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14 posts categorized "Elizabeth Siegling"

Halfway There

Today is January 15th, 2017, and today is the halfway mark of my exchange year. I don't have a million fun things to write about since I last wrote a few days ago, but today feels like sort of a milestone, so I thought I'd commemorate it with some type of blog tribute.

I am very, very, very displeased about my year here being halfway over. Very displeased. After today, I will have more time behind me than in front in terms of this year, and there are lots of negative emotions surrounding that fact, including, but not limited to: sadness, frustration, anger, stress, and panic.

The sadness, frustration and anger come from the fact that I actually want to never leave, and the stress and panic come from (unfounded) worry about language progress.

A big goal for me at the beginning of this year was to become fluent in German by the end of the exchange. I'd never learned any German in school, so my German was cringe-worthy when I first arrived. I think it's safe to say I could at this point easily thrive in a German 3 or AP German course, but I have a lot to do in terms of perfecting grammar and expanding a vocabulary bank. Because I'm almost in the second half of my year here, I have started making and studying flashcards, bought some books to read for pleasure that are in German, and am doing Duolingo and Rosetta Stone daily. I'm not really sure how long this kick will last, but it's good while it lasts. I'll keep you all posted. Worry about learning the language isn't rational and I know that- I am also reminding myself that this year is the beginning of my language study and by no means the end. I am very certain I will be back at some point for an extended period. :)

Being here has been the most exciting adventure of my life (I know I am seventeen and more great things will happen, etc., etc.), and I will be horribly sad when it ends. For now, I am trying to keep a positive outlook because I still have five months here, but today has been strange knowing that I'm on the second half of something so wonderful.

There isn't too much of a point to this post, but today feels important and I think it's a good idea to write about. For now, I am remembering that I have five more months here and am spending time on things that are important to me. Time flies like crazy, but every day here has been a gift (the good and the bad).

Until next time,

Beth

German Vocab Word of the Day: die Sprache (language)

My Favorite Things

So. A LOT has happened since I last sat down to write a real blog post with real updates, so I will do my best to make this a good post that’s not too unbearably long (we’ll see).

There are a few things I wanted to write about in this post in terms of big things I’ve done here since November, and one of them was Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated at all in Germany which is a sad, sad fact, but I have an indescribably amazing host family that was more than enthusiastic when I proposed the idea of doing a joint Thanksgiving with another CBYXer who lives nearby.

My friend Julia and I spent weeks planning our great cooking extravaganza, and prepared an over 10-page Google Doc with information about what we needed and how to cook the different dishes we wanted to make. We ended up making nineteen dishes and served seventeen people. We decided to do the celebration over a weekend so we would have an adequate amount of time to cook. The next few days were a blur of trying new recipes, struggling desperately to keep our eyes open at 1 am while basting sweet potatoes, and ridiculous jokes and puns. On the Sunday night, everyone gathered in my host family’s home and we served everything we had made over the past three days. It was one of the most exciting and happy things I have done since being here- I was extremely proud of all of the work we had done to make it possible, and inexplicably grateful to my host family for being open to such a new experience. Pulling off our huge Thanksgiving was, in a way, an affirmation that I am capable of executing big projects and reaching goals, and it was a wonderfully rewarding experience, and one of my favorite Thanksgivings!

Some pictures!

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^ Thanksgiving 2016!

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Our two turkeys. <3 We ate them real fast.

Image may contain: 1 person, indoor and closeup It was a happy weekend!

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It’s not a southern Thanksgiving without a pecan pie.

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Image may contain: food Leckeres Essen. :)

In conclusion: doing Thanksgiving here was one of my favorite favorite times, and I am so lucky to have a host family that was as excited and open to it as I was. I have been so lucky! This whole year has been an unbelievable opportunity and there are so many people to thank for it, some of them being:

My host family– I couldn’t have chosen a better host family if I had been given a genie and a magic wand. I feel welcome and at home with them and I am grateful for them every day.

My real family– for loving me unconditionally and supporting every crazy endeavor I decide to take on. Real family, I love you.

My friends and theatre family– for allowing me to always be myself, and loving me for it.

CIEE, Experiment, the American Congress, and the German Bundestag– none of this would be possible without the extensive amounts of time that the people from CIEE and Experiment invest in this program, and the funding from the American and German governments made study abroad feasible for me.

I know it’s long past November, but there’s never a bad time to be grateful. I hit the halfway mark on my exchange in 4 days, so I’ve been a little nostalgic and generally emotional since the New Year. But, to anyone and everyone who has made this journey possible for me, I thank you from the very bottom of my heart.

So Thanksgiving provided a wonderful end to a terrible month in terms of American politics, and I was happy. I think it was around that time that I truly began to feel like a real part of my host family and more integrated into my host community.

There is no great area for me to insert this, but I think this is important to write about. I am talking about what it is like to be representing Trump’s America abroad! I live in a very small town. In many cases, I am the only American the students in my school have ever met. For several weeks after the election, the first thing without fail that anyone would ask me upon learning that I am American was my opinion on the election. If you, dear reader, have read a single one of my other posts, I can imagine you have an idea of what my response consisted of. If you haven’t, my response was a mixture of rage, fear, and terrible sadness. I was angry that we had made a choice for our country that so clearly represented racism, anger, and hate, and allowed it to be personified in arguably the most powerful political seat in the world. Then I was scared- for my rights, for the rights of my friends, and for the safety of everyone I hold dear. And ultimately, I was sad. I was sad to the point where I just didn’t want to talk about it anymore. It became a chore, because explaining why a Clinton presidency was my preference over a man whose version of morals is eating a tic tac before sexual assault was exhausting. Eventually I stopped having long conversations about it.

