What is Foreign Exchange to Me?

"A year of of my life. My life in a year."

Google Translate (Google Übersetzer)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Don't You Just Love Language Barriers?

Have you ever seen the movie “13 Going on 30?” It is about a young girl who wants to be grown up but once she gets her wish, she realizes being a kid is a lot better. Well if a movie were to be made about me it could be appropriately titled “17 Going on 3.” I can pick out various words in conversations and if I’m lucky I get the gist of what is going on, but aside from that I’m usually clueless. I don’t particularly enjoy being three. It’s as if I got a taste of the real world for 5 years or so, then had it ripped out from underneath me.

For example, I went to my first Rotary meeting last Tuesday (which was not nearly as bad or scary as everyone made it out to be) and understood close to nothing. When speaking about me to the group, Hameln’s club president said I was “hardly welcome” (he doesn’t speak English, but was trying to make me feel welcome) so that was a definite highlight.

It’s also fun to be in a class where you don’t speak the language AND the teacher’s handwriting is illegible. I take notes in most of my classes (despite not having the slightest idea what they are talking about) so that I’m not sitting there doing absolutely nothing for one and a half hours; however, when a teacher has illegible handwriting I try to make out the letters and later ask one of my sisters what the words mean. Usually they end up staring at the page for a couple of seconds, then proceed to tell me that the letters do not make actual words.

Finally, I know nobody in California will believe me, but when spoken fluently by a native speaker, German is a surprisingly beautiful language, even when spoken by angry old men. That being said, after a full day of school I get the type of headache that I usually get when I don’t understand a math problem because I can’t comprehend what’s going on.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

First Day of School! First Day of School!

First day of school AND first fencing lesson in the same day! Woooowza! Right!?

School here, (like the music scene) is so incredibly different that it is difficult to even begin describing. For one, school has the option of getting out at a different time every day but usually ends around 1 p.m. and starts at 7:50 a.m. Religion is a required class(and I go to a public school), which I’m fine with; however, that would never be okay in the States. My school is 1,300 students and grades 5-13 so there are lots of little ones running around and the students are in the same class and with the same people and the teachers come to them until 11th grade, then for the next 2-3 years the students switch classes every hour and thirty minutes. Not to mention my school is indoors. Living in California, I have never attended an indoor school, which makes it that much easier to get lost. (These are amongst SEVERAL other differences.)

If any of my friends from California had seen me, they would have laughed. My backpack is bright pink (my least favorite color) and my pencil box has several horses on it (my least favorite animal). I did not look like “Angie.” But that’s okay because nobody at the school knows me or fluently speaks my language anyway! :D

Tonight I also had my first fencing lesson and may I say the vigorous exercise felt great. I miss the sports I played (essentially year round) back in California. After taking the lesson with the class, when everyone went off to fence each other, I went aside with a very kind 84 year old woman who has run the club for over 50 years. When I picked up the foil with my left hand (I’m left-handed) she gave me a “You don’t speak German AND you’re left handed!?!?!” look. She has not spoken English for over 30 years and no longer remembers any so she was speaking to me in French. I speak less French than I do German (which is defiantly saying something).

We go fencing twice a week, so if nothing else this will definitely be interesting.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

It's Not Weird, It's Different

If you look at a calendar, it will tell you I have been here for 7 full days. Well, the calendar lies. I have been here two, maybe three days tops, and that’s if I am being generous. In these past few days, there is not a single thing I would change. It is said that the first two weeks of long term exchanges are the most difficult, and if this is true… well I don’t understand how it could be true because I can’t imagine in being any better than this. School starts tomorrow, and this is the first time in years that I have actually been excited for school to start!

But that’s not the point of this post. Taking into account all the things I heard about Germany before leaving, the past week I have been taking mental notes about the differences between Hameln, Germany and California, USA with the Rotary expression in mind “it’s not weird, it’s different.” Some things you might have heard about, while other concepts might come as a complete shock to you, nonetheless here is the list of things I have come up with (alongside some commentary from yours truly) solely from being here for one week:

Eins. People in California say the Autobahn is fast. They are wrong. It is not JUST fast, cars go at lightning speed. Whenever my parents mention going to Hannover (the large city near my town), I can feel myself begin to shake at the thought of needing to travel on the Autobahn for 40 whole minutes because the racing speeds terrify me. People are considered 'slow drivers' driving 120 km/h (about 75 mph).

Zwei. In America most ‘cargo’ trucks have big faces on them to advertise things for different companies. Trucks here in Germany solely have words on them, and occasionally colors, but never faces.

~ On the note of trucks, there are absolutely NO ‘personal’ trucks. I have been here a full week and have yet to see a single Ford (or any brand for that matter) truck... yet it seems every other person in California has one.

~ And also on the notes of vehicles, I have yet to be in a car with an automatic transmission. Manual transmissions are much more common here.

~License plates are also completely different and the first 1-3 letters of the plate stands for the town the person lives in.

Drei. Unlike in America, beer is extremely cheap. My host-sister says it’s because “beer is our drink.”

~ Also, I have yet to have a single glass of milk. We only use steamed milk for our coffee.

~ “Natural spring water” does not exist. Only Mineral Water which is essentially soda water. To be quite honest I do not particularly enjoy always drinking plain soda water and therefore usually mix it with juice.

