel like the USA has more consequences for students. However, I haven't been around long enough to deserve a detention here myself, so this is slight speculation. Fashion: They (fashion magazines and travel writers) say there is a 'European' style. If they mean that Europeans dress nicer than sagging pants drooping past their derrieres, then that's altogether true. I feel like all of my friends at school just came out of a fashion catalog. In the USA, it was easy to go to school in sweatpants and a tee-shirt and no one would think anything of it. Here, people actually care about public appearance, which I find quite refreshing. Sure, I've had to refine my taste a bit but I feel like I'm more socially sophisticated for it. I've now taken to leaving the sweatpants for nighttime. Interaction: From everything I read and heard to prepare myself for this year, Germans were 'unapproachable' and 'didn't like to be touched'. I find this to be completely untrue in my life here. Girlfriends at school greet eachother with a kiss (yes, sometimes on the lips) and my host mom has no qualms about giving me a spontaneous hug. Germans are definately not 'cold' people. I feel like more people in the USA are uneasy with contact and wouldn't be as open to a foreigner in their lives. Language: I feel as though in the USA we expect exchange students to ALREADY know Englisch. True, they study it in school longer than we study any foreign languages, but language in school, as I've learned, doesn't even compare to learning a language by living in it's mother country. I know that when I speak German here, I sound like a blubbering idiot with golf balls in my mouth sometimes. If I was in my school back home, we'd make fun of such a spectacle, even some of the teachers would join in (I've witnessed this). Not here, at least not from what I can understand. Here, everyone is so encouraging and impressed when I speak to them in my German. I've gotten more comfortable speaking with people in German because of this and even if my German isn't that of a high class aristocrat, they can understand what I'm trying to get across. In this situation, I'm glad I'm an exchange student in Germany and not in the USA. It's harsh, but true and necessary to put out there. Family: I'm most definately not going to talk about my personal relationships in detail over the internet, but I'll lay out the scene. I have a wonderful bond with my parents. I never hit that 'teenage angst/ I hate my parents' stage in all my 16 years. I love them so much and this experience has made me appreciate just how good my life is at home. My brother and I have also bonded more now that we're thousands of miles away from eachother (not across the hall) and beginning completely new chapters in our lives. That being said, I also have amazing host parents. They treat me like I'm part of the family and I'm perfectly happy with them. I've heard many stories where relationships with host families have not been so great to the point of misery, so I am most grateful to have Manuela and Henner, where the only negative feelings I have are those of occasional boredom. To sum it up, I don't believe that much is different between my lives here and at home. There's the language of course and a different culture that I experience every once and a while, but my life from day to day is the same. I haven't changed drastically myself yet. Little changes of course, but I'm still Sarah Jane McGinn or 'Michigan' if you prefer. Same spirit, same ambitions, different address.--sjinternational

Sunday, October 10, 2010

this weekend's happiness was brought to you by distrikt 1840

This past weekend was our first Rotary planned trip! After Deutschkurs on Friday, exchange students Viktor, Marisa, Vicky and myself made our way to Augsburg Hauptbanhof (the train station). There, we met up with a couple other exchange pals and hopped on the train to Oberstdorf, which is in southern Bayern with the Alps. Oberstdorf is a hot tourist spot, especially in winter because of it's awesome mountains. We have a Skiwochenede in Oberstdorf in January as well, so we'll be back. We stayed in a youth hostel 15 minutes away from the main town. We were in a valley between these 4 mountains that just took my breath away. To say the least, this weekend was so wonderful. I was a little nervous because I'm not incredibly outgoing and a lot of exchange students are. I didn't want to spend the weekend twiddling my thumbs, afraid to join the party. However, getting to know this group of students was so much fun. I really broke out of my comfort zone and became friends with so many people. Games on the Friday night required sitting on eachothers' laps and rat-tailing people with a rag to learn names so introductions very quickly turned into friendships. On Saturday, we went 'tramping' or hiking as the USA calls it. We made our way up one of the mountains we were surrounded by and stopped at the top for lunch. The view was AMAZING! That's my flag. 6 by 4 feet large. It's a little bigger than is easy to tote around, keeping in mind that it can't touch the ground. Most of my exchange student friends laugh at my vehemence of the American superstition, but I don't know if I'll be able to make it 9 more months without it touching the ground. I'll do my damnedest. So the first Rotary weekend has made me look forward to every other ROTEX planned event coming up in my life, the next being the Berlin Trip at the end of the month. The ROTEX for distrikt 1840 is so cool. They organize all of our events and trips. Our ROTEX seem to genuinely care about all of the exchange students and their happiness. I'm really glad they're my mentors this year. I can't wait to see me newly-made friends again in 3 weeks!--sjinternational

