Tuesday, June 28, 2011

wrapping it up

I remember my first week in Germany. I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and terrified. I felt so proud of myself after making it through those 'tough' 7 days. Look at me now. Just like my arrival in September, my departure in July seemed like one of those things that was talked about but never actually came around. Now it's less than a week away: I'm going home. If words could describe the mixture of feelings in my head maybe this would feel a bit more realistic. For the past 2 weeks we've been on holiday from school. I had time to spend with friends, to make little day trips and to meet even more people. I also had time to pack my ever-growing luggage and plan my life out a bit for once I get home. Now, I'm sitting in school for another week. Not the most exciting climax to my departure, but there's nothing to be done about that. I've begun wrapping up the official things like Rotary (saying my many 'thank you's), school (getting signatures for credits back home), and flight finalizations (how many suitcases can I bring, again?). Then there's friends. I'm trying to meet up with them all as much as possible before I go. They've been such a crucial part of my experience here and I owe them a lot. Saturday will be the hardest on my tear glands. We are having our Farewell Weekend with the Rotex. Of course, for most of the exchange students it's just another weekend with the friends, but it's my last day in Germany. It's fitting that I get to spend it with the family I've made over here. I only get to stay until Saturday night, as I fly out on Sunday, but we'll be doing a high ropes course and having a bonfire. It should be the perfect end to my year with the people I love. Then, on Sunday July 3rd, 2011, I am coming home. Back to the United States of America, Michigan, my family, my friends, and most importantly, my bed. Some things will be different; some will be exactly the same (my room, hopefully). I guess I'll see in a couple days. That's just the mystery of a whole new adventure with a different zip code. Bring it on. See you all Stateside, my faithful readers and wish me luck!--sjinternational

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Here it goes: the last month of my exchange. I've switched to my last host family and am still pretty much living out of my suitcase. The first exciting thing this month was Prague! I've had a lot of experiences this year, and this was one of the best. Prague is a breathtaking city. The architechture was so beautiful that every time we passed through the main square of the old town I felt the re-occuring need to take pictures. As exchange students, we needed to find the cheapest way to do everything. Our train and hostel together added up to about 85 Euro, which for 4 days/ 3 nights in the heart of Prague isnt' too shabby. Not to mention our hostel had a pool. And our train had carriages, so we all felt like we were going to Hogwarts. We got 72 hour tickets for the city trams for 15 Euro which we used every day at least 4 times. On Friday, we took a really good city tour for free that took 3 hours to see the whole city. That night we got the best deal by joining in on this thing called a "Pub Crawl" which highlighted 3 or 4 of the cities most popular bars and clubs. That's about enough explanation on that one... Saturday, we spent the day up at the castle with a great view overlooking the whole city. One thing about Prague is how tourist oriented it is. I couldn't walk down a street without seeing at least 3 souvenir shops. At one point, I walked through a throng of people watching the astronomical clock do it's hourly thing. As I held tightly to my purse, I kid you not, in a span of 10 seconds, I heard at least 7 different languages. It definitely made it easier that everything was in English. However tourist oriented the city. the culture is thriving through the inquisitive hearts of visitors from all over the world. This was an amazing trip to highlight our exchange year. The final hurrah of us traveling all together, because much to our dismay, we realized that the next time we all gather will be the last time. Now on to the present: I have 2 more days of school until we have 2 weeks off. Although I'm not going to France or Italy like some of the other exchange students, I will have time to spend with my friends here in Friedberg and, well, sleep. My 3 week point is coming up and the clock is ticking.--sjinternational. P.S. A happy last day of school to FHS. I'm officially a SENIOR!

