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