It’s been long enough since then that I can now rationally speak about my worries in regards to the next four years in our country and what might happen on a legislative scale, but it took a little while to get there. It was certainly strange to be abroad watching this election, because I felt very alone in my grief after the fact. It was almost haunting to hear stories from my friends and family at home about how my community was dealing with the results of this election, and then to try and grapple with it by myself in Germany. Ultimately, it is okay and it is a fact that I have now accepted. I in no way agree with much of Trump’s politics, but he’s been elected, and our only option is to move on and to remain strong in the convictions that we know to be right.

I promise that’s all I have on politics. I think.

Wie gesagt, November went out with a bang and I was at a point where I really felt like my German had spiked and that I had learned a lot. At the beginning of December, I went on a trip with my school choir and spent three days just singing. It was really refreshing to be back in a working environment that focused on art, I am very lucky to have outlets to sing here!

December in Germany is an event. And I mean, an *event*. Christmas markets, or Weihnachtsmarkte (you’ll have to imagine an umlaut over the second a, I don’t have them on my computer), are huge, gigantic, big, large, vast, massive, immense, sizable areas in the centers of cities that have shops full of Christmas trinkets, gluhwein, eggnog, crepes, bratwurst, winter wear, and other festive fun things. They are everywhere, in every city, and I had the great fortune to see the largest Weihnachtsmarkt in Germany, located in Dortmund!  There was a huge Christmas tree erected in the middle of the market that you could see from several streets away. Being in Germany during December has been an enormous privilege. Because Germany is not particularly ethnically diverse (not good, not bad, just different), the sense of political correctness that exists in the US is absolutely nonexistent here. There was a Christmas tree put up in front of the secretary’s office. I participated in a Christmas assembly explaining the religious symbolism of Jesus Christ on the last day before break. Christmas is a much more religious holiday in Germany, and it is assumed that everybody celebrates it. Because of this, Germany goes all out. Lights and Christmas markets are everywhere, as cliche as it sounds, you can feel Christmas in the air. And. And. And. AND. THERE ARE THREE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS.

THREE DAYS.

I think this is so so so funny and accurately describes how into Christmas this whole country is. The biggest celebration is on Heiligabend, or Christmas Eve. The 25th and 26th are Feiertage, or celebration days. On all three days, we spent time with family and ate special Christmas food and Christmas cookies. Christmas was by far the most homesick I’ve been this year, but that is not to say that I didn’t love every minute of it. The celebration is much more formal and religious than it has been in my experience in the US, but it was interesting to experience something so different and to be in a country that absolutely and completely goes nuts over Christmas.

To future exchange students in Germany: do NOT give anybody socks for Christmas. It is considered a terrible, emergency, “I-don’t-particularly-care-for-you” gift. I learned this the hard way.

^ but also, experiences like that are what make exchange the best.

My birthday is shortly after Christmas, and birthdays are also a big deal in Germany. I don’t really get it, but people always shake your hand and wish you luck on your birthday. \_(. .)_/ In my host family, a Geburtstagstisch (a birthday table) is set up with cake, sweets, and presents. There is a long long looooong song that I still don’t know all the words to, presents are opened, and it’s all very exciting. Something that was really different for me was that any time one of my family members wanted a piece of cake, they had to ask me first. Again: \_(. .)_/ I don’t think my family in the US has ever asked for permission to go through my bedroom, much less eat a piece of my birthday cake, but it was a real *rule* and no cake would be eaten without my consent. Interesting different rules aside, I had a wonderful birthday! I had a small birthday party with some friends and we had a lot of fun.

New Years! Is! Crazy! In Germany! We traveled to Dortmund to visit family and bring in the New Year, and when the clock struck twelve, everyone went outside and fireworks were going off EVERYWHERE. From every street corner throughout the city, fireworks were going off. It was impossible to hear or really feel actually safe, but it was hilarious and bright and fun and certainly new. I’m pretty sure setting off fireworks like that is illegal in North Carolina. Maybe I’m wrong! But I have never seen so many fireworks in my life. It was sad to see December go but Germany started 2017 off right.

On January 1st, I left Dortmund to visit some exchange student friends of mine for a week, which was an absolute blast. It was really cool to meet other host families and to spend time with other Americans and to talk about what our years had been like so far. We traveled to Heidelberg, Freiburg, Cologne, and Breisach. I can’t really describe how much fun we all had in a week, so I’ll let some of the pictures do the telling:

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Statues make for great role models.

I have an idea: travel to Germany! Be an exchange student! It will be the best thing you ever do. http://www.usagermanyscholarship.org/

We spent eight hours on a train. So we hand-knitted.

And we did some hiking. Hashtag exercise.

I have great, great friends.

After a fantastic week with awesome friends, I returned home to Porta Westfalica and began school in what would be my second semester of Junior Year in North Carolina. It is crazy to think about how much has changed in the past five months. My German is at a point of being able to carry on a conversation about just about any topic. I can discuss politics, music, relationships, beliefs, movies, and music. I can travel alone, take on big projects, write emails in German, and confidently approach a store employee and ask for help.

I am sad and nervous to be approaching the second half of my year because I worry that I will not reach true fluency by the end of the year. I have loved exchange, but there are some not-so-glorious realities of it. Since being here I’ve gained weight, my skin breaks out more, and I am e x h a u s t e d. Talking about any of those things can be embarrassing, but they are also put into perspective completely when I think about the pay-off. My worries about not learning the language are unfounded- I am throwing myself into it and have learned an insane amount for having only begun with language learning five months ago. Weight gain is a common occurrence for exchange students and the extra pounds are sworn to go away when students return to their home country. Being on exchange isn’t always easy- it’s not a vacation, it’s a new lifestyle. It is scary and exciting and exhausting and frustrating and infuriating and the most gratifying thing I have ever done. Do it! Do exchange. It has changed the way I look at the world and the people in it, and has set my life on an entirely new path. I am seventeen, trilingual, living in another country, and doing things I never thought I’d have the opportunity to do. For lack of better words, it is absolutely and completely *lit*.