Thursday, May 19, 2011


I can't make time go any slower now than I could make it go faster back in December. I have a little over a month left in my exchange and I have to say, I don't know if I'm ready to go home. Of course, I wasn't sure I was ready to go on exchange either and that seemed to work out just dandy. Now I get it. It takes a turning point; mine was my month-long travel experience of Germany and England. Those were times that I got so close to my friends, both exchange students and the German kids in my class. I was naive to think that I wouldn't get to this point where I was hesitant about going back to real life. My time is limited, yet here I am trying to enjoy the things that I should have appreciated 7 months ago. Then again, I think I might have needed the lack of time to fully appreciate it all. I am human, after all; we need to be without something or else we tend to take it for granted. Don't get me wrong, I'm excited to go home. I can't wait to hug my parents and to talk to my friends face to face. I'm excited to see my house and my pets, who've probably forgotten who I am at this point. This is all exciting, but I'm nervous, too. I've been living a different for the past 10 months. That's a lot of time to not be a direct part of someone's life, especially if my parents decide they like having the house to themselves more than me being in it, which would be sad... I haven't picked up a school book in about a year and- this coming from a girl who likes school and is used to doing well- I am terrified of being so lost in my lessons. I have so much to do next year: school, work, driver's training, college applications, sleep, etc... This is all starting to whirl through my brain as I enter the final chapter of my exchange, not to mention all of the plans I still have in Germany. A day in Dachau with the Rotex, my last family change, a trip to Prague, changing schools from the Realschule to Gymnasium for June, Pfingsten holiday (2 weeks off school), Farewell weekend, and my flight home on July 3rd. It's unbelievable. My time is compressed into 39 days and I'm trying to stretch myself to be able to do as much as possible. This exchange has impressed me and I've impressed myself. I've gotten to the point where I feel like I'm where I should be- with my fellow exchange students, just carrying on. This exchange has transformed me from a dreamer to a do-er.--sjinternational

Monday, May 9, 2011

a healthy dose of happiness

I wish that everyone on this planet could experience all that I have in the past four weeks. Instead of work, war, boredom, and toil, everyone should take a trip around a country, any country, with people that make them laugh. Then make the time for a trip to a place they've always dreamed of going. It could be Disney World or Antarctica. Anywhere. Mine happened to be England. Four weeks can change a lot, but four weeks traveling can change a life. It all started on April 9th, 2011 at about 9:15. Every exchange student gathered at Augsburg main station for three weeks on the road. 19 days, 20 cities, 30 teenagers, 3 chaperones, 1 bus. I'm just going to put it out there: I had so much fun. Sure, three weeks with the same people cramped in a bus and hostels night after night can be tough. Emotions fluxuated, I was pretty much permanently sick, and there truly is no way to control how your friends' suitcases explode in your hostel room every night. Despite all this, I had the time of my life. I've seen more of Germany than my host families and friends. Up to the East Sea, over into France and back down to the Alps that I love; this was the trip of a lifetime. I'll give you a layout of our days on the road. Every day we were on the road, exluding the extra days we spent in cities like Hamburg, Cologne, and Dresden. Usually we would check into our hostel and then take the afternoon to explore the city. Sometimes the Rotex, our chaperones, would sometimes give us guided tours of the cities, but mostly we had free reign to wander and explore on our own. In the evenings we would have dinner at the hostel and then sometimes we would go out to a club or a bar all together. The best thing about this trip was being with the people. Usually we just split into our little language groups and stay that way, but in these three weeks together we had the time to break out a bit and hang out with the others. I loved becoming really good friends with the Latinas and the Brasilians. I'm really grateful to this trip for making this group of teenagers like a family. It's something all of us need on a year away from home. Upon the end of D-Tour on April 28th, after the tears, I had less than 24 hours to unpack, do laundry, and re-pack for my school trip to England on the 29th. I went as fast as I could, taking time to watch the Royal Wedding, but there really is no rushing washing clothes in a family who hang dries everything. Then, at 11 p.m. on April 29th, I and 43 of my classmates boarded yet another coach bus for the 15 hour drive to Broadstairs, England. When we finally arrived, I was in heavan. We got to our host families and parted ways on the 30th. My family, the Edwards, was very shocked that they had gotten an American girl. I got on with the whole family really well, playing with the 4 year old host sister, cuddling with their labradoodle, and having great conversations with my host mom. I was seriously happy to go home every night. The next day: London. A little background on me: I have had a little bit of an obsession with London my entire life. It was always one of those places that seemed magical to me. And now I've made it there. I was a wide-eyed child all day. The Parliament Building, the London Eye, , Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, St. James Park, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden, Tower of London, and Picadilly Circus. I saw it all. I was actually there! The whole day was a dream. I definately need more time there to see it all: a week, a month, maybe even a whole other exchange year! Now to the main part of the trip: The Kent School of English. Were were in class every morning, split into level groups 1-5, 5 being the highest. I was in 5 thankfully. My teachers all askes me if I had learned English in the USA and I always explained to situation. I got to know the teachers and staff pretty well and they were a lot of fun. Every afternoon, we took a trip somewhere: Sandwich, Leed's Castle, and Canterbury were all on the schedule. All of them were amazing and beautiful. Then every evening we had a program through the school. They all sounded really lame to me: karaoke, folk songs, barn dance, disco and movie. I was always shocked at how much fun I had at each activity. On 6 a.m. on May 7th it all came to an end and we drove back to Bavaria. 18 hours in a bus and we arrived at midnight back in Friedberg. All of my friends were happy to be home. I was happy to be off that bus, but I was so not ready to leave England. My first host family picked me up and I am once again with another family. Now back to real life. I only have two months left. After four weeks of complete happiness, that piece of information is a downer. I don't know if I'm ready to go home now. I am excited to see my family and friends and home again, but I feel like this is my home now, too, with my exchange student family and school friends. It's a weird place to be, stuck here in the middle. After learning so much this year, all I know is that time is against me. That four week trip was a healthy dose of happiness and my wake-up call to how little exchange I have left.--sjinternational