Monday, October 4, 2010

170 km/hr to my heart

I've fallen in love. No, not with a German boy, but with the Alps. They're more dependable and steadfast than any teenage boy anyways. I took my second trip south to the mountains this weekend after shopping on Saturday. My Sunday was supposed to be lazy with absolutely no plans at all. Zilch, Nada. But, needless to say, that didn't happen. Instead, Henner and I drove for a couple of hours on the Autobahn until we reached the village of Oberammergau, best known for it's Passion Play. We topped off the speed limit at, you guessed it, 170 km/hr. I can't explain the craziness that is the Autobahn. Usually, it's not all that scary, but on our particular stretch of road every person with a motorcycle in the region of Bavaria thought it would be a wonderful idea to weave in and out of the cars at 200 km/hr. The view was worth the heard attacks in the car. If it were up to me, a 16 year old from Michigan, everyone in the world should be allowed the opportunity to experience the feeling I had on top of one of those mountains. I would make it mandatory, but that seems a BIT extreme. I couldn't capture the beauty in an artistic way, like my friend Tory could, nor can I capture the feeling of exhileration in more than my words. All I wanted to do was share that experience with the people I love, especially my Dad who loves a good scenic view. This was the best of my years.
After enjoying the view from the top of this mountain, we began our treacherous hike down and around it. Let me just point out the fact that this trail was no more than a little path carved by gnomes over rocks and trees. I would also like to clarify that there was no "hiking" in how I made my way down: I half slid, half tumbled down this mountain. It was a beautiful fall. After our descent, the day was not over. Oh, no. Henner took me and my aching self to a castle! I was tired and in pain, but I am so grateful that my host-dad pushed me through that. King Ludwig II was known for diminishing Germany's economy by building his fantasy castles. We Americans have him to thank for inspiring the Disney Castle with his Schloss Neuschwanstein. I did not go to Neuschwanstein, but a much smaller castle nestled in the Alps called Schloss Linderhof. Smaller, not uglier. There is once again no use in trying to describe the beauty. Sunday was an adventure, to say the least. I can now feel that adventure in every part of my body. Moving is no easy feat as muscles I didn't know existed protest my every action. Oh, well. I still say it's a small price to pay for an experience so amazing. Until next time, ciao!--sjinternational

Thursday, September 30, 2010

sweet sixteen and skype

This week has been wonderful. My mom's birthday was on September 28th (Happy Birthday!) and that always hails my birthday soon after on the 30th of September. I had my first Skype experience last night. For some crazy reason I can't explain, I was nervous. I didn't know how I would react to seeing the people I love so dearly and know in my heart I won't be with them until next July. First came my best friend, Meagan. As soon as I saw her wild mane of hair, I knew I'd be fine. We talked and caught up with eachothers' lives. It was like nothing had changed and since her laptop was on her bed, it was like I was sitting there with her! Then came the parents. After a quick malfunction, everything worked out and we had a good conversation about life and plans. Most importantly, I saw my kitten. For those of you without pets, you won't understand. But to all those pet owners out there, animals are a wonderful thing. Their silent companionship and love is something to cherish. There are nights when I need to wrap up a blanket and put it next to me so I feel like my kitten is here as I fall asleep. That's what I miss the most from back home. So now every curious mind is at ease. Well, after a wonderful Skype experience, I had my birthday to look forward to! Today is my Sweet Sixteen! I've hit some landmark that I can't enjoy the reapings of in America OR Germany: I can't drive or drink. Despite those two things that are supposed to change, I feel completely the same, but it's good to finally be able to say I'm sixteen. Everyone at school wished me a happy birthday and it was wonderful to have friends here who were happy for me. I'm making my favorite meal for dinner tonight: Thai Peanut Noodles. I'm quite overjoyed. Everything in my life is good and my only birthday wish is that I can keep going down this wonderful road full of adventure and experience with happiness and health. What more could a girl ask for?-- sjinternational