This has been a long long post, so thank you for sticking with me this far and for continuing to read this occasional word vomit of a blog. I love hearing from you all in comments and am glad when anyone enjoys what I’ve been writing. My focus for the next few weeks and months is to write more, read German books, start doing Duolingo/Rosetta Stone for 15 minutes a day, put myself out there more, and be less conscious of my American accent.

Lots of love,

Beth

German Vocab Word of the Day: die Ukulele- ukulele!

16 Things I Have Learned in 2016

I have been promising a long blog post update for a long time, and I have failed to do so! I have stolen a little bit of time to write right now, but rather than a post, I am writing a list of 16 things I have learned this year. A full update will come as soon as I can swing it! December is a wonderful month to be in Germany and I cannot wait to share it through this blog. The following is a list of things I have learned this year:

  1. German (a work-in-progress, but it is amazing how much language one can learn in five months.)
  2. People cannot read my mind- it is important to ask for what I want and need.
  3. Taking time for myself isn’t a sign of weakness or a lack of productivity- it is a vital act of self-care and necessary to take on the world with my fullest and strongest self.
  4. I am the messy sister. My sister at home has kept our bedroom admirably clean and my room in Germany is terribly, terrible disorganized.
  5. I value a community of artists in the theatre more than I initially thought, and being away from that this year has made me realize how important it is to me.
  6. Things do not go as planned.
  7. Relationships of all sorts end, and that is okay. There is something to be learned from everyone we meet.
  8. I am capable of traveling, taking on big projects alone, and organizing events.
  9. Coming out of the closet is one of the best things I have done and ever will do.
  10. Being honest to the people that matter is never the wrong choice.
  11. History can repeat itself.
  12. People who bring large unhappiness in my life do not deserve a place in my heart. I am a happier and better person when I cut those relationships off and focus my attention to the people who deeply value me.
  13. To accept the things that I cannot change, and to move forward without anger.
  14. Meryl Streep is truly the best in the world.
  15. Learning about the world and the people in it is more valuable than anything I will ever learn in school.
  16. Finally, the art of listening can make the most powerful of differences in someone else’s life. 

Thank you very much for reading my blog this year. I cannot wait to write more in 2017, and I am hopeful that we all will take steps towards happiness, peace, and equality, in our personal and political lives.

If you are an American citizen or person from anywhere around the world with an interest in politics, please educate yourself about the political climate in North Carolina as we change governors and recent legislation that has been passed, the significance of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), and President Nominee Donald Trump’s promise to sign it. All of this has an influence on all of us, and it is important that we understand what we are choosing to stand for.

Information on North Carolina’s Governor Race: 

http://edition.cnn.com/2016/11/22/politics/north-carolina-governor-race-recount-pat-mccrory-roy-cooper/

http://abc11.com/politics/protesters-pack-your-bags-pat-but-gov-race-not-over/1598525/

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2016/12/16/protests_in_north_carolina_as_mccrory_signs_sb4.html

LGBTQ+ Testimonial on NC’S Governor Race: 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/pat-mccrory-lgbtq-north-carolina_us_5834a261e4b09b6055ff4b22

Information on the First Amendment Defense Act: 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Amendment_Defense_Act

Presidential Nominee Donald Trump’s Statement on FADA:

https://www.donaldjtrump.com/press-releases/issues-of-importance-to-catholics

I promise promise promise I will write with a November/December update soon! Thank you for reading, and please check out some of the above resources, the political moves made in our country within the next few months will affect all of us. Please research what these pieces of legislation mean and if they define what we want our country to be.

Happy New Year’s, celebrate safely, and I will write soon!

Beth

German Vocab Word (phrase?) of the Day: Frohes neues Jahr! (Happy New Year!)

Why Exchange is like Dyeing Your Hair Blue

Last week, I received one of those Facebook “memories” notifications that show you what you posted on this day in the past. I clicked on the notification and was brought to a series of pictures I had posted about a year ago after dyeing my hair blue for a show I was in. I looked through the pictures and brushed away a tentative wave of homesickness before closing the tab on my computer. Later, I realized how similar the experience of dying my hair blue was to moving abroad and doing exchange. Dyeing my hair blue was one of the most bizarrely brave things I have ever done. Through the process I didn’t think much of it, but the incredible range of reactions to it was something I hadn’t anticipated. Upon entering classrooms the next day, many of my teachers stared at me with jaws dropped- one even inquired seriously about my mental state. Most of the people who knew me from a distance were shocked that I had done something so *drastic* to *permanently change my appearance*.

None of these things particularly phased me, but I received stares from people I only barely knew, felt the need to justify why I had dyed my hair, and made sure to say all of the unflattering things about having blue hair before someone said them to me.

This is not a pity party post! Dyeing my hair was a ton of fun and I would absolutely do it again in a heartbeat. However, I can associate many of the experiences I have had during exchange with dyeing my hair. Before leaving for Germany, I would tell people I was leaving in August and be met with jaws dropped, the occasional inquiry about my mental health, and incredulity. Here in Germany, simply as a result of being the only exchange student my small town school has ever seen, I receive a lot of stares and I often feel that I have to point out that my German isn’t good in conversation because I don’t want to hear that from somebody else.

And the behavior I mentioned in the last sentence ends today! 

I sometimes have to step back and cut myself a freaking break. I have been learning German for two months. I am extremely proud of myself for learning as much as I have in such a short time, and I don’t have to justify my lack of perfect language skills. I am doing the best I can, and that is absolutely and positively enough.

Like dyeing my hair blue, going on exchange has kept me consistently on the edge of my comfort zone and given me an awesome new perspective on how people react to unfamiliar people and things. It has given me permission to feel like I can be who I am and say things that reflect that, without fear of judgement. There is something liberating about being a little bit of an outcast, because it gives you the courage to be even more fearlessly yourself, and that will ultimately draw people to you.

I’m not sure how coherent any of what I’ve written is, but reading back over my material is also not my strongest suit (except with my CBYX essays. Side note- apply to CBYX!!! www.usagermanyscholarship.org/). Those are my deep thoughts  for the moment, and I will now direct your attention to a run down of my classes!