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

click, click, click

That's a sound that both thrills and terrifies me. Have you ever been on a roller coaster? There's always that first hill right off the bat that gets your heart pumping. First you have to make the slow and steady journey to the peak. That's what this first week of April is for me and another 20+ exchange students. We're cooped up in school, chomping at the bit to head out on the road with our friends for 3 weeks. March was a good month. Long, but full of friends and new experiences. I've learned a lot this month, too. I've plunged into the wonderful world of online movies. I've been on an 80's movie kick with films such as The Breakfast Club, Say Anything, Some Kind of Wonderful, The Mighty Ducks. Some quality movies, there. I've learned once again that my mom has impeccable taste in novels. I've also learned that you should not jump-hug an unsuspecting Canadian because they will lose their balance and you will recieve a concussion, eventually resulting in a week or two of headaches and every other common sickness in the book. So although March was great, it's last week was a bit miserable due to said unhealth. Cold, cough, headaches; you name it, I had it. It was my fabulous way of going into March like a lamb and my health going out like a lion. I did get some important things accomplished, such as finally registering myself with the great nation of Germany. For all you future exchange students, a little heads up: you should probably take care of that right away when you enter your country. Don't, like yours truly, wait for 7 months until right before you go traveling for 4 weeks. Now, on to the future! On Saturday (4 DAYS!), I will embark on our Deutschland Tour (D-Tour) for 3 weeks. I am excited, I am pumped, I am already packed... 21 cities in 20 days, or something ridiculous like that. Less than 24 hours after I get home from that adventure, I will travel to England with my class in school for a week. We're staying with host families, going to school lessons for the mornings and then taking side trips to London, Canterbury, etc. At the end of all the adventures, I will be well into May and back with my first host family. I am excited beyond compare, but I know it will be an exhausting month that will fling me into the last 2 months of my exchange. The idea is hard to grasp. I'm not sure that I will be able to post on the road, but expect an amazingly long post in May. Until then-- sjinternational