Monday, September 27, 2010


It did that a lot this weekend. Mostly on Saturday while I was on a tour of Augsburg with a group of Italian Rotarians. Well, the guests were from Italy and so, much to my dismay, the whole tour was in Italian. I could actually pick out some of the words due to my two years in Spanisch, but mostly I hid beneath my umbrella, looking at my soaked through jeans. I believe one of the largest lessons to learn in youth exchange is to grin-and-bear-it. We do that a lot as exchange students, even in the rain. There was a reception at Schloss Friedberg (the castle) where I met all the Rotarians deemed "important". They all seemed very interested in me and happy that I'm learning German. A child of one of the Rotarians asked me, "If you're American, why can you speak German so good?". I just smiled and thanked him. The other kids liked taking words they found interesting in Englisch and making them into sentences. The all-time winner: "That squirrel's a weird creeper!". Well, it's my last week in Konradin Realschule before I start my German course in Augsburg and to tell you the truth, it's a little bittersweet. I like the friends I've made in school. With the help of Facebook and visits in town, I'll talk to them a lot. The wireless has been down so I haven't written in a while. Here is an excerpt from my notebook that I wrote during school last week:
"I'm in Chemistry, or Chemie as it's called here. This class is okay compared to the others. Herr Gerkhardt usually has something boiling and I can ball-park estimate what's going on. Most of my classes, however, are painfully boring. I've never doodled so much in my life. Today I drew a roller coaster. Riddle me that! Anyways, I talk to some of the girls in my class and we have short spurts of conversations in broken Englisch or Deutsch. I need to start dominating this Deutsch. In the wise words of my mother to her ever procrastinating kids, 'It will get done because it has to.' Contrary to what I've read or heard, I haven't noticed myself changing that much yet. I'm quieter, but that's bound to happen when you can hardly speak to anyone around you. My classmates at Fremont High School may laugh at the fact that Sarah Jane McGinn is not a teacher's pet here in Europe. I feel like the teachers dislike me because I do absolutely nothing in any class other than Englisch and Sport. Let me tell you though: it's a good thing I mastered facial expression in the early years of my life. They've helped a lot in the communication process!"
Well, there you have it, straight from my hours of doodling. Until next time, when I share my adventures of Skype and my Sweet Sixteen!-- sjinternational

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

photos of the experience that will last FOREVER

So, I can'te put anything else up, but there are a bunch more pictures on my Facebook. Hope you enjoy them!--sjinternational

Monday, September 20, 2010

4 miles in a durndel and heels

Well, where to begin. My weekend FLEW by as the events I had planned were checked off the list. I went to a birthday party for a friend of Manuela's family on Saturday. It was nice to meet everyone and become integrated with the family, even though I could only understand bits and pieces. Manuela's two nieces didn't need too much talking to start to like me. We played games outside and they stared in awe at my dirndl fitting.
Yes, a dirndl. It was bound to happen, but I didn't ever imagine it to be on the scale it was. On Sunday, I woke up at 5:30 and I walked with a group in the Oktoberfest Parade through Munich. It was a big deal. Hundreds of people lined the streets all the way through the city. It was a 4 mile walk in heels. It was so exciting. Everyone wanted MY wave and smile, and although my feet were yelling at me, I gave it to them. I loved seeing the city: Munich is so BEAUTIFUL. I hope to get back and see it without marching in the street. The parade walked right into Oktoberfest, which is more of an amusement park than I had originally thought. We had a reserved beer tent and it was loud and crowded, but so much fun. The people in my group were generous and interested in me. They all tried a bit of Englisch and complimented my little Deutsch. By the time we left Munich, it was only 12:45! What a day. More pictures of the parade to come!--sjinternational

Friday, September 17, 2010

it's been... one week since you looked at me

I woke up this morning with that song in my head. I think my brother, Zach, will appreciate it. He always liked that one. Anywho. It actually has been a week. One full week ago I was on a plane. My parents were on their way back to Fremont, and I was off to my new life in Germany. It feels like I've been here forever! I take it as a good thing, though, not as if it's been so long and I need to go home. I've simply done so much already and can't imagine what else there is. Oh, but I CAN! I've got trips and weekends planned out the wazoo over here. There is so much to look forward to. I also feel comfortable in my new home. Henner and Manuela treat me like a daughter and I treat them as parents, although I'm sure I'm a bit more flexible and helpful than a true daughter would be. But that's just the exchange student training in me. School is good. It's mostly me sitting next to my friends in class, doodling on my notebook, listening to the teacher talk and reading my dictionary. It's as exciting as it sounds. However, in two weeks I start my German course in Augsburg. I'm quite anxious to begin, because if you hadn't noticed, dear reader, friends usually speak. At the moment, my 'friends' and I smile, laugh, and occasionally attempt to breach the language barrier. I'm really good in Englisch class, though. Duh. Well, I don't want to give too much away yet, but this weekend yours truly will be walking in the Oktoberfest Parade in Munich. Wearing a traditional durndel. This is not something I would normally EVER get to do. But I am an exchange student and the sky is the limit (in the air above Germany; other than that, I need a visa and permission). This is really something I'm looking forward to and I hope everything goes well. I will blog about the details when I have the details! Until then, tschus!--sjinternational