German school works differently from American school in many ways, the most significant being:

A different schedule happens every day! I have each class 3 times a week, except for Leistungskurse, which I have 5 times a week. Today I had German, Religion, and Biology. Tomorrow I will have German, English, Math, and Music!

They don’t have a big lunch break like we do in school in the US: there is a twenty minute pause after every two hours of class, so the students just sit in the hallways during break and eat parts of their lunch, which they call “breakfast”, but in German.

The homework load is so wonderfully not the weight of a mountain. Maybe half an hour a night. @Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools, take notes.

When a teacher isn’t at school they just don’t have class? I’m not complaining at ALL, but some of my teachers have just not shown up before, so we were free to go!

If you don’t have class, you’re allowed to leave campus for as much time as you have free. This was mind-blowing to me at first. It still feels strange that I can have two hours of class, walk home to take a nap, and then come to school for another two hours.

So! Here are my classes and some information about them:

Musik: I LOVE this class. I have it three times a week and I am taking it with the twelfth grade because I have a group of friends in the class who brought me in. One hour of the week we spend on music theory, and the other two are spent rehearsing for a concert we are putting on in February. We are doing a Les Mis medley and anyone who has ever had one conversation with me can probably imagine exactly how elated I am about this.

Biologie: I also have this class three times a week, but my first time in it was today, due to some schedule shifting. I can’t say I’m in love with this class, but I can understand a reasonable amount of it and the teacher is nice.

Religion: Again, three times a week. I find this class incredibly fascinating! I am not particularly religious, but I find studying religion to be an interesting topic. I was hoping it would be a bit of a world religion class, but it’s more of a Christian analysis class, which is just as good! The students in my class were shocked to hear that the teaching how to live a good Christian life isn’t actually allowed in the United States. Fun fact, many people I have encountered believe that most of the Christians in the US are religious extremists or people who push religion into every corner of their lives to an extensive extent. When I point out that Germany is a country with a religiously named major political party (Christian Democratic Party) and that all of the days off school are centered around Christian holidays, they are surprised to find that the same is not always true in America. Overall though, I really enjoy this class and the teacher went out of his way to make sure I feel comfortable participating and asking questions, which I really appreciated.

Deutsch: My schedule is a little different from the typical German student’s, because I have ten, yes 10, yes zehn, yes TEN hours of German per week. I am in three separate German classes, two normal ones for which I have two hours of class per week, and then a German as a Second Language Course, which I have six hours of per week. I absolutely love the German as a Second Language class- I get to spend time with other students who are also learning German and it’s really wonderful and refreshing to meet someone in the same situation, at least in that respect. The normal German classes are a little frustrating because I have a hard time reading German novels, but I an working on my reading skills! My goal is to be able to read German books with ease by the end of this year. One way I’m working on that is by watching all of my TV with German audio and subtitles, which help me learn spelling that I otherwise wouldn’t have guessed.

Mathe: I am actually taking this class as a Leistungskurs. I willingly opted to take five hours of math a week instead of three. Anyone who knows me knows that I abhor math the way I adore intersectional feminism. My decision to do this was, I admit, mostly socially based. The teacher of this class made me feel very comfortable in the class from the beginning and the students in the class are really encouraging and eager to help me when I don’t understand something, which isn’t something that’s guaranteed in my other classes. I’ve enjoyed this class a lot because I’ve been able to understand a lot of complicated concepts because of people being so willing to help me!

Sozialwissenschaft (SW, SoWi): This class is pronounced like so-tzial-viss-in-shaft. Now you can pronounce a German word! Kudos! I am also taking this class as a Leistungskurs, so five times a week. It’s basically a social awareness class; we discuss current events, social issues, and economies around the world. I can’t understand as much as I’d like to, but once I am able to speak more fluidly I will be able to participate and I am looking forward to that. I actually gave a presentation in this class IN GERMAN about our election the other day and I was really proud of myself!

Philosophie: Again, difficult to understand. However, interesting when I do understand it! Three times a week, a fun and kind of eccentric teacher, very philosophical.

Englisch: Naturally my easiest class. I get to salvage my English and talk about the United States. I can help classmates with English, they can help me with German, and it’s a win-win! My teacher also has a great German and British accent and I love it.

Jugendchor: Funnily enough, if you join an extra-curricular through your school, it’s recorded on… your report card? So yes, the student choir at my school also counts kind of sort of as a class. I have joined two choirs here in Porta and I am absolutely loving it! Singing in a group is such a good way to let out stress and not have to worry about the language barrier. It’s been a wonderful thing to have here!

An update on language and home life: I have been with my host family (the most wonderful amazing host family) for two months now. They have applauded me for my successes, had hilarious/serious/political/everyday conversations with me, held me as I cried, and been one of the most important parts of my life here. In terms of language, oh my wow wow!!! I’m learning so much! Three months ago, I could tentatively introduce myself auf Deutsch. The rate of improvement I am seeing with my language is SO encouraging. There are days when I feel completely incapable of learning German and giving up feels like a more viable option, but then I think about how far I’ve come in such a short time and feel ready to take this language by the horns (is that an appropriate way to put that?). I’ve noticed recently that things are tending to click and I am understanding lots of things without having to focus immensely. I was very excited upon making this discovery. It still feels like a new toy. Can I understand this conversation? Yes? Okay, now to something to distract yourself. I can still understand words? What!? 

The flip side to this WONDERFUL discovery is that speaking is still difficult for me, so it’s frustrating to not be able to respond to the things I am suddenly and miraculously able to understand. But it has only been two months! In two more months, who knows where I will be? These are very very exciting things for me. In other news, I am making a conscious effort every day to notice the little things that bring me joy and to write them down. Today I am grateful for good music, a host dog, a warm house on a snowy day, SNOW IN NOVEMBER, awesome friends, the soundtrack of RENT, and an upcoming holiday season.