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Who knew Sarah Jane could have a social life that she enjoyed? On Friday night, I conquered my fear of clubs when my friend Martina and I headed to Friedberg's Tropicana, the club on the lake. I wasn't exactly looking forward to a Friday night without my bed and a good book, but I put on a brave face and faced the teenage nightlife with my friends. I wasn't expecting to have as much fun as I did, so that made it all better. I had no idea how much I enjoyed dancing! I also found two Brazilian exchange students from my distrikt, which was fun, too. Around midnight, we headed out of the club. I was sweaty and tired, but really happy. On Saturday, I had an 8 o'clock wake up call. I met with a group of the exchange students in Augsburg and we traveled to Ulm. With a group of spanish speakers, I was a bit intimidated. I guess I'm not used to being the minority, even in a group when I'm already friends with everyone. I found that it was good to only have one other english speaker. I definitely got to know the other exchange students a lot better and make some new friends within our own group. Ulm is the home of the tallest church tower in the world. It stands at 161 meters. The architechture of the cathedral was absolutely beautiful. It's tall gothic tower is a great icon for the city. We climbed to the top and I can't even explain the pain my legs are still in. So many stairs; they were never-ending. The view from the top was worth the climb though. It was beautiful. Then, if climbing up was tiring, climbing down was downright scary. Imagine a narrow, winding staircase with stairs that seem to get smaller the more you concentrate on them. Scary. Lunch made me very happy: Pizza Hut Cheesy Crust Pizza. I haven't had an American style pizza in 6 months and I was a very happy camper. After such a good lunch, what could make this day better but shopping! I got my spring shopping done at H&M with my friends Ryan and Camila. Laughing and getting to know more people made my day really great. When I got home, I was able to Skype with my mom. We hadn't talked in a while and I really wanted just to catch up with her. Sometimes it sucks that I can't share everything so easily with her, even if it's just the little stuff. However, I know she's always there for me if I need to talk. Overall, it was a really good weekend born out of things that I wasn't expecting to enjoy very much. We only have 3 weeks until the Germany tour with Rotary and all of the exchange students are to go and be together again. The time is going so quickly by, I'm sure it will be here in no time.--sjinternational
Ulmer Münster- the tallest church tower in the world.

Monday, March 14, 2011

fasching and beyond

It's been awhile, my friends. It's safe to say that not a whole lot has been happening around here. Life has gone on, much like it has this past month. We have been out of school for the past week for a holiday called 'Fasching'. I'm not exactly sure what we were celebrating. Most likely something with Lent and the Catholic religion. I got a week out of school, so I'm not complaining. I've seen decorations and costumes in stores for the past couple of weeks. With the weather as nice as it's been, I honestly thought we had gone back to Halloween in Oktober. The first event of my break arrived after school last Friday: LILY! My Canadian friend came to stay the weekend at my house. On Saturday, we met up with some other exchange students in Munich to celebrate the 18th birthday of the other Candian exchange student, Torrington. We had a great day displaying our inner children at the zoo, shopping in the city, and enjoying dinner at the famous Hofbrauhaus. We still have a month until the D-Tour, which kicks off in April, so hopefully we will all have the time (and the cash) to meet up once more this month. On Sunday, my host family and I took a day trip to Chiemsee, where I visited the final of Kind Ludwig II's fairytale castles. Castle Herrchiemsee is a direkt replica of the castle at Versailles in France. On the tour, I was blown away at the sheer size, let alone the detail that accompanied it. The great hall took up the whole front of the building, measuring 89 metres long, if I remember correctly. Mirrors and windows played with the architechture and light filling the building. It was beautiful. Monday was taken to recover from the weekend. I then made dinner for my family and they really appreciated it. On Tuesday, there was a Fasching parade through Friedberg. When I biked into town, I heard the parade before I entered the city limits. I met with some of my friends and we watched the oversized, deafening floats weave through the streets. It wasn't like parades at home, let me tell you... First of all, I can usually still hear after some of the parades in the U.S. They're loud, but they're not dangerous. What shocked me the most was that the people on the floats were drinking and smoking simoultaneously while throwing candy at people- not to; AT. I hate smoking anyways, so it was already disgusting, but on top of that, every alcohol I've ever heard of was on the floats or in the crowd. I've never seen so much alcohol and trash in public before. I decided to bike home. I love hanging out with my friends, but that is just not my scene. By Wednesday, I was ready for some "me" time, I took the bus to Augsburg for a shopping day. There's nothing like books and clothes for some therapy. Thursday, surprisingly, was my favorite day on break. My host sister, Verena, and I visited the grandparents. They live in the heart of Friedberg, with all those beautiful houses that popped out of "Beauty and the Beast". I was not prepared for so much food. Maybe it's a Grandma thing, but I felt so welcome and it was a great way to spend my 6 month anniversary. I even had my first schnitzel. I know it's sad that I haven't had it after 6 months, but I'm getting there. I really felt like part of the family, chatting and laughing. It was a great day with Verena and Oma and Opa Zabel. Friday featured even more food when family friends came over for dinner. The sauerbraten and potato knödels were good, but dessert wiped them both off the board: homemade creme brulee and raspberry sauce. I was so happy, I didn't even care that little wimpering sounds were escaping my mouth as I tasted heavan. The weekend was all about chilling. The weather was gorgeous, so on Saturday I got lost in my iPod and went walking through the fields in the sunshine. One of my unhealthier obsessions came into play as I watched Survivor online until 3:30 a.m. Not my strongest moment... I did get to Skype with my best friend from home. As fast as the time is going for me, it seems to be going a slower pace for those at home. I can't believe: 4 months until I head home, 1 month until D-Tour, 6 hours until I shower... The time is playing tricks with my mind. I continue to learn and speak. I continue to miss my parents. I continue to get frustrated. Mostly, I just continue to live my life and be grateful for what I have. Sidenote: Everyone has heard of the disasters in the Pacific. Having been to Japan and having met the people there, it hurts to hear of the loss of lives and culture as the earth fights back against humanity. I hope for the safety of Japan's people and have come to appreciate my lot in life even more.--sjinternational

