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24 posts categorized "Elizabeth Siegling"

Four Weeks Later (A Final Reflection of my Year)

I know, it’s been awhile. I have been avoiding writing this type of post for all sorts of reasons. However, I’d like to get it written because I think it’s a good idea to document what these last few weeks have meant in relation to my exchange.

Four weeks ago, I left Porta Westfalica and boarded a plane in Frankfurt headed for Washington DC. I love overseas travel, but I don’t remember ever being less excited to board a plane. The week before, I held a goodbye party with my wonderful friends, helped organize, set up, and performed at my school’s Summer Fest (the theme was Europe and I was one of very few non-Europeans… :P), avoided packing, packed, got exhausted from packing, cried a lot, and spent time doing many many things for the last time.

It was a really difficult week. Yes, it’s amazing that I had something so wonderful that made it so hard to say goodbye. Yes. But it was really, really hard. Building a home and a life in a year only to leave it behind is a very strange thing, because it is a life that you can’t live again- it is simply a chapter of a much larger story, and it isn’t one that can be reopened in the same way. When it’s gone, it can’t come back.

A friend of mine made me a journal full of letters and German grammar (lol) and motivation, etc., and in it she wrote: alles wird gut, aber nie mehr wie es war.

Everything will be okay, but it will never be the way it was.

It’s difficult to accept that. Today I got the Facebook event notification for my school’s Abiball, a prom-like celebration that I would have attended if I were still at German home. Life has gone on there since I left- the people close to me lost a person, but I lost my entire life there. That’s not to be melodramatic, it is simply the nature of an exchange year. You come in and touch the life of certain people and you build a life. You develop an idea of what this other culture is and how you will allow it to shape you, it becomes home, and then you leave it. An exchange year is a snapshot of what it would have been like to be born in the place you are visiting, and it ceases to exist when you leave. Although I will have a lifelong relationship with my host family and some of my friends back in Germany, I will never go back to my school, sing with my 2 choirs, or live at home with my host family. That chapter is closed and accepting that is just difficult.

Going through that process of acceptance simulates grief. It is losing something you can’t get back and trying to find a way to reconcile it.

After leaving Porta, I drove to the Frankfurt area and spent time with both sets of host grandparents as one of the couples was celebrating their fiftieth anniversary. In a way, it was good that I was able to leave Porta and my friends and school behind and have a separate goodbye with my host family because it meant that I didn’t lose everything at once. Essentially, my last week was a sob fest. I have no idea if this is normal for other exchange students, but I was consistently overwhelmed with how many people and things I needed to say goodbye to, and I had no idea how to come to terms with it.

So, I have been avoiding writing this post. Because coming home was exceptionally difficult for me. During the CBYX End-Year Seminar in Berlin, our group was warned that we would experience culture shock. We were told that it was different for everybody but that coming home is an emotional rollercoaster. I knew that coming back would be difficult, but I did not expect to have as much of a terrible time readjusting to things that I thought I understood about my American home prior to my exchange year. Writing this post means accepting that my year is over and that it is time to move on. That doesn’t mean I don’t still grieve it, but it does mean that I’ve recognized that life goes on. I am working on focusing on the near future and the things I have to look forward to (ie. moving to Costa Rica).

Upon arrival in Dulles Airport in DC I had an 8 hour layover. Luckily, a fellow CIEE-er, Sav, had a similar layover time and we were able to spend time together. Being surrounded by English and Americans on all sides was one of the strangest things I have ever experienced. Everything around me felt foreign and there were several times through the course of our 8 hour layover that Sav and I looked at each other and, without a word, broke down sobbing. Part of this is exhaustion. Part of it is culture shock. I will say that I never felt as overwhelmed and out of place during my exchange year as I did coming back into the States. Because I assumed I would be different and strange in Germany, I was able to take things as they came without feeling bothered. When I felt foreign and lost in my own country, I panicked. For me, reverse culture shock was (and is) the most challenging part of my exchange year.

It is still strange for me to hear passerby speaking English. My mom woke me up the other day and I, not fully awake, responded to her several times in German until I woke up enough to realize where I was. I haven’t dreamed in English yet since getting back and have cried a lot. The adjustment has been difficult. I miss Germany. I miss my family and friends and I miss speaking German. By the time I left, I really felt that I was a part of my community and I didn’t feel different anymore. I have reconnected with old friends and have been crazy busy doing a show before moving to Costa Rica in three weeks (I am writing this post from a technical rehearsal). There is a lot to do and that helps me not to focus so much on being sad. I have been taking it as it comes and most importantly, have recognized that it is absolutely appropriate to be sad about being back. Even though I came home, I left home as well.

I think I accomplished in this year what I set out to accomplish. I learned a lot of German and feel comfortable saying I’m fluent, I made friends and acquired a new family who I dearly love, integrated myself into my community, and learned more about myself and my country than I ever would have guessed. I feel incredibly privileged to have had the chance to learn another culture and to find a home in it. It has changed everything about how I view the world and other people, I believe that I have become more compassionate and a better listener, I understand what it’s like to struggle with basic communication and I have become more open-minded to ideas I would have simply written off, had I never gone to Germany.

I think it’s appropriate to mention that I could not nearly have accomplished so much without my wonderful host family. From the very beginning, my family was there for me in ways I had never anticipated. They took so many steps to make me feel welcome and safe, and I am indescribably grateful to be able to call them one of my families. This doesn’t mean that everything was perfect- like any relationship, we had our difficulties. But open communication on both our parts changed the experience for everyone and I am forever grateful for everything they did for me. The amount of emotional support, laughter, and advice they gave me are favors I will never be able to repay.

On exchange, every small act of kindness can change an entire day. Any time somebody invited me to sit with them, gently corrected my German, or praised me for my improvement, my entire mood changed like the flip of a switch and encouraged me to work even harder. This taught me how important these types of interactions matter to people who are lonely or struggling with communication for any reason, and it costs literally nothing to extend this type of kindness.