I may be forgetting to add some things in here that I had initially meant to include, but this post is long enough as it is so I will leave it as it is. For a bit of comedic relief that is of some relevance of this post, please check out the following link! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WQIM6sTbt0

Thank you for reading! I will write with more updates soon.

Bis dann,

Beth

German Vocab Word of the Day: die Wahl (election)

OH YEAH. GO OUT AND VOTE. GO AND VOTE. GO AND VOTE. GO AND VOTE.

Let’s not leave this one to chance, shall we?

 

LGBT CBYX Hopefuls: This One's For You

Okay, the title is sort of a lie. This post is for everyone! It is for any future applicant who also happens to be LGBT, and it is for every adult and ally that wants to better understand what it is like to be LGBT abroad, most specifically Germany. I can only speak to my personal situation of course, so this doesn’t cover 100% of scenarios, but I think this is an important post to write.

I would also like to point out before going any further that writing this post is quite actually nerve-wracking, so please send nice comments or don’t say anything at all. Thanks!

I would also like to point out that today, October 11th, is National Coming Out Day! I am writing this post because I am tacky but also because representation and visibility are key!

Okay, I will begin now.

I identify as a lesbian and have since the time I started my application. I am very fortunate to live in probably the most tolerant place in North Carolina, but all one has to do to remind oneself that the United States is NOT a tolerant place of the LGBT+ community is turn on the television. Because of this, I would be lying if I did not say that I was scared that something bad could happen to me abroad because of my sexuality. I have been out publicly for several months and am of the opinion that going back into the closet is a thousand times harder than coming out. I love being gay. It’s an important part of my identity, and lying by omission is a terrible, terrible feeling.

So in the two months between submitting my application and receiving semi-finalist status, I was all over the internet and in alumni groups asking questions about LGBT tolerance in Germany and what it was like to live there as an LGBT person. The responses I received were mostly along the lines of “well, marriage isn’t legalized yet, but…” and “it really isn’t a big issue, people are mostly tolerant, it might be different if you’re in a small place”.

Those were generally good responses and mostly put my mind at ease, but there was, naturally, remaining angst and nervousness about having a tolerant host family and group of friends, and then the lurking fear for personal safety (it is absolutely awful that it is 2016 and I can still write that. Step it up, America).  In my life, I have known a total of one adult lesbian. O N E. That’s not a lot! Almost consistently, I have been the only lesbian in a large group of people that I am around for long periods of time. That can be isolating, and it can make the world feel a lot less safe. It can make the process of leaving home and flying across the Atlantic Ocean seem a little more daunting than it might seem for your average CBYXer.

Future applicants, this is where you come in.

Do not cancel your application because you fear for your sexuality to interfere in your life here.Visibility is so important. It is what will get us to where we need to be, it will normalize and validate our identities so that we have to stop defending them.

Here has been my experience as a gay woman living in Germany:

The first time this was addressed was at Language Camp. I adore Language Camp and Experiment. There is a sizable amount of LGBT individuals in this program, many more than I think anyone expected. Because of this, one night during organized free time, our teamers (basically counselors) organized a GAY DATING SEMINAR. It was a chunk or time for the LGBT CBYXers to tell each other our stories and our coming out statuses, to discuss being LGBT in Germany, and to give each other support as we all went into our unknown communities. I cannot even express how grateful I am that this happened. I believe I am speaking for the majority of our group when I say that our minds were eased and we had less fear.

Flash forward to living in my host community…

I am fortunate to have an amazingly tolerant host family. When it came up in conversation with my host mother, she said it was good that I was their host student because it would be an “enrichment experience” for their children. She said that it would teach them that being LGBT is okay.

THIS. THIS IS A GREAT ATTITUDE TO HAVE.

I actually don’t know if anyone has reacted to that better than she did. It was such a perfect way to say that yes, this is acceptable. This is normal, and even more than that, this is good. That is a wonderful way to respond to someone coming out. Adults reading this post: please take that to heart.

At school, I obviously don’t shout my sexuality from the rooftops, but a very common getting to know you question is “do you have a boyfriend?”. As previously mentioned, I’m not about the lying by omission thing, so I tell them that no, I have a girlfriend. Generally, everyone who has found this out has been extremely shocked (I’m the first lesbian just about anyone here knows), but accepting nevertheless. It throws them off guard- being the only open lesbian anyone knows can be exasperating, but pretending that I’m something that I’m not is a setback to the LGBT community that is struggling so desperately to be acknowledged, accepted, and comfortable in our own skins. No, this is not an exaggeration.

Nobody here has even hinted that I might be in a phase, lectured me about homosexuality being a sin, or stopped talking to me because of it. America, take the hint.

It sometimes feels like it would be easier to play the straight nice Exchange Student, but to do so would be an insult to the CBYX program and everything that it stands for- we are here in Germany as youth ambassadors, a term I don’t usually take too much to heart, but I am here to show other people what the United States is. In the United States, we have gay people. We have proud gay people. We have fearless gay people.

We are proud.

We are fearless.

I would be neglecting my job on this program if I did not ensure that the people in my circles here know that.

My final word on this is that coming out or not coming out here is a personal choice. I am living in a relatively small town, people are unfamiliar with people of my sexuality, but I don’t feel that I have been negatively affected by it. If anything, I am honored to expose people to a part of myself that I am very proud of, and I know that people benefit by this exposure because it broadens minds. If you are a future applicant and you have lots of questions about this: please reach out to me! I am on Facebook and there is a comment section on the bottom of this post.

This isn’t as well and eloquently written as I hoped it would be, but I hope it provides some useful information for future applicants and anyone else who is just interested in making a better, safer world.

If you have any questions about coming out, being a good ally, what sexuality is, or anything else remotely related, please visit http://www.glbthotline.org/

Happy National Coming Out Day! Do something kind for someone today.

Beth

Yes, Okay, Cool.

Yes, I am living in Germany.

Okay. I’m gonna do this whole live in Germany thing. Okay.