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

konradin realschule

High school. The word strikes fear into the hearts of teens all over the world. Friedberg, Germany is no exception. I was so nervous this morning to walk into a class full of teenagers who had grown up together, speaking the same language, I might add. I wanted to turn my fahrrad (bike) around and pedal all the way back to Fremont, which would be hard considering the Ocean. Despite my nerves, I got to school and went to meet the principal who only spoke Englisch to tell me that he doesn't speak good Englisch. Okay, that was cool. They dropped me off in my class, where I gave that awkward, new student introduction to everyone. Two girls, Isabell and Simone asked me to come sit with them. I didn't say no. Those two and their friends seem really cool. A lot like people I would hang out with in Fremont. I wish I could have talked with them more because I want to stay "friends" with them. I will just have to learn German. What a concept! I have been speaking some sentences with Manuela and Henner. I don't seem too bad. I felt pretty homesick after school (at 11:35 today!). Henner asked me if I wanted to go walk around town. I have now figured out that when I feel homesick or upset, all I have to do is walk around. Not in circles, but around Friedberg. It's almost as if I'm walking away and leaving the bad emotions where I was. Not a shabby compromise. All in all, school seems okay. I won't really participate in classes, because Economy and Chemistry auf Deutsche isn't really my cup of tea. I will read my dictionary or sit and watch the teacher's lips as they flap in a language I will know. Das ist alles! Tschus!--sjinternational

Monday, September 13, 2010

to sum up the past 48 hours

Wow, so I've only been in Friedberg for 3 days and already I've: had a conference, climbed a mountain, figured out I don't really like beer as much I put on, miss my parents enormously, and seen Neuschwanstein (from a distance). In the next two days I will: exchange my wad of cash, go shopping with my host parents, check in with the local authorities, meet my counselor, and go to school. This is without doubt the craziest thing I've ever done. My sleep is out of sheer exhaustion. I climbed a mountain yesterday! A small one, but still a four hour hike! So worth it though. The view was spectacular.

There I am on top of my little mountain, next to the big ones. The conference was good also. I traveled by train to Gunzburg and met up with a bunch of exchange students, both Inbound and Rebounds. No Outbounds yet. It's so weird not being an Outbound anymore... Anyways, we have two planned trips. One in a couple weeks for Autumn break, we are going to Berlin for four days. Then there is the 3-week trip around Germany trip in April that I am beyond excited for. By that time, hopefully, we'll all be speaking German. Well we have to be, since before Christmas Break we have to take a test. Wonderful. Better get cracking! Until next time, Tschus!--sjinternationl

Friday, September 10, 2010

so this is it

Well, here it is. After months and months of waiting to go, here I am sitting in my new bedroom posting a blog. Huh. Crazy how time can drag and rush by at the same time. Saying goodbye to my parents was hard. Really hard. I know how lucky I am to have gotten a good pair and I love them both so much. Anyways, I stopped crying halfway through security because the man asked if I was alright and I couldn't say NO. The other emotions took over from there. It was a crazy long day of flights and sitting. As tired as I am now, when I should be sleeping, I know I need to adapt quick. I'm being thrown into the thick of things. Meeting Rotarians, going to a conference, getting to know my family, and starting school soon. It's a lot to take in. I have to say, for a while this experience has been something to talk about, something that never really came, but now it's here! It's crazy. The surreal dream has become a body-wrenching reality. Speaking of body-wrenching, I'm exhausted, so I'm going to use this downtime to nap. Until next time, auf wiedersehen!--sjinternational