Many people said insensitive things to me this year about my culture, country, language, accent, and language-learning skills. I will never forget the 20 minute conversation I had with a man who stopped me after every sentence to tell me that my accent was so horrific he couldn’t understand a thing. He proceeded to have me say each syllable over and over again until he deemed it acceptable. I will also never forget the first time a woman I met stood in shock upon finding out that I was not a native German speaker. The latter situation happened much more frequently than the former, but the former made much more of an impression on me. It served to make me feel insecure and inadequate and bouncing back from that is much more difficult than coming down from a compliment. This year I learned that words matter.

For many people I met in Germany, I was a poster child for America. For several months, conversation began with “You’re American, right? What do you think of Trump?” Before I could properly communicate, I was simply the archetypal American girl struggling through a European language who probably owned several guns and recited a scary pledge each morning at school. This year I learned that labels can be too restrictive. Often it is easier to “other” people from foreign situations, but being on the receiving end of it is dehumanizing.

I learned this year that patience is a virtue that is helpful in every situation. Patience with myself and patience with others. I learned that taking time for myself is important and that being hyper-busy with no breaks is not the best way to take care of oneself. I learned to pick battles and listen more (occasionally because I couldn’t talk  ) and I refined my ability to make a total and utter fool of myself.

The stereotype of Germans loving rules and punctuality is true.

The stereotype of them being cold and unfriendly is not. 

I loved talking to my host family about big cultural differences this year. Seeing their astonishment that I thought certain things they did were absolutely crazy was hilarious. We hosted two Russian students for a week and we got into the car together to go home after picking them up from the school. My host mom asked them to put on seat belts and I muttered under my breath “you’re in Germany, we follow rules here” My host mom heard and burst out laughing before asking if I was actually serious. “Do you mean to say we’re strict about rules!?”

So many interactions from this year have taught me things that I am so grateful to have learned. I feel like a more well-rounded, educated, and open-minded person. I miss Germany with all of my heart but the memories I have of the past 12 months make me remember all of the wonderful things that happened instead of focusing on the heartbreak of leaving. I have *so* many things to look forward to in the next month alone and I am absolutely ecstatic to take it all on.

Having the opportunity to do an exchange year is a privilege that has changed my life. Living abroad is the best hard thing I have ever done. I don’t have the words to sum up all of the emotions I have around what has happened in my life in the past year but this blog post is my noble effort to share it with you, dear readers and Future Beth. If you are in high school and can take an exchange year, do it. Absolutely do it. It will change everything about how you view the world around you and will give you insight that is impossible to acquire by any other means. The interpersonal skills and open-mindedness that develops inherently for every exchange student are valuable wherever you go. I cannot encourage studying abroad enough.

If you have kept up with my blog this year, thank you! I have had a blast writing here and sharing my experiences. Although I am sad for my chronicles of Germany to be ending, I am excited to begin writing about my adventures in Costa Rica! I may write in the future about how my time in Germany has affected me, but for the next two years I will be living the pura vida. :)

Auf wiedersehen, Germany.

and buenos dias Costa Rica.

Thank you for reading, I will write again soon.

Signing off,

German Vocab Word of the Day: das Ende (the end)


PS: If you would like to follow my adventures in Costa Rica, check me out at I will eventually change the domain, but this is the link to my travel blog for now. Tschuess!


Leaving Porta, Packing, EMOTIONS

Fact: I am emotional.

The last week of exchange has been absolutely wonderful, and absolutely emotional. And thereby absolutely exhausting. One of the many things I've learned this year is how to be more open about my emotions and that has definitely been unlocked ten-fold this week because of the number of goodbyes that I've been saying. I really don't know how to begin writing this post because mostly I am just sad. I am of course excited to go home and see all of the people and things that I have missed this year, but leaving is just sad.

Today I left Porta Westfalica and will be spending the next two days an hour away from Frankfurt, where I will fly out from on Sunday morning. More specifically, I left my house about twenty minutes ago and am driving with my family on the Autobahn, hoping not to crash and die because Germans do not mess around with driving. This means I finished crying about twenty minutes ago because leaving this place has probably been the worst part of my exchange year. Which in and of itself is a good thing because it means I have had an amazing year- the unfortunate other side of that is that that doesn't make leaving easier. I'm excited to be driving to Frankfurt because we will be attending a golden anniversary celebration and that's cool and exciting, but it is strange to have said goodbye to my friends, school, and town, but still have time here. In some ways, I think it is good because I said goodbye to my friends and town separately, and I can say goodbye to my host family this weekend. On the other hand, goodbyes are awful so none of that is pleasant.

This week was a very, very, *very* stressful one. There was lots to pack and do, and lots of people and things to say goodbye to. On Tuesday, I had my last performance in Germany at my school's Summer Fest. I was part of the organization team and was at school from 9 am to 2 am. It was quite the adventure. It was a great last event to be apart of, but it also marked some first goodbyes with some of my best friends here. Several of my teachers and friends stayed extra at the fest just to hear me play and that really meant a lot to me. I'm definitely going to miss my school.

Link to performance:

Wednesday was my last day of school and we had the Bundesjugendspiele, which I do not fully understand. Basically, the entire school had to perform in several different athletic events for the whole day, and I think at the end each school has a national rank. I'm really not sure, but I think it's something along those lines. After school that day, I went with a group of my best friends to eat Doner for the last time (curses on the USA for lacking this delicacy) and then had my host mom pick me up because I didn't want to ride the bus while crying. Leaving is really hard! I have cried a lot about this. It is extremely strange to try and pack up a whole life into a suitcase and to recognize that coming back is not going to be the same.