Cool.

The above sentiments, though rather ineloquent, do pass through my mind on a regular basis. They come in the good moments and the hard moments, and never cease to make me pause for a minute actually soak in the fact that yes, this is, in fact, exactly where I am living. Some good examples of “Yes, Okay, Cool” moments include:

-Successfully delivering a skit for my religion class, where I spoke more than any other character in the presentation.

  • Yes, I just did that successfully.
  • Okay, I am doing this. I’m learning German.
  • *Cool*.

-Getting yelled at by a bus driver for not stamping a ticket right (I think?) and not knowing how to respond, while the rest of the bus is staring at me.

  • Yes, this driver has little to no empathy to the fact that I am learning German.
  • Okay, I am embarrassed and still not quite sure of what I was supposed to do.
  • I just got yelled at on a bus in *Germany*. Breathe. Pause. Cool.

I apologize for not blogging for almost an entire month, but a lot has been going on! Since my last post, I have joined a choir, figured out (kind of) the bus system, ordered food on my own, bought school supplies, raised my hand in class (this one was actually terrifying, it was shocking to feel that way about something so simple), and improved my German ten-fold. It is incredible what one month of exchange can do to boost language skills! Seven weeks ago, upon my arrival in this country, I spoke almost no German. Now, I understand more or less what is going on in my classes, the conversations my host family has at dinner, and I no longer feel a sense of panic when an adult starts to ask me a question . Having conversations doesn’t feel stressful anymore and I have really embraced not knowing all of the vocabulary and grammar that exists in German. The other day I asked my host sister if she had a napkin for my nose. She thought it was hilarious, but she understood what I meant, I got a napkin nose, and learned a new word!

Interesting cultural differences I have noticed:

-When someone presents something in class that we would usually applaud for in my classes in the US, here they knock their knuckles on the table.

-They don’t turn on the lights in classrooms until it’s necessary- they just use the light that’s coming in from the windows.

-German windows. Are spectacular. They are big and open and have no screens and are simply wonderful.

-My host family has decided to teach me a German proverb every week. My personal favorite proverb that I have stumbled upon in “kein Bier vor vier”.

-Energy conservation is SO much more important than it is here in the US. When people leave a room, even if it’s just for a few moments, they switch off the lights before coming back in. I didn’t think I’d be so aware of this, but it is a huge difference to how I have always seen electricity used in the States.

-I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Every door to everything is always closed. At this point I’m used to it, but it is such a small thing that feels hugely hugely different.

Today marks the beginning of Herbstferien, a two week fall break. I am very, very, very thrilled about this fact. Germany does school well. I have loved having a different schedule every week and not having to worry about doing homework for seven classes every single day. Being in German school has put a lot in perspective about the American education system for me and the way we view learning and school as Americans. In the United States, if we don’t do our homework, our grades are severely affected. In Germany, if we don’t do our homework, we have to tell the teacher in front of the class and apologize. It seems to me that the mentality here behind school and homework is that one does it for their own good. In America, we do our homework because we want to go to college. In Germany, they do homework to reinforce what they’ve learned.

Things are generally running smoothly. I will be starting at a new school after the break, which is why I haven’t blogged about classes yet, so I am hoping for a fast and comfortable transition! My host family continues to be wonderfully warm and supportive, and I am grateful every day to be with people that encourage my love for music, check in on me regularly, correct my German, and embrace me as part of their family. I’ve been making a habit of re-watching my favorite shows and movies in German, and my language is definitely improving as a result of it! I taught my host sisters and mother how to play Go Fish, and we played it for over an hour on a Thursday night while drinking tea. I bought winter shoes! I know how and where to walk the dog. I am settling in here more every day and am surrounded by support.

There are a few things I didn’t expect about exchange that are more prominent than I thought they’d be. I dearly miss acting and being around people who understand the art of theatre and pursue it relentlessly. I also miss having a forty minute lunch break at school in North Carolina. I didn’t expect to become such close friends with my host brother in such a short time, but I did, and that is just awesome. It also comes as a shock to me that people here consider the United States to be a more or less dangerous place. I have been asked countless times if I am a Trump supporter. I have jokingly been offered *political asylum* if he is elected. In my history class, people made jokes about incest being okay in the United States because “well, that’s America for you…” A woman I met from Malawi explained to me that only 1% of women in Malawi get a university education, and then asked me how I feel safe walking down the street at home with so many guns everywhere.

I was shocked to hear all of these things. They have totally made me re-evaluate everything our country projects and the way we are perceived internationally. Coming to a small town and finding that people really believe that I might support Trump and condone incest is, I’m not going to lie, a shock. In my English class, we were discussing how the recession of 2008 had international repercussions, whereas recessions in other nations have had little to no effect on the global economy. In the same way that we are an economic global superpower, the rest of the world is looking at us to see what type of legislation we pass, who we elect into government, and how we allow our society to run. This is something that I absolutely did not anticipate prior to my arrival. Seeing how people view where I come from and analyzing it in this way was a wake-up call. It has affirmed for me how important it is right now to be out in the world, establishing personal relationships and breaking the stereotypes and ideas that exist about any nationality. I’m only qualified to speak on where I come from, but I hate explaining that schools in the United States have lock down drills once a quarter in anticipation of a school shooting. I hate explaining that no legislation has actually been passed restricting the guns in the first place. On the other hand, I am proud to discuss the racial and religious diversity that exists in America. I am proud to tell people about my home town and family background, and to discuss typical American traditions. These small interpersonal interactions prove to me every day that change in mentality is feasible, and not as difficult as it seems at face value. Cross-cultural education is key in a time where tolerance is difficult to find and hate stares us in the face in the form of the Republican nominee for President. Being here and dispelling the idea that what is portrayed in the media is an accurate representation of America’s ideals has been a total privilege, and not one that I initially expected. The moral of this story is that we have the ability to take action. Words are more powerful than we give them credit for. We can use them to destroy stereotypes and create bonds that are much stronger than the grips of xenophobia and lack of education. Coming to these realizations have been jarring and profound.