Monday, February 21, 2011

puzzle pieces

Well, hello there. We're coming up the end of February and hopefully the end of winter. I've been with my host family for two weeks now. Once again, I've become accustomed to the every day routine of a new family. I go to volleyball training with my host sister on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I'm not very good, but it's fun. School is as it always is, but last week was a bit different. I had three days to visit an elementary school in Augsburg because a Rotarian is the director of all of the schools in that area. St. Anna Grundschule is a bilingual school and it was so interesting to learn about it and the kids. They have half of their classes in English and the other half in German starting at 1st grade. I think it's awesome. Some of the kids are the children of ambassadors or international relations correspondents. I helped out in a couple of English classes and also in Sport classes. Thanks to my camp training, I had a plethora of fun games up my sleeve. I am now Fräulein Sarah. The biggest difference was sitting in the teacher's lounge for break! Going to the school was a great experience- it definitely taught me more than sitting in class and reading for five hours everyday. It was good to find a different opportunity in my days here. In other news, we had our Inbound/Outbound Orientation in Augsburg this past weekend. Our group was doubled and it was unbelieveable. I had fun getting to know the new Inbounds although it was shocking to think that I was in their shoes only 5 months ago. Time flies... We were all sleeping in a sport hall. It's different when we can get ready before going to breakfast, but this time we were waking up right next to eachother- I guess it's the best way to get to know everyone. On Sunday, when we dispersed, the English speakers chose to spend the rest of the day in Augsburg. We had a lot of fun eating and we went to see Gulliver's Travels which I'm kind of sad I spent 8 euros on. Our next official meeting is for the D-Tour in April. However we are trying to make plans to meet next month for my friend Torrington's birthday and have a little fun in Munich. Everything else is just going. After a month or two without snow, it has showed up again, much to my dismay. I am quite ready for spring to be here. I miss the sun. And so, with all these puzzle pieces that make up my life, I'm pretty content. Let's cross our fingers for Spring, shall we?--sjinternational