On Thursday, school was off because of a Catholic holiday (I'm still not on board with the idea that Germany has a full separation of Church and State...) Regardless, I really had to pack. So instead I took a long nap to avoid packing. One of my friends came over once I told her this news and made me hardcore pack which was good. Major shoutout to loyal German friends because this girl helped me get it done. Sleeping in an empty room last night was weird and sad, but the dog slept in my bed for the last time and that was nice because dogs. Today I woke up, packed final things like toiletries, closed my bank account, put my luggage in the car, and now I'm writing what is likely my last post from Germany. I will write again this weekend if I have the chance, but I doubt I will have time as I will be spending my last days here with family. I'm in no place to write a real reflection on this year right now so I will get that done as soon as possible, probably once I'm back in the States.

In summary, mostly I have been a mess this week. And that's okay! It's been heartwarming in a weird way to know that people here will miss me as much as I will miss them. Many of my friends made really meaningful goodbye gifts for me that reminded me of how valuable this year has been for me. Pictures to follow. :)

To be completely stereotypical and cliche: goodbyes are difficult and sad, but it is, in a way, an absolute privilege to have it be so hard to say goodbye to something to meaningful. I'm still working on accepting this, but I think I'll get there. I'll write more soon!

Alles Liebe,

German Vocab Word of the Day: die Goldene Hochzeit (golden anniversary, 50 years)

Reflections at a Dinner Table

The other day, I found myself in a very unique situation.

It wasn’t one I hadn’t been in before. As a matter of fact, it was a situation I spent the better part of four months in.

I found myself understanding *nothing*. Zero. Null. Nichts.

Funnily enough, it wasn’t because the language of choice in this situation was German. Instead, it was Platt Deutsch.

Platt Deutsch is kind of the equivalent of old English. For native English speakers, old English is hardly (if at all) understandable. It is essentially another language. You’ve got the same deal with Platt Deutsch, but I’m not a native German speaker, so that made it all the more difficult.

Nevertheless, I found myself sitting at a dinner table with four couples in their 60s and 70s, all German, all speaking a language that I understood every fifth word of. And it had been months since I had been in a situation where I was that clueless. I felt all of my social tools from the very beginning of the year kick back into gear:

Me: Understands one sentence, experiences overwhelming and irrational pride

Me: Nods and smiles

Me: Has an internal panic attack- was he talking to me!? Do I have to respond!?

Me: Sighs in relief- nothing was directed to me.

Me: Nods and smiles

Me: *is actually addressed in conversation*

Me: … Nods and smiles.

The scene written above is an extremely accurate example of Beth’s Life from September 2016-January 2016, when I finally sort of kind of got a hang of some of the German language. Since then, I have become relatively fluent in the German language, and the teachers I spend the most time with have told me they feel confident that I could go to college here without a problem. So, being put back into a situation where I understood less than 10 percent of the language, 2 weeks before my exchange year ends, was strange. Reenacting the desperately-trying-to-understand and the nod-and-smile gig felt incredibly out of place after having spent the past six months genuinely not needing it.

Being at this dinner made me realize how far I’ve come.

It didn’t bother me that I didn’t understand the language being spoken at the table. I was swept up in the deja vu of experiencing the same feeling I had when I had dinner with my host family for the first time, of my first day of school and how utterly overwhelming it was, of the frustration I felt (and sometimes still feel) when I was unable to communicate things that were important to me, and the shiny and terrifying newness that surrounded me when I arrived here last September. I was swept up in remembering the pure exhaustion of trying to form simple sentences in a language I was introduced to in a three week crash course and the focus required in learning the ropes and rules of another family’s life.

The best way to describe the fall of my exchange year was overwhelming. Not always in a good way, and not always in a bad way. But everything was new and different and exhausting and challenging.

I remember trying to buy a sandwich in a Subway a few weeks into exchange. The woman behind the counter asked me what I now know means ”for here or to go?”, but I hadn’t learned the words yet. I asked her to repeat what she was saying until she was so exasperated that she just handed me my food and my change, and pointed to the door. A line of about fifteen people stood behind me, watching. I was completely embarrassed and left the restaurant on the verge of tears. I know now that there is nothing shameful in struggling with another language, but at the time it was mortifying.

These are the stories of exchange that people don’t talk about.

In retrospect, it seems small and completely insignificant. I’m not embarrassed anymore when I have to ask for things to be repeated, and it doesn’t bother me to explain that I am still learning the language and sometimes need extra help with it. Things like this don’t happen nearly as often now, but I know that I will feel differently if something similar happens to me while learning a different language in the future.

Occurrences like those were what made the fall overwhelming. Equally overwhelming, but in a positive light, were the advancements that I made in the language in those four months. If I were to categorize my language learning, I would say that my German skyrocketed in the first half of the year in terms of communication. By Christmas, I was able to communicate anything I wanted or needed. The second half of my year has been largely focused on grammar. Now I can communicate whatever I want or need and it is (mostly) grammatically correct. I am no longer a passive participant in conversation with my friends- I am able to make jokes, tell stories, and understand just about anything that people say to me. I have a long way to go in terms of learning vocabulary, but I feel proud of the progress I’ve made in this year and the amount of German I’ve managed to learn in 10 months.

Most of what I just wrote was reflection that went through my head while I sat at a dinner table full of senior citizens speaking a dialect of German that I don’t understand and probably never will. I didn’t learn much from conversation that night, but it was the first time I have sat and reflected on how I have changed this year, and how my values have shifted. My sense of identity as a person, as a woman, and as an American have become more shaped and refined. I have a renewed sense of compassion for people living in countries that don’t speak their native language and a drive to travel, learn languages, and to meet and understand people. Because of how busy everything has been and will continue to be as going home comes closer, I haven’t had time to really think about any of these things and what they mean going forward in my life. Even though it was one dinner where I didn’t understand a thing, which was hardly a new experience, it gave me the chance to consider everything that I’ve learned this year and how I want to apply it going forward. And I am truly grateful for it.