Two months down. I cannot wait to see what the next eight unfold.

Thank you, as always, for reading. I will be blogging next week and it is a post I am very excited about, so stay tuned!

Liebe,

Beth

German Vocab Word of the Day: Wahrscheinlichkeit (probability)

On Your Marks, Get Set, Deutsch Deutsch Deutsch Deutsch Deutch

(Written originally September 6, 2016)

Hi! Germany here. Young American? Ah, yes. Here, let me throw you a million things you never ever knew. 

The above sentence about summarizes my last two weeks here! It is in NO WAY a bad thing. Quite the opposite! Lots and lots of things have happened since I last blogged, so here is a rundown:

The last week and a half of Language Camp was wonderful. We became such a family in three weeks and saying goodbye to each other was incredibly difficult. On our last night, we had a fun talent show which featured origami sea lions, a Capella, and a male fashion show featuring the season’s hottest female fashion.

It was a real riot.

The next day we all woke up very early to say goodbye to the first wave of people going by train. My family was picking me up, so I was at the castle all morning cleaning up and getting ready with the other students being driven to their host families. When mine arrived I ran to meet them (after hiding for a brief moment of excited panic behind the nearest car) and walked my host parents up to a seminar that was being held. After the seminar we had lunch together and I got to use my broken German in a real conversational context for the first time! When lunch was done we drove to Porta Westfalica. Can I just say. This city is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I am in love with it. I also adore my host family. I met all of them and they are so so wonderful. I feel so comfortable with them and I know that this is going to feel like home in a very short period of time. They are definitely a “family family” and that is very comforting for me!

I started school two days ago! My first day was totally overwhelming, but I definitely expected that. My school gave me a temporary schedule for the week so that I could attend all of my classes with a buddy and get to know the school. I will talk more in depth about my classes when I have my own full schedule! One of the classes I think I might stay in is Art. Not because I’m any great artist, but actually it’s probably the most entertaining thing for me about the whole school schedule. On my first day, we came in and the teacher told us to leave after ten minutes. It’s a two hour class. That was hilarious. She also comes late every day and that’s funny too. Today she had us sandpaper a table for almost an hour. A painted table. I can attest to the fact that it definitely didn’t need sandpapering. I couldn’t stop laughing the entire time. The schedules here are very different because there is a different schedule each day. I got out of school today at 1:10 and yesterday at 4:00. It’s very cool! There is also no set lunch time, so we eat in the five and fifteen minute breaks between classes. My German is definitely rough, but I’m branching out as well as I can and I know that I’ll make good friends this year!

Some cultural differences I’ve noticed:

The bread selection is impressive. None of the articles about German bread online are exaggerated. 10/10.

All of the doors stay closed. All the time.

No air conditioning! German windows are bomb. They’re big and open and have no screen!

They have a plate in grocery stores to put your money on when you pay instead of just handing it to the cashier.

You can buy SIM cards in the grocery store.

My host family at least shops more frequently than my American family and the supermarkets here are much smaller and contain  much less processed food!

These are the ones that come to my mind right now. I’m sure I’ll have more later!

Ta ta for now,

Beth

Arrival in Germany, Life in a Castle

(Written originally on August 26, 2016)

“Ich spreche kein Deutsch.”

It’s fitting that the phrase I know best in German translates to “I don’t speak German”.

Just kidding! I mean I’m not kidding that that’s the phrase I know best, but I actually do feel positive about my German. Some context:

We arrived in Frankfurt nearly two weeks ago (!!!). I haven’t been able to post as tonight (8/26/16) is the first night I’ve had working wifi on my computer. SO, I will attempt to document the past fourteen days as concisely as I can!

Flying to Germany was, of course, adrenaline fueled. The flight was easy and we arrived on schedule into Frankfurt. In the airport, I had my first experience making a purchase in German (and I learned that it’s EIN Kaffee, not eine. The more you know!). It was fun and scary and felt like a much bigger deal than ordering a coffee actually is. We then took a bus to Schloss Wittgenstein, the actual and literal castle that we have the incredible fortune to be living in until September 3rd. We are all here for Language Camp, basically a boot camp to help us with our German and to learn about cultural differences before we’re set loose to live it. Our first night was very relaxed and we all went to sleep at 8 pm. We began classes two days later. My class is covering lots of vocabulary and grammar. Learning the German past tense is actually nice and frustrating, but the type of nice and frustrating that makes you laugh. We learned the general rules of thumb for how past tense is conjugated, and then my teacher handed us a list of two hundred, I repeat, *two hundred* exceptions to the rule.

If there are two hundred exceptions to a rule, does that mean that the rule is valid to begin with?

But I digress.

Here is our general schedule for a day in the life of Language Camp:

8:00 am: Wake up and breakfast

9:00 am: Class

12:15 pm: Lunch

1-2:00 pm: Free time!

2:00 pm: On Tuesdays and Thursdays, more class. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, activities called Plenum. Plenum is large group activity that changes every time we do it. I won’t spoil the activities for future CBYX-ers, but the activities we do in Plenum consistently are the highlights of my day.

6:15 pm: Dinner

7:30 pm: Small group activities. We received small groups of about ten students each, and we spend this time talking about ourselves and our lives in the US, expectations for the upcoming year, and lots of cultural discussions and questions.

9:15 pm: Free time

10:00 pm: Room checks with the Teamers (our mentor people who run Language Camp. They’re the best. <3)

This schedule varies on weekends. For example, tomorrow we are going on a day trip to Marburg! I am VERY excited for the trip and will blog more about it!

I realized today that Language Camp ends in a week. Everyone is incredibly sad about this fact. I have made wonderful friends here that I will be extremely sad to be leaving behind. There is also anticipation surrounding entering the home of my host family and the city of Porta Westfalica. I know that all of that is natural and I really am not concerned about it. My host family has done so much to make me feel welcome and I am so grateful for their hospitality and kindness! I’m sad to leave Language Camp, but I am hugely excited to meet my host family and start my real life here in Germany.