Sunday, February 6, 2011

starting over

Not really, but kind of. The month of February brought my first family change. I have been with the same family for 5 months, so it was a big leap to start all over with the 'getting comfortable in my own house' thing again. Normally, exchange students have 3 or 4 families in their year. I am special. I have 3, but go back to my first one in between the next 2. Follow me? It's confusing, I know. I will stay with this family until my Germany tour in April and 2 months, as I've figured out, is not really a lot of time. Once again, I learned the basics of the household- laundry, food, chores, where the toilet paper is. You may not think about it, but that is one of the most important things to learn about a new house. I have a host mom and dad, and I also have siblings this time around. Both daughters have been on exchange; the older one, Claudia, went to Mexico, and Verena just got back from a year in Argentina in July. Claudia doesn't live at home anymore, but she is here this weekend, so I got to know everyone. I get along with the family really well. Along with our shared love of Disney movies and good books, we understand eachother because they have all been through this exchange process before and I am going through it now. We play card games and joke around. It's been a lot of fun so far. I, of course, have to go back to school on Monday, so not everything has changed. It will be interesting to have had one part of my life completely changed and the other remain exactly the same. That's how my exchange is going, nothing is ever better or worse, just different.--sjinternational

Monday, January 31, 2011


I don't think I have mentioned this before, which is kind of ludicrous because it's exciting. I wrote an article a while back about my first 2/3 months on exchange for the local paper back home. The editor didn't quite know if it would make it in or if only the pictures would make it in, so I didn't get my hopes up. A month or so later, I had almost a full page in the Times Indicator! It was quite nice. My mom sent me a copy and I sent it on to my outbound coordinator from my sponsor club. Today she sent me a link to the District 6290 Newsletter because my article was published in that, too. Man, oh man this is all so much. I'm happy that it was so well-recieved and that people are reading about youth exchange. Here is the link to the newsletter. I'm not sure if people are supposed to see it if they're not Rotarians, but it has a lot of information about projects around the world our district is working on. Check it out! http://www.crsadmin.com/gen/Accounts/50029/Eml/abf5946f-8e27-4ec0-85ee-52cb6f4a8e03.pdf --sjinternational

Friday, January 28, 2011

time is flying and so am i

Welcome to the end of January and the halfway point of my exchange... What happened there? Remember that time when it seemed like forever until I would leave to begin my exchange? Yeah, neither do I. It almost seems unfair because I still have so much to learn and accomplish, but the time is ticking away like the Jeopardy theme song in my head. Last weekend, time was not the only thing that was flying. We had our ski weekend with the Rotex in Oberstdorf. Any time you get a rowdy group of Brasilians trying to do a winter sport, especially on the top of a mountain, things are going to go down. As my fourth time ever being downhill skiing, I was naturally terrified when our group- the 'advanced group'- headed right for the peak of the mountain, Nebelhorn. You see, that's what happens when mountains are big enough- they get christened. The view was breathtaking as the mountains ripped through the fog and clouds. We were about 2,300 meters up and headed back down at a back breaking pace. I flew down that hill, not only because going faster than the speed of light is easier than trying to control myself, but because it is unlike any adrenaline rush I have ever experienced. I was out of my mind with fear, but that smile remained plastered on my face. The day had it's share of wipe-outs, North and South Americans alike. We spent most of Saturday night re-capping highlights and icing bruised bodies and prides. Sunday, as we made our way to the station, we stopped at the mountain one more time to check out the ski jump they have set up there. We all went to the top of the jump, most of the people by the lift. I, however, took the stairs. It had seemed harmless at the time... We were blocked near the top by a fence, easily jumpable. As I climbed up the side, a sudden draft halted my motion. Once safely on the groud, I assessed the damage of my newly mangled jeans- a gaping hole from mid-thigh to the zipper sent everyone into hysterics. Pictures will no doubt be circulating soon. Once getting past my humiliation and the cold air seeping into my body, I saw the jump. It was absolutely insane. The men and women who do this for a hobby- I salute you. A person has to have some serious guts to go flying not only down a mountain, but off of it. After the side trip, it was time to go to the station. Saying goodbye is never an easy thing, especially after such an amazing weekend where friends have become the only real family we have here. For the ones of us that will still be here, there is always the promise of next time. Our next meeting through Rotary is at the end of February in Augsburg: an Inbound/Outbound orientation of sorts. We are going to meet the new Inbounds that have just arrived and the fresh-faced Outbounds just beginning their journeys. I remember being an Outbound, but's hard to imagine being anything but an Inbound. Not only that, but we are the older ones now. We're the ones with experience who must take the places our mentors and friends left for us. No pressure. Coming back to school was good, too. In my Sport class, we are training for a city run by learning how to vault. Talk about flying... I love Sport class. It's the one class where I am just like everyone else and I can interact with my friends. Thursdays are the happiest day of my school week because they remind me that these girls really are my friends. I will be changing into my next host family exactly a week from today. I can't believe how fast the time is going. See you in February!--sjinternational