Leaving Porta in nine days feels surreal. Things are going to be busy busy busy and I am looking forward to all of it, even though much of it is going to be a series of difficult goodbyes. My schedule is relatively packed and it feels like time is just flying by. I’ve started packing so that I won’t have to take everything apart next week- I’d like to leave some free time for anything that unexpectedly comes up, but getting my suitcase out and figuring out what I’ll need for the next week is extremely strange. I’ll update more on packing when I’m done procrastinating on packing. ;) 

Some things I learned from this weekend and going back to not understanding:

  • Taking time for reflection is important and contributes to personal growth.
  • There is absolutely no shame in struggling with comprehension or speaking another language. Trying in and of itself is an achievement, and it’s something to be proud of.
  • Learning a language and doing an exchange can feel hopelessly impossible at the beginning; I realized how far it is possible to come after 10 months and now take more appreciation in my ability to speak German and how much I’ve been able to learn.

Thank you as always for reading along my blog, I will write more soon!


German Vocab Word of the Day: das Abendessen (dinner)


Some facts:

  • There are no water fountains, mail boxes, or ceiling fans in Germany.
  • Apparently it’s weird to eat bread with spaghetti? Is this an American thing? I feel like it’s normal to eat garlic bread specifically with spaghetti?
    • Maybe this is just my family I have no idea
  • Bathroom stalls are much more private than in the US, they’re very closed off
  • This is a good German song:
  • I am in denial.

I’m leaving Germany in 19 days. And am 100 percent in denial about it. I have MANY FEELINGS. In my last post, I said I would elaborate on some things that have happened in the last few weeks, so I will start there:

End-year Seminar in Berlin with CIEE

End Year was one of my favorite parts of this year. One of the things that makes CBYX such a special program is that it gives the exchange students the opportunity to make the most amazing friends. I have found some of my best friends in the world this year through CIEE and I am so grateful to have experienced this with them.

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Looking at these photos is making me tear up. I’m not ready to leave!!!!!

The friends I have made through this program have changed my life- they have opened my eyes to perspectives and ideas I have never heard before, kept me up until five am on crazy adventures through major cities in Germany, laughed hysterically about things that had little to no comedic value, cried with me, taken on crazy projects, given me unconditional love and support, and become my best and most trusted friends. I am a changed person for having known them and am so grateful to have had so much time together.

In Berlin, lots of crazy wonderful things happened. I had the chance to sing at the American Embassy which was CRAZY.  I am so lucky to say that I have experienced things like this! A link to the song I sang with two incredibly talented CBYX’ers can be found here.

During the seminar, we did several skits, projects, and presentations about what it’s going to be like going back home. There were many tears. We really have become a family throughout this experience and leaving each other at the end was very emotional. We had small group discussions during the week about our lives here in Germany, what we’ve learned, and how we’ve changed as people. We ended the week with a CIEE-traditional talent show. 🙂

We also saw Angela Merkel and that was insane. She waved to us. It was even more insane. Beforehand, we watched a session of the Bundestag (German Congress) and had the opportunity to ask congressional representatives about Germany and its relations with the United States.

Photos of End Year:

Wir sind eine richtige Familie geworden. ❤

Also before I forget to mention it Katie Pfohl (program coordinator for CIEE) was at Endyear and ugh she’s so cool. New CBYX’ers, you are in awesome hands Katie Pfohl is *so cool* .

Coming Home After Endyear (and all that it entails)

Leaving Endyear was, of course, very sad. However, I was glad to be coming back home to my family and friends, school, etc. Things feel normal™️.  I didn’t realize how sad I was going to be about leaving until Endyear. I knew it would be difficult, but it all hit me in Berlin and I realized that leaving here is going to be incredibly emotional. I am looking forward to coming home to NC to all of the people I have missed and I can’t wait to do theatre this summer and move to Costa Rica in August (still in disbelief about this), but leaving here is its own thing and I know I will shed an embarrassing amount of tears at the airport come June 18th.

Regardless of emotions running high, being back has just been nice. Things haven’t been crazy exciting or new, they just feel normal. And I think that’s a good thing. I don’t know how much significant progress I will make in the next 19 days with my German and I doubt I’ll make any new lifelong friendships, so I’m enjoying where I am in my exchange year and my life here. There are several friends here that I want to keep in close contact with when I get home, and a few have even mentioned visiting the US in the next year.

I had my first goodbye the other day, which was just weird. It was the mother of a girl I know decently well from my German class, and it was strange strange strange. Einfach komisch. It wasn’t a heartbreaking goodbye or anything, but it was sad to realize that I am at a point where I do have to start thinking about saying goodbye to my life here and the people in it.

On a very positive note, I have spent a lot of time with friends lately and have been busy! I have had several instances of meeting people who did not know I wasn’t German until I said it, and that’s always a motivation to work even harder on grammar and vocab!

I’m going to miss these people very, very much. I’m so glad to have met so many people this year! And leaving is going to be sad! Happy sad! :(:

I think that’s really all that’s been going on right now. Things have been very calm for the past few weeks. I feel very normal and happy here. I am generally more relaxed because I don’t get stressed out about literally talking to people.

  • I have always always been a people person. But being a people person in a language you don’t speak is *very difficult*.
    • **I have gained very valuable listening skills because of not being able to speak as much.**

Note: I told myself at the beginning of the year that I’d journal consistently. I kept it up pretty well until about December (my favorite month of my exchange year) and then have really been terrible about it since then. I wish I had been better about it! I would have loved to have a daily update. Another idea would have been to create an instagram account and update it weekly with important things that happened for people back home. This would also be awesome to look back on, I may do this in Costa Rica. Food for thought for future exchange students.

I’ve started reading more in the past 2 weeks and really would like to finish at least 2 books in German before coming home. I have also gotten a little bit lazy since finishing watching How I Met Your Mother in German and have watched some English tv.

Bildergebnis für bad dobby

BAD BETH! I am going to better about this. I am going to miss speaking and hearing German when I am gone in *nineteen* days. So I am going to be an opportunist and use the time I have with German all around me to really enjoy it and soak it in.

ALSO: the other day in politics class, I was writing something down and realized that without focusing on it, I was hearing and understanding everything that a girl across the room was saying about social injustice in Germany. I wasn’t paying attention because I was working on something, but I realized that my brain was comprehending everything she was saying without even trying.