Vier. In California, when at a stoplight with arrows (rather than the entire circle being filled), the arrow is colored. Here, the area around the arrow is colored and the shape of the arrow is unlit.

~ Lights turn yellow before turning green again. ~ Rather than there being a hand telling people to walk across the street, it is a lit up person that is green or red depending on whether or not the person should walk.

Fünf. Electronics and appliances are different. Just take my word on that one. The plugs look completely different. The light switches are essentially fat blocks about the size of my palm and to turn the light on, you press down rather than up. If you want hot water from the faucet, you turn it to the left (this definitely took some getting used to because if I want to cold water at my home in California I turn the faucet to the right). There is an outlet under almost every light switch. Ethernet cables are still in use!!

Sechs. I think I have seen… maybe 3 different gas stations. In California there is one on seemingly every corner.

Sieben. Apparently, the candy “smarties” has chocolate in the middle. These are not smarties! Smarties are essentially compressed pixie sticks!

Acht. Teenagers actually shake each other’s hands when greeting one another. In California this is normally solely used as a very formal method of introduction, rather than a regular greeting.

Neun. (My personal favorite.) For obvious reasons, everyone who speaks English, speaks British English (think, “What a pity”, “rubbers” –instead of erasers- and "bloody hell")

Zehn. The music scene is COMPLETELY different. I cannot even begin to describe this…

Elf. House/pet sitting is a completely foreign concept.

Zwölf. And, the most obvious of them all. EVERYTHING is in German.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Ich bin hier!

Ich bin hier, and might I say, if anyone wants to learn their numbers and colors fast, go to your host sisters' friend's house for an evening of Monopoly and Twister! It sure worked for me.

Despite being long (around 28 hours) the travel time was not to horrible and all my flights left and arrived more or less on schedule. Though it did randomly start to poor in Philadelphia despite it being sunny and 85 degrees. Living in California, I'm really not used to spontaneous weather like that.

Hameln is beautiful, and the Autobahn scares me. Everyone here drives unbelievably fast, like it's something everyone is America knows about... but you don't actually realize just how fast it actually is until you experience it. It's also crazy how many people talk on their cell phones while driving, (for those of you who don't live in California) this is illegal where I live so I am not used to seeing it nearly as much.

My home is in "the Beverly Hills of Hameln," a small village up in the hills of the town. I'll post pictures of the view once I have more time, the internet is extremely slow (which is good and bad, I'm not nearly as tempted to waste time away on the computer) .

Yesterday I went into town with my mom and sisters to go school shopping. They have a Build-a-Bear Workshop in the mall, and a 'Forever 18' (instead of 21), it's pretty awesome. xD

School starts next Thursday and my older sister's Chemistry teacher will apparently be showing me the ropes. Apparently on the last day of school last year she told everyone to be very friendly to me and to come up and hug me because "I'm American and that's just what we do" and all the pupils (as my sister world say) looked at her as if she was crazy because German's are nearly as open to strangers Americans are.

(I'll add pictures later when I have better internet)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Tomorrow, tomorrow, I'll fly out, tomorrow, it's only a day away ♥

So the strangest thing happened today. My mom and I went down to the lobby of the hotel we are staying in to ask for some extra pillows, and low and behold the guy in front of us in line was speaking German. The line was fairly long so we got to talking to him and found out not only is he fluent in German, but he was a Rotary Youth Exchange student to Germany 10 years ago to Bremen (a town 200 km from where I live).

Today was my last day in America, and as I sit in the hotel room 10 minutes from SFO, a mere 7 hours from when I need to be at the airport, I have no idea what emotion I am feeling. (Before you ask)I'm more excited than imaginable, but quite curious as to how this will turn out. This morning I went to breakfest with my best friend and boyfriend one last time, and this evening my family and I went and had sushi with my family. It was nice to spend one final evening.

But tomorrow. Tomorrow will truly be the day.

I never thought the day would ever come, the day I leave behind everything I have ever come to know, but whatdyaknow. That day is tomorrow

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Excited? I think JA!

When people talk about the week before exchange as the fastest week of their life, they really are not exaggerating. Trust me on that one.

I had my going away party on Sunday and it was honestly the most fun I have had all Summer, which is definitely saying something because I have had a great Summer. It was fantastic to see everyone one last time, and I was surprised at how people who I thought I would not see for a long time-such as Glenda Sales (thank you Glenda! :D ), as well as Valerie and Gay, and a lot of my family members and long-lost friends who I have not been able to see in ages- were all there for one more memory.

It is a mere 6 days until I leave for Germany, which will probably be the longest and shortest 6 days of my life.

When people talk to me about the exchange, the first question EVERYONE asks me is "Are you excited?" and despite having been asked this question literally over 100 times, I honestly do not have an answer. Of course I am excited! But when I think about it, my heart begins to race and I feel like I'm going to explode from excitement, so in a way I simply try not to think about it.

Another prominent question is "What are you most afraid of?" but to be honest, there really is not one specific thing. I have heard the 'horror stories' of people who have lost their luggage on the flight, or did not get along with their host families at all...but the way I see it, it is like having a baby. When pregnant, the mother should read books about how to care for and love her child, not a book about all the horrifying things that can happen to it, and that is exactly how I look at exchange. I'm simply trying to be open and accept everything that is about to be thrown at me.

Days in Germany