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

light as a feather, stiff as a board

Well, it certainly has been a while, or at least it feels that way. The new year is well underway and my holiday blues are long gone. I feel brighter and happier; I'm excited to start the next leg of my year As Rotary said, it will only go up from here. I imagine that the weather has played a hand in my good moods lately; it's been practically spring here for the past week. The sun was shining, the snow is all gone and it's been in the 40s (F). Absolutely unbelievable for January. A lot of things seem to be changing. It's not good or bad, just change. My friend Hayley's year has ended and she is now back in Australia beginning a new chapter after exchange. It's always hard to have people leave, to know that they won't be there the next time our group gathers. Seeing how many people were affected by her departure showed me that this is important. What I'm doing sends ripples and makes a difference, even if it's a small one. Just two weeks ago, the newspaper in my town published an article that I had written over my first 2 months of exchange. I was so proud and happy to see that other people could read about what I'm doing. I simply wanted other students to know that there are other paths. Sitting in a classroom for a year isn't the only way to learn, that you can get out there and live while learning on the fly. I have also learned more about my family changes. Up until now I had absolutely no clue as to when I would be changing households. Now, I have a complete layout of my living situation fór the rest of my exchange. Keep up if you can. I will be moving to my second host family at the beginning of February. I will live with them until my 3 week Germany tour starting in April. Directly after the Germany tour, I have the trip to England with my class at school. At this point I will have been living out of a suitcase well into the month of May. When I finally come home, I will be moving back into the house of my first family until a week or so into June. My last leg of exchange will be spent with my counselor and her family until I go home, probably sometime in early July. I'm relieved to have some knowledge of my life, but it's also a bit shocking to have my life so specifically broken down before me. Another change at the moment is the death of my computer. My laptop is being attacked by a virus posing as an Anti-Virus company- the irony is killing me. I can still answer e-mails on my iPod or my host family's computer, but things were definately much easier on my own computer. The virus began just in time for my Rotary presentation. Thankfully, I was able to save all of the pictures I needed to show for it. In my four and a half months here, I have gotten pretty comfortable communicating in my new language. I am also quite comfortable speaking in front of a group of people. That being said, the feeling is completely different when I was speaking in front of the people providing for me on my exhange in another language other than my mother-tongue. I was so ridiculously nervous. I felt like a kid on his first date. You know how it goes: shaky hands, forgetting what to say, making small and unnecessary mistakes you berate yourself constantly for making. In the end, it could have gone better, but that's just me being my own critic. The Rotarians, of course, were wonderfully generous in their compliments and said they were impressed by my progress in the language. Also, my second host family was there. It was my first time meeting them and they were really nice. They are Rotary Exchange veterans, persay, having two daughters who've gone on exchange and having hosted at least once before me. They love the program and supporting the opportunity to see a culture through different eyes. Their younger daughter, Verena, is a Rebound who went to Argentina last year. We are going to be good friends. You want to know how I know? She pointed to the Wicked pin on my blazer and exclaimed, "You like Wicked, too?!". Oh yes, we'll be just fine. This coming weekend is our Ski Weekend in Oberstdorf. With all this spring-like weather, I hope that the Alps still have some snow for our use. I was also invited to my Rotary Club's Ski trip at the end of February, so my presentation really must not have been half bad. With the weather fluxuating from winter to spring and a wealth of new information in my head, I feel somewhat lighter. The oppressive winter darkness and homesickness melted away with that first round of snow and here I still stand, beginning to truly enjoy simply being here. Even the lack of my computer hasn't cast a shadow on my mood. Plus, I have some mighty good books on my Kindle, thanks to my all-knowing mother. I feel lighter, happier, and I'm sure of my place here. It will only keep getting better.--sjinternational