Exchange student success. 

I think that’s about it from me for now. I am normal and good and happy and full of love. And in denial about leaving so soon, but really focusing on spending my last days here as well as I possibly can.

Things I am looking forward to in the next 19 days:

-My last choir rehearsal for both choirs I am in

-I have maybe 4 days of math class yet? I AM THRILLED.

-Performing at my school’s Summer Fest

-My host grandparent’s fiftieth wedding anniversary and celebration

-Seeing the other CIEE’ers at the airport and being together when going home

-Completing C1 grammar in this god-forsakenly difficult language.

-Spending time with friends and host family

-Taking trains I am honestly going to miss taking trains they are so fun.

-Studying vocab with my French friend every day in the first pause of the school day!

For anyone who’s curious: my Stundenplan/schedule! This is my school week. 🙂 The highlighted classes are my LK’s, basically my “majors”.

Okay. I think that is really all I have for now. Thank you all so much for reading or skimming or visiting my page, I really appreciate it. If you are a rising CBYX’er reading this on the CIEE blog page, please leave any questions about exchange in the comments section! I am planning on making a “What I Wish I Knew” post and would love to answer lots of questions in one place for you all.

Bis bald,


German Vocab Word of the Day: dankbar (thankful)

Knapp vier Wochen: The 25 Day Mark

I’m in a time crunch at the moment so I will write a big full update about the following within the next few days:

  • End-year Seminar in Berlin with CIEE
    • Lots and lots and lots of tears
      • I am not ready to leave this place
    • Having the opportunity to sing at the American Embassy in Berlin!?
    • Dealing with going home but leaving home, and talking about reverse culture shock.
      • Which will be an interesting blog post after I get home
    • Saw Angela Merkel I repeat saw Angela Merkel I repeat saw Angela Merkel I repeat saw Angela Merkel I repeat saw Angela Merkel I repeat saw Angela Merkel I repeat saw Angela Merkel
      • We saw Angela Merkel
      • She waved
    • Had the chance to do a questions panel with members of the German Congress (the Bundestag)
    • End-Year was a highlight of my year. True fact.
  • Coming home from End-Year and starting school again, getting ready to say goodbyes in Porta Westfalica
    • I had my first goodbye today? What????
  • A  day trip I took to Hannover with some of my best friends in the world
  • Conflicted emotions about leaving and coming home.
    • Avoiding thinking about packing at all costs
      • Because a) stressig and b) saddest thing ever
  • Exciting news: I have reached C1 level in German and am doing really well with grammar, vocab, etc.! I feel that I have made significant improvement in comprehension and speaking ability in the past month.

So I have 25 days left in this beautiful country and I am really torn up about it. I have been doing really well recently and have felt extremely motivated to make the most of my last time here after End-Year. It was wonderful to see the other students from CIEE and meet people from other regions. I was so so SO sad to have to say goodbye to my fellow CIEE’ers, but I know we will see each other again. 🙂

Things I am looking forward to in the next three and a half (3.5 oh my god) weeks:

-Taking a day trip to Bremen

-Working on my German: specifically, grammar that is seriously impossible but high-level, so I feel proud of myself for making progress.

-Spending time with my host family and friends.

-Not stressing out about math class

-Several 3 and 4 day weekends

-Finishing (and starting) at least 2 German books

-Journaling more

-My last few choir rehearsals

-Singing at my school’s Summer Fest and helping with set up and clean up for the entire day

-A few different birthday parties and hang-outs with friends

  • No joke: getting invited to things and feeling like people actively want you there is one of the hugest exchange student successes that exist.

I will elaborate on all of these things as soon as I get a chance to sit down and really write, my guess is sometime this weekend! I look forward to updating again!!

As always, lots of love to everyone back home. I will be terribly sad to leave but I cannot wait to see all of you. ❤



German Vocab Word of the Day: das Wochenende (weekend)


Six Weeks Left: Fears, Goals, and Reflections

I realized the other day that I will be leaving Germany in six weeks. Forty days as of today, actually. And that is c r a z y. I have some very mixed feelings about coming home. I am thrilled to see my family and friends and be home for the summer before leaving again, but flying back to North Carolina is going to be difficult and sad. I don’t know if I feel ready to leave. I feel established and normal and at home and accepted by all my peers (I have an anecdote bout my peers in a bit). I get invited to parties and hang outs and poetry slams. I’ve had to *choose* which social event to attend. That is hugely exciting! Huge exchange student victory! In all honesty, my social life in the first half of this year was pitiful. It had to do with a number of things- being uncharacteristically shy, feeling like I didn’t belong, being unable to shake the feeling that people who spent time with me were doing it out of pity, and a lack of comfort in the German language. And that was hard. I spent a lot of weekends in my room or hanging out with my host family. That’s not a complaint! It’s just how my exchange played out. As my German improved, (and my confidence with it) speaking in groups has become less intimidating, I have stopped feeling like a social burden, and I have had a lot of fun with people I really enjoy. I think one of the key things I wish I had known before exchange was that I would feel like a social burden because of my lack of language skills, but that that voice in my head was not worth listening to.

Anecdote about my peers:

Until a month ago, I was the only exchange student at my school. There was a fair amount of buzz around this which was a little overwhelming but did help me become friendly with most people in my grade. In my Gymnasium (German version of a high school), the students in my grade have been together since age 11, so all of them know each other, and all of them know my name. I haven’t been able to memorize all 150ish names of the people in my grade which can occasionally be super awkward. This was definitely something that was different for me in my American high school, because I did not know everyone’s names by heart, which I don’t think is atypical. The point this mess of a paragraph is coming to, is that I do not know everyone in my grade, but everyone knows me.