Sunday, September 5, 2010

inching my way to o'hare

Bags: packed. Goodbyes: said. Room: cleaned. What's left? Departure: ALMOST. No worries, though. Today is my official last day in Fremont, Michigan. I leave for Chicago tomorrow and my flight is on Thursday from O'Hare International Airport. It's about time. In between the two trips I am meeting with family and friends in Evanston, eating scrumptious food, and finding last-minute necessities. I am ready. Or, at least, I feel ready. Perhaps I will get off the plane in Munich and fight my way back on to a flight home, but I don't think so... It's a funny picture though. With all the preparation I've been through with other Outbounds, I believe I would be shunned if I wasn't ready to start my adventure in Germany. Talking to my host family makes everything seem so real, which it is. Manuela and Henner are going through the same transition that I am with their daughter gone to Brazil. Through our conversations, I believe that we will get along and learn how to live through this program together. Back to preparation; I got my debit card, which I had to bend the rules for because I'm not yet 16. Talk about confusing. I now have an even greater respect for the adults of the world. Dealing with the sheer amount of paperwork and information was intimidating, but now I have to learn PERSONAL ECONOMIC ORGANIZATION? It's all too much! It all seems pretty easy until I'm calling my parents, crying over my third lost emergency credit card. Yikes. I doubt that will happen, but being prepared is what Rotary is all about! Anyway, until next time: Auf Wiedersehen!--sjinternational

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

anticipation killed the cat

August 2010. Outbound exchange students say their final goodbyes to friends and family. They board the planes that swoop them into their new lives. Sarah Jane McGinn sits at home reading her book and chilling with her cat all day. I guess you could say I'm a bit anxious, but I have SO MUCH time before I leave. I still have plans to fufill before the end of summer; a trip to Chicago and another to North Carolina. These are my mini-vacations before I depart. I find that I am slowly letting go of my life here. I see less of friends and more of my room. The rush to meet up with friends is laughable as we try to find corresponding dates. I'm more excited to say my final goodbyes than to say rushed hellos. I can feel my mind already drifting to the life that waits for me in Friedberg. Don't get me wrong, I'm terrified despite the calm demeanor my mother and I are enforcing. But I'm ready. Well, I'm ready but not quite prepared since my final flight plans haven't been sent to me yet. Oh well. The first lesson in Rotary: Patience. It really is a virtue. One that I was not hardwired with. --sjinternational

Sunday, July 11, 2010

ready, set, go

Let me lay out the situation for you: I just spent the weekend with hundreds of past, present, and future exchange students, sharing experiences, asking questions, and getting answers. It's been great to see friends from 6290 and to meet new ones from across Cental States. I've learned so much from the Rebounds who were fresh off of planes from their own exchanges. I'm pumped and ready to go. All my friends are leaving in 2-3 weeks, when all of a sudden HAHA I have to wait until September! It's quite bittersweet actually. I get to spend more time in my life here, but I could be embarking on my new one in Bavaria with my host parents, Henner and Manuela. I am anxious to meet them, bring them into my life, and learn from them. However, I am going to cherish the time I have left with the people I love and my parents, who happen to be my best friends. I feel ready to let go and dive head first into this new world of Rotary exchange. Until then, Auf Wiedersehen!--sjinternational

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

and here we go...

To say that "time is flying" would be an understatement. Let me put it to you this way: Time hopped on a Japanese bullet train and is headed straight for Germany- Do not pass GO; Do not collect $200. Our summer conference at Calvin College is in two days! I've been so busy as a counselor at Camp that the conference has taken me by surprise. I want to make sure that I have done everything I need to before we get to the conference. With so many forms and correspondences, it's easy for a girl to get turned around. Now that I have laid out all of the information, my mind has become considerably less tangled. The preparation stage is so intricate. Sometimes I forget that everyone else has to go through the same thing and even have it harder with visas and country correspondence. I have to say that Deutschland is great at getting information to me quickly. They have made this so much easier. I'm excited to see everyone at the conference and see how they're doing with their preparation. Also, I get to meet some of the Rebounds fresh off planes from Germany and even Bavaria! It'll be enlightening to hear their stories and get some advice. The next time you hear from me will most likely be right before I leave. Until then, Auf Wiedersehen!--sjinternational

Friday, March 19, 2010

rewind and freeze

So, funny story. I know where I'm going in Germany. You don't. I told you who my parents were, but reading through the blog again I've realized that, what do you know, I made a mistake. Chop on SJ. Alright, I'm going to Southern Bavaria, which is one of the largest regions in Germany. I am being hosted by the Friedberg Rotary Club. Friedberg is about 10 minutes from Augsburg, the third largest city in Bavaria. I am a half hour train ride from Munich as well, which is quite exciting. Oktoberfest, here I come (kidding, Mom). Anyways, I'm going to be in an area surrounded by culture and history. I've had to pinch myself black and blue to convince myself that this is actually happening. Well, sorry again for the mix up. Hey, maybe after a year of blogging I might get it right. Auf Wiedersehen!--sjinternational