Thursday, January 6, 2011

edelweiss in the new year

Welcome to 2011! I'm now entering into the next part of my exchange. I've gotten past the "hump-stage" and, according to my Rotary charts, it's all downhill from here. There's no doubt that the holidays were hard without my family to share them with, but my hosts did all they could to make my Christmas special. After Christmas, I stayed with my counselor while attending skiing lessons. Just another thing I've fallen in love with over here. I had never been skiing before, but once I got a taste of it, I was hooked. It's so much fun and I'm glad, although it was physically challenging, that I had three full days on the mountains! I can't wait until the Skiwochenende with Rotex at the end of the month! It was also nice to just spend time with my friend, Sophia, who happens to be my counselor's daughter. The day after the lessons ended, my host family and I headed to Berchtesgaden, where we'd be spending the New Year. Simply being in the Alps again made me happy. Berchtesgaden is nestled in a valley in south-east Bavaria, pretty close to the Austrian border. Adolf Hitler used this convenient geography for his base of operations in the south. His 'Eagle's Nest' is situated on a mountain overlooking the valley. The town was lit for the New Years celebration. As the clock struck midnight, cannons, church bells, and fireworks blasted us into the new year. It was quite the spectacle. I toasted my family and friends back home, who still had to wait 6 hours to see the ball drop in Times Square and declare their resolutions. I made a couple myself, one being to focus more on the present than always being 4 steps ahead of myself. Hopefully this will help me make the most of my 6 months left on exchange. Along with my host mother's parents, we went out frequently to restaurants, and let me tell you, after a Bavarian lunch, I couldn't eat anything until the next day. The Bavarians invented 'hearty meals'. We visited the Salzburgwerk, which are the salt mines under the mountains in Berchtesgaden. They called it 'white gold' because the economy in these parts was so dependent on the mining of salt, since there was no refrigeration. There was a school group from Tennessee that I met and talked to. It's always interesting to meet people doing other sort of trips. Compared to 9 days all around Germany, my year abroad seemed a bit drastic to them. My host mother and I took a day trip to Salzburg, something I had been looking forward to. We signed up for the 4 hour 'Sound of Music' tour that highlights some of the filmed places in the movie. I was so extremely happy that we got to go on that. Not only do I love the film and the music, but we saw some amazing sights on the way. I also learned a lot about the real Von Trapp family and their story. The twists that Hollywood puts on stories is almost depressing sometimes. The family actually took a train to Italy for their great get-away. No mountain climbing, but here's the kicker: the mountain they were filmed climbing over (as they tried to get to Switzerland from Salzburg?) would lead them straight into the 'Eagle's Nest', Hitler's base of operations. Well done, Hollywood. There was so much laughter and singing on the tour, and I had a lot of fun. Back in Salzburg, I got side-tracked by a shop with paintings out front. Not only were they beautiful enough to pull me off the street, but they were pretty well priced. I went inside and met the painter and his wife. They were wonderful. I bought two paintings and even though this wasn't a significant experience, I know I'll always remember them and their beautiful paintings of Salzburg. What a vacation. I've never really had one like it. I was sad to leave the Alps, but it felt good to come back to the normal ebb and flow of Friedberg. Now I'm back to dealing with Rotarians and school without the serene backdrop of the Alps, but hey, that's life. We're getting the ball rolling in 2011 and I have 6 months to enjoy the progress I've made since September. Happy New Year!-- sjinternational