I was sitting in German class the other day and talking to a boy who I know decently (but I can’t remember his name and feel like it would be too awkward to ask at this point). He asked me if I wanted to go Steine sammeln, or rock collecting, later. I was a little confused but he told me it was a thing and so I believed it was a thing because I’m American- who am I to not believe a German who tells me that something is a thing? I had plans that afternoon so I told him I couldn’t go Steine sammeln, but said I’d love to go another time. He then asked me if he should invite another boy in our class to go Steine sammeln. I told him it couldn’t hurt to invite him, and that maybe the other guy would want to do something calm and methodic after a week of school. The boy I was talking to looked at me strangely and explained that Steine sammeln was not calm or methodic- it was, in fact risky and dangerous. I was very confused. I told him that I thought collecting rocks meant something else and that it must mean something different from what I thought. The bell rang and I started collecting my things. As the boy walked out, he turned around and casually mentioned ”Oh, by the way. *Nobody* goes Steine sammeln! How could you possibly believe that?!”

Again, I was just very confused. So I accepted that it was a prank and laughed about it, and went to my next class.

Since this incident, *three* boys in my grade have invited me to go Steine sammeln. Every time I am extremely skeptical, they convince me it is a cultural thing, I agree to go collect rocks, and they die of laughter. I am honestly bamboozled by this whole operation, but I think it is hilarious and am just slightly confused.

Stories like this make me love exchange, they really do. They are random and weird and I don’t understand them, but they are things I will always remember. Another notable instance was walking into a bakery with an American friend of mine and seeing a trash can that literally looked like this:


I love Germany. I really really really really love it here. But in what world does a trash can for *used paper towels and tampon wrappers* have huge holes in the bottom? This is something I simply fail to understand. I can’t reason it at all in my head. I think it’s hilarious, but this type of waste bin really sets a poor example for stereotypical German ingenuity. Nevertheless, I will remember walking into a bathroom in a bakery in Bad Laasphe with a friend of mine and trying to make sense of a trash can with holes in the bottom, and those are the types of memories that I adore about exchange.

As going home draws closer and closer, I perpetually worry about not having done ”enough” over exchange. I was talking to my good friend Virginia (who writes AMAZING blog posts) and she expressed her worries to me about not feeling ready to leave, wondering if she will be missed here, if she has done enough in her family, and if she has done exchange ”right”. Hearing Virginia’s thoughts on these issues was incredibly relieving, because I have experienced all of the above. I have no idea what doing exchange ”right” means. I don’t even know if there’s a concrete definition for it. But I do know I want to come out of this year without having any regrets, and I’ve felt successful in that so far. A sense of urgency is now present for me that wasn’t when I still had eight months left here. I have under thirty school days left which is mind-blowing to me, and I want to be sure that I make the best of all of it. I’m going to focus on achieving that by spending time with my host family and friends, participating more in school, and making vocab flashcards (maybe).

I’ve worried consistently about not having learned enough German, but I’m finally learning to let that go and be proud of the B2 level that I’m currently at. German is a really difficult language and I can fluently communicate in it! These are good things that are good to be proud of. :) A big lesson I’ve learned this year is to chill out- things don’t have to be perfect. They won’t go as planned. I’ve found that having expectations about living abroad is fruitless and can be detrimental to a positive attitude that is nothing short of critical when living in a new country.

Forty days is going to be over before I can believe it, so I am going to focus on being grateful. Grateful for the opportunity to live somewhere else and build a second life and grateful for a new family and support system who I dearly love. Grateful for the chance to learn an unprecedented amount about myself and what I want, and grateful for all of the small things that make me fall in love with the time I have spent here.

Chapel Hill, I’m coming for you. But not quite yet.

Until next time,


German Vocab Word of the Day: die Blume (flower)


Exchange is a long and crazy emotional ride, and it is one I consider myself extraordinarily privileged to have experienced. That being said, there are things I: love, find difficult, will miss, and was surprised, about exchange. Lots of things will fall into several categories, because with exchange, to use hip slang cool words- it goes from 0 to 100, and there is no in-between. So, without further ado:

Things that I *love* about exchange:
-Making a new home and family
-Learning a new language!!
-New foods @knödel @döner @rotkohl @currywurst @spekulatius @schnitzel @spaghettieis… You get the picture.
-New friendships 🙂
-Meeting other exchange students (a highly unerrated part of this exchange program, but wonderful friendships are formed with other struggling exchange students and it’s GREAT)
-Small exchange victories. Mostly saying a sentence in proper grammatical order or successfully ordering food. Or not being recognized as a foreigner!!!!
-Discovering small cultural differences that I find hilarious.
-Other people telling me that normal cultural things for me are hilarious. (i.e explaining that there is an American sandwich called a “fluffernutter”.)
-New holiday traditions @WEIHNACHTSMÄRKTE

Things that I *find difficult* about exchange:
-Feeling like an outsider
-Doing things differently than people who live here
-Sometimes feeling isolated
-Being laughed at when I say something wrong
-Learning another language!!!
-Not understanding things that are going on (although, this has become significantly easier. 🙂 )

Things I *will miss* about exchange:
-Speaking German all day, every day.
-Small exchange victories
-Kinder chocolate products omg.
-German food and music
-Flexible school schedule (ie free periods and being allowed to leave school during them, no substitutes, etc.)
-My bedroom
-My host dog
-My exchange student friends
-Everything I listed in the “Things I Love” category.

Things that I *was surprised* about exchange:
-This country is absolutely beautiful. 10/10 would recommend.
-No wifi in schools 😠
-Paying to use bathrooms
-No water fountains??? Anywhere in the country??????
-Crazy crazy stretches of fast language learning followed by plateaus
-There is so! Much! Free time! In! This! Country! (I actually think this was hardest thing for me to get used to upon arriving here.)
-Food in Germany is way cheaper than in the US- just about everything else is more expensive.
-School is regarded as the student’s responsibility. Teachers don’t reprimand their students for missing work the way they do in America.
-People will honestly regard you as if you will become sick and die if you don’t wear slippers in the house.
-It is much more common for people my age to have been in the same relationship for 2+ years. Also, it is completely normal to have your significant other sleep over, which is waaaay different from young dating culture in the US.