e-mail of truth

I recieved an e-mail from my first host family in Germany! They are the Klingelhofers. They seem very nice. Well, as nice as people can seem over e-mail. They gave me so much information about where I'm going to live next year. I thought that this would calm my anxiety a tiny bit, but I seem to be increasingly wrong about stuff like this. That one small e-mail made this whole ordeal snap into perspective. These strangers are going to be my parents. With my mom in the other room, I felt like I was cheating on her. I had to go wash my hands or something, I felt so dirty. However, the Klingelhofers have a daughter going to Brazil in August, so technically they're cheating too. This thought makes me feel a little better. Of course, I informed my YEO, Sandy, about the contact I made. I love Sandy: Her help keeps me sane, which is a ridiculously hard job these days. Struggling through Spanish and German along with my other classes seems so much smaller than the life I'm going to step into. Well I'm going back to my beautiful Friday afternoon of English homework. Auf Wiedersehen!--sjinternational

Sunday, February 28, 2010

change of pace

I'm not even close to being ready to leave and already I feel as though my life is changing. I am switching around my schedule to accomodate my German education and to get a jump start on the language. I have come to the conclusion that what I am doing is absolutely insane but completely necessary. I am the chick who gets all A's and takes the hard classes. I'm not usually described as "unpredictable", yet here I am getting ready to live in Germany for a year. I took a little detour from the norm with that decision... I needed a change. I'm not built to live in Fremont, Michigan and go to a high school with a mere TWO foreign language options. I won't let my schooling get in the way of my education. I am done with American high school. I am going on to something so much bigger. Needless to say, my life is a wee bit busy these days. I am trying to balance everything at once. School, theatre, friends, family, trips, etc. I'm not letting anything pass me by while I'm still here. I have come to appreciate the friends that I have, some who say that they're going to tie me to a tree come July and others who are completely on board with me being me. However, when it come to helping me learn German, I think I'm on my own. They simply raise their eyebrows and give me a "Good Luck" as they flip through the German dictionary, sounding out the words. Good luck, indeed. Until next time. Auf Wiedersehen-- sjinternational

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

i didn't think it could show up in photographs

This is the infamous Wheel of Torture I have been complaining about. Doesn't look like much, does it? Just wait until it spins your future around and around. You'd change your mind, too.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

the wheel of torture

Welcome back! It seems like a lifetime since I started this journey with Rotary, but I have finally come to the official starting point. Our weekend in Canada started with a mind-numbingly long bus ride to Sault (which is pronounced Sue; they just messed up the spelling) Ste. Marie, Ontario. It was exciting to be in Canada, eh? The Winter Olympics in Vancouver were commencing in the same country which made us all feel extremely cool. After a multi-cultural dinner served by the Sault College Culinary and Hospitality programs, we gathered to learn our country assignments. As calm as I may seem now, such was NOT the case as I sat wringing my hands and shaking in my chair. Gather in a room with a bunch of anxious teenagers and you will get an award from me. I don't know how our coordinators handled the stressed hormones. Kudos. The first thing we all noticed was a wheel with flags on it. The wheel was spun and it landed on India. After some teasing, a girl was selected. This may sound fun, but it was Wheel of Fortune from hell. It was like Vanna White flaunting our lives in front of us. Not cool. The variety of countries was not very large and I knew my country was up there. My turn had to come some time. People got Germany, Taiwan, Lithuania, Thailand, Brazil and others. People kept going up and getting their countries as I sat. Well, "sat" is a vague description as I bounced up and down, my mind a tornado of thoughts. Then I heard my name. The wheel had been spun. It landed on Germany. I got up in a daze, no reaction on my face, but my heart raced. After calling my mom, of course, and texting my best friend, Meagan, I took my seat again. From this point on I was able to relax and watch others go through their torment. I almost felt bad. There are now 7 people going to Taiwan, 6 people headed Brazil, and 5 of us are taking over Germany. I am going to live and study in Germany. That's in Europe for those who need a map. Germany was the fourth country on my preference list, behind Spain, Argentina, and Austria. I am excited about my assignment. I am now beginning my education in German, a language that I have never been remotely interested in, which may come back to bite me in the butt since I am going to live in Germany. No matter, I will conquer the lugi hawking while speaking. With the anxiety now gone, the real work begins. Learning German will be my goal for the next two years. Our next conference is in April, back at the Kettunen Center in Cadillac Michigan. Next time we all congregate, hopefully the nerves will have receded a bit. Doubt it, though. Auf Wiedersehen!--sjinternational