One of the highlights of being here so far was going to a concert in the town by Schloss Wittgenstein, Bad Laasphe. To get to Bad Laasphe, we have to hike down the mountain that the castle sits on. The village was apparently deemed the most average town in Germany by some certain standard, but we Americans have been enthralled with this little town. On our first Friday here, we went to a concert being done by a cover band called Side of Soul. Here is a link to their website: http://www.side-of-soul.de/

The music was wonderful and we danced for hours and hours. It was a great group bonding experience and let us dance in celebration of an amazing first week in Germany.

On my German skills: my German is undeniably weak. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean that I feel bad about it in any sense of the word. I am learning very quickly and am actually quite proud of the progress I’ve made since being in formal class here at the Schloss. I am making every effort to practice my German in public and with friends who already speak well. I am gaining more confidence with my pronunciation and vocabulary with each real world situation in which I use German, and I am not worried about not speaking well. I know that I will learn quickly, especially when I get to my host family. I will be sure to document how my language is progressing as the year goes on!

On a rather separate note- After years of tentatively trying to start up the habit, I have finally taken up daily journaling. I highly recommend it! It’s introspective and makes me actively remember my day, which I think is a good thing.

Everything here in Bad Laasphe is good. Life is good. I’m really lucky to be here.

Liebe,

Beth

 

Pre-Departure Orientation (and other shenanigans)

I apologize for the inevitable typos and incoherent sentences that accompany this post- I am in the hotel in Washington, DC at Pre-Departure Orientation (otherwise known as PDO). The hotel doesn’t have wifi in the rooms (which I have personal qualms with considering the cost of the hotel, but that’s another matter), so I am in the lobby typing as furiously and as fast as I can. It is 9:38. I must be in my room at 10:00. I apologize for my excessive use of parenthesis thus far but I just don’t have time to go back and evaluate. I’m not sure when the next time I will be able to post will be, because I depart for Germany TOMORROW! We will arrive at the Dulles airport around 1:00 pm and our flight departs at 5:20. I will then be in a language camp for the following three weeks with limited internet access, so it may be a few weeks before I become re-involved with the World Wide Web.

Packing for the year was an adventure in and of itself. Because I am an independent woman (read: because I am stubborn), I packed entirely by myself. This was perhaps not my best decision. After realizing that I grossly overpacked (which I didn’t realize until my arrival in DC), I had a minor panic but am now mildly organized in that I found another carry-on that can be brought on by one of my friends who didn’t have one in the first place. She is a godsend.

Arriving in DC has been about the most exciting thing ever. I drove up with my parents after saying goodbye to my siblings and friends, spent the night in DC, and was dropped off the following morning. Here is a general schedule of how PDO happened this year:

Day 1:

1-4 pm: Check in, down time until six. We met the other CBYX-ers as well as the German students coming to the US to spend a year on exchange as well. We explored the hotel and unpacked for most of this time together.

6 pm: dinner with all of the students and staff. I had the opportunity to meet a girl who belongs to my host family in Germany, and we talked for several hours! I feel confident and comfortable coming into my host family that they are a fantastic match and that we will get along. Meeting the daughter further affirmed that the year is going to be incredible.

7:30-9 pm: Meetings in small groups. The groups were mixed German-American, and we talked about our worries for the exchange year and asked other students about their placements, host families, etc.

9 pm: Final meetings and announcements for the next day.

10 pm: Room checks (which are currently very very soon. It is 9:48.)

Day 2:

6-8:30 am: Breakfast with mixed German-American groups.

8:30 am: Group photos and Germans depart for their host states!

9 am-9pm: Touring DC- this included touring the White House, several national monuments, downtown Arlington, and shopping/dinner in the city. It was a packed packed packed day (rather like my overpacked suitcase), but it was incredibly fun.

9:15-9:30 pm: Fix my suitcase situation. It’s fixed. 10/10.

9:30 pm: Write a new blog post

9:51 pm: Current time. Nine minutes to finish this post.

10:00 pm: Room checks. Ah.

Tomorrow morning, we wake at 6:30 to eat breakfast and then begin orientation sessions. I don’t know too much about it but I understand it to be just a general overview of things we can expect in the coming year as well as learning how to deal with and react to certain situations. After that will be lunch, and then leaving for the airport. I am so excited and I feel so lucky to have this opportunity. It is now 9:53, and in about nineteen hours, I will be on a plane to Germany. I never ever thought that this would happen, and I am so grateful that it did. Thank you for following me on my journey thus far, I cannot wait to share more on the blogosphere. I will write more as soon as I have the time and the internet access. Next time I write will be from Deutschland!

Love,

Beth

German vocab word of the day: die Katze (cat)

9:56 pm. Cue an (elegant) sprint to the hotel room. Goodnight.

 

Lasts

(Written originally on August 4th, 2016)

I wanted to come up with a more creative name for the title of this post, but I really want to talk about the past few days, and I realize that everything that has gone on in my life recently is defined by lasts. The last time I perform on a certain stage, the last time I go to a rehearsal, the last time I visit my favorite coffee shop, the last time I see one of my friends. I have been hyper aware of the last time I am doing or seeing something or someone. It’s a pretty bizarre thing, to see things around me and realize that I won’t see whatever it is for another year. Everything feels bittersweet, but I know that any sadness and doubt surrounding leaving home and my loved ones will dissipate when I arrive in DC for pre-departure orientation (PDO). I am so very lucky to have this opportunity. Leaving right now is more intimidating than I thought it would be, but I am making sure to constantly remind myself of the incredible adventure in front of me. This is a short post, but I thought it would be important to document the pre-departure anxiety. I am very sure that it is normal, and I don’t feel at all incapable of taking on this next year. Overall, things are good. :)

Bis bald,

Beth

German vocab word: juice: der Saft