Things I *will miss* about exchange:
-Just about everything written above. Even the things that are really difficult.
-Waking up in my room and my walk to school
-Speaking German in all of my verbal communication
-Germany goes all out for Christmas and I am going to be so sad to not see it next year.
-My host family and friends ❤
-Less strict school schedule
-Inherent freedoms that come with living abroad as an exchange student
-The whole life that I have built here 😞

Now that I am coming home in 7 weeks (SEVEN WEEKS!?), I am reflecting a lot on the year, the things I’ve loved and hated, and the things I will definitely miss. I will for sure make a “what I wish I knew as an exchange student” post as going home comes closer, but for now I want to enjoy the last two months I have in my second home and in this gorgeous country. Some things I am looking forward to in the coming weeks:

-End Year Seminar with Experiment/CIEE. I will be with all of the other exchange students on CBYX in Berlin for a week!
-Lots of three day weekends (Germany has a *lot* of holidays in May and June)
-Himmelfahrt, a four day weekend where I will travel to south Germany with my host family.
-Celebrating one of my best friend here’s birthday in a few weeks!
-Improving my German. Immer noch…
-Not experiencing strong academic stress before Costa Rica and the IB program.
-Celebrating my host grandparents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary

This post has been in the making for over a week so I’m going to put it up now. I am very sad about the prospect of leaving so soon, but excited about coming home and the things that will happen beforehand. I am so grateful for this opportunity and can’t wait to see what the next weeks will bring!


German Vocab Word of the Day: die Naturwissenschaft (science)


It has been two months since I have so much as written a single word on this blog. I have been busy busy busy! And I swore at the beginning of the year that I would be *consistent*, but alas. I have failed myself. I apologize for my absence and melodrama! It’s been an eventful two months that has also, funnily enough, been marked by feeling completely settled in and a little bit uneventful. Finally, I feel totally settled in. I feel confident in my German and can do just about anything I need. I haven’t struggled with getting anything important or normal conversation for about the past month. I wouldn’t call myself fluent yet, because my grammar isn’t perfect and there is vocabulary I need to learn, but I am most definitely proficient. And feeling satisfied with it! I was feeling very down for a few weeks and disenchanted with exchange in general- I felt that my German was nowhere near good enough, and that I had ”done exchange wrong” because of it. A real talk with my host mom snapped me out of it and I’ve been doing well since. Apparently, I am a perfectionist.

Aside from a period of homesickness and frustration with not feeling fluent enough (what does that even mean?) I am doing very well! School feels normal, I definitely feel that my German has improved, my two choirs are good and fun, and I feel at ease with everything that goes on in everyday life. My current concern is about friends: my best friends and core group here are girls who are in the 12th grade, a year older than me. Because they are doing final exams, they leave school this Friday to study before they graduate. I’m happy for them because they are almost at the end of twelve years of schooling, but I am going to miss seeing them every day at school. That’s been difficult for me recently, but we will still see each other for our choir rehearsals, which are at least twice a week.


Mottowoche! The equivalent of Spirit Week, the seniors get out of class and dress up in costumes, and go from classroom to classroom playing games and throwing out little candies, etc.


 Can you spot the American?


I did not appreciate the attempt to take unflattering photos of me at nine am.

In conclusion, I really love my friends here in the 12th grade, and I’m going to miss them a lot. However, I have good friends in my grade too, and I am really excited to focus more on my friendships with them and to strengthen them. Positive outlooks! I have found that being on exchange requires pretty much undying optimism, because consistently second-guessing everything you say and do can be exhausting. It’s not really discussed when people explain exchange, but living in another country with another family and a new language is absolutely draining. I was talking the other day to a girl here who spent a year in California, and she summed up exchange fantastically: ”Ich hab so viel gesehen und gelernt. Es war wunderschön- Aber dieses Jahr hat mich fertig gemacht.” The best translation I have is: ”I saw and learned so much. It was wonderful- but that year broke me.” I know that breaking has a terribly negative context in English, but in German, the idea is that the year was absolutely draining and more difficult than anything that girl has ever done. I feel that. In terms of energy loss, frustration and inability to communicate, an exchange year has those things in the bag. On the other hand, in terms of great friendships, language acquisition, and an immense amount of growing up, an exchange year has those things in the bag. You win some, you lose some. But I have found so far that doing an exchange year has many moe wins than losses. Going in, the losses for me were expected. Language barriers, cultural differences, homesickness- and it made the wins much more exciting and invigorating. They help me recharge and motivate me to work to learn and see more, and that is a wonderful thing.

Some good things: last week I went to Amsterdam! I saw some incredible things and had an amazzzzing time. So amazing that it warranted four z’s. I highly suggest going to Amsterdam. It is beautiful.

 My favorite host family pun of all time: do you even Gast, bro?

We spent a good three hours in the Rijks Museum, the largest museum of Dutch history in Holland. I easily could have spent another two hours looking at all of the art and objects, it was an incredible museum!

 Amsterdam is very cool. I very much recommend it. 🙂  

Another good thing! My dad came to visit me this week, which is awesome! It is really good to see him and I am very glad we have the chance to spend time together in my home here. I am so lucky to have such a supportive family! Two supportive families, for that matter! Other than that, it is very weird that this year is coming to an end. I will still be here for around two months, but I have about 30 days of school left, and that is just crazy to me. I am going to miss it here a lot. I am super excited to go to Costa Rica, but leaving Germany is starting to feel real, and it makes me very sad. Most notably, my two choirs have their next concerts two weeks after I leave, which is difficult, because I am preparing for a concert with my friends that I will not be singing in. I am happy to be singing, but it’s definitely bittersweet to know I won’t be singing in the concerts.

Latch by Sam Smith at a concert through my school. I played with a friend of mine!

How Great Thou Art with Porta Westfalica’s gospel choir- I was so excited to sing this with them!

Singing in concerts this year has been a ton of fun this year and I’ve loved being able to keep doing music here. The two links above are my favorite videos from the year. Even though I’m sad to be done with the concerts here in Germany, I am so happy to have been able to have done them. My placement here in Porta is awesome, I couldn’t be happier. All in all, I am looking ahead to the next two months, improving my language, working on more friendships, and acknowledging my small successes more.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, study abroad! It is the best and most wonderful thing you ever will do. Message me if you are interested or not- I will do my best to convince you. 😉

Sending love to home!

Liebe Grüße,


German Vocab Word of the Day: das Handy (cell phone)

Some Big! Wow! Crazy! Exciting! News!

**Please note! I began writing this post about two months ago!**

Hello dear readers!

It’s been a hot second since I’ve written on this blog, so I apologize for my absence but am happy to be back! When I’d last written, I was a happy lil American living the dream in a foreign country. Not too much has changed since then, except for my Big! Wow! Crazy! Exciting! News! If we’re friends on Facebook,you know this already, but if you’re reading this on the CIEE website, then this is news to you and indicative of a brand new fun study abroad opportunity!

So. My Big! Wow! Crazy! Exciting! News! has to do with where I will be next year. I chose to graduate a year late in doing CBYX, so next year will be my junior year instead of my senior year. While in Germany this year, I decided to apply for a different program called UWC, a full scholarship program that sends fifty American students all over the world to study in international boarding schools for two years. There are campuses in seventeen different countries (including Germany and the United States!) 25 of the selected Americans study on the American campus in Montezuma, New Mexico, and the other 25 are sent to other schools around the world. One boy and one girl are selected per international school.

I decided to apply for UWC in November with very low hopes and expectations, and was thrilled to advance to the semi-finalist stage, and then, a few weeks later, to the finalist stage. I found out about two weeks ago (now two months ago- I haven’t written in forever!) that I have been accepted to study in COSTA RICA for the next two years under the IB curriculum with UWC.


So! I will be going home in June and do a show for the summer before resting for about two weeks and packing to move to CR. I am SO incredibly excited about this, and am indescribably grateful to have had opportunities like these programs in my life. I cannot encourage studying abroad enough, take the leap and apply! It will be a big! Wow! Crazy! Exciting! Decision! And it will be absolutely worth it.

Until next time,


German Vocab Word of the Day: reisen (to travel)

Settling In

Hello friends,

I’ve been wanting to write a January update, but not too much has been blowing up in terms of news this month. Two posts ago (accessible here), I wrote a long account of fun adventures that I did at the beginning of January, and things have been laying low since then. A few weeks ago, the program had its mid-year seminar. All of the students on the CIEE portion of CBYX, the ones who I spent Language Camp with (read about Language Camp here) met at a youth hostel in Bonn and we spent the weekend together again after five months of exchange. Seeing everyone again and seeing how far we all had come was exciting and heart-warming, and it was wonderful to be back with a group of such bright and kind individuals. We all spoke German! It was crazy and so so cool! The magic of five months of immersion, hab ich Recht, oder hab ich Recht?

Mid-Year was great and basically a little weekend of Language Camp nostalgia, I was definitely sad to leave. However, January being a typical month for me seems to indicate that I am finally settled in, which is how I do feel. I go to choir on Mondays, Spanish on Thursdays, and an Amnesty International extra-curricular group every other week. I do fun things after school like hopping on a train to go see a modern art museum in the next city with a friend or grabbing coffee during a free period. I have more choir on Saturdays, I play ukulele and watch German dubbed How I Met Your Mother in my free time, and get along well with everyone at school. Just lots of normal things. And that is good! I feel at home here. I understand the train system, I walk to school and go through a different schedule every day, and I feel like a part of my host family’s family. I even feel at home with my incorrect German and the amount that I still don’t understand. I always heard from other exchange students that they felt that they were proficient by five months of exchange. I can say that I most definitely feel proficient, but I think that my idea of proficient was different before coming here. I assumed that proficient was a large vocab base, a thorough understanding of grammar, and not having to pause to think about how to say something.


I was wrong mostly on that third point, the idea that proficiency is equal to not having to pause to think about how to say something. I have learned a ridiculous amount of vocabulary for the (objectively) short amount of time that I’ve been here, and I understand *some* grammar. German grammar is unspeakably (ha, get it?) difficult. But, I find myself having to pause often to figure out how to say something  and to get it across in the way that I mean it. On the other hand, I can understand a rough 60-70 percent of everything that happens around me and can respond accordingly at almost all times. I think it’s fair to say that that’s proficient.

My comments on grammar and proficiency were longer than I intended them to be, so I apologize to non-language nerds who have been bored for the last two paragraphs. I wanted to write an update about school and the classes I’m taking, now that I am in the second semester of the school year here. My feelings on my classes as recorded in September can be seen here. My feelings on my classes as of now can be seen in the following:

Musik: Still, I love this class. We are putting on a concert at the end of this month and performing a Les Miserables medley, which makes me really, really, really excited. Since the concert is being organized by the students, some things can be poorly planned  or double-scheduled at times, which is frustrating. But, overall, no complaints. I have been loving the course.

Biologie: I dropped this class. It was boring and I took Bio freshman year. I replaced it with…

Erdkunde: Geography! I’m still relatively new to this course because we only meet twice a week, but the teacher is eccentric and funny and I understand a lot of what goes on. Small exchange successes!

Religion: We still learn Christian religion, which I think is interesting. I like the teacher and the assignments we do are engaging, I’m definitely glad I am taking it.

Deutsch: I am still taking ten hours of German class a week. It is a lot. In the US, a class spends about two weeks on a topic that is really important, and maybe 4 days for a topic that is standard. In Germany, we spend about two months per topic. This can be a little exhausting, but being in a German as a Second Language Course has been a life-saver and has helped me so much with grammar and vocabulary.

Mathe: Exchange has been so good to me and I have been so fortunate to have been handed all of the luck in the world in terms of host family and friends and extra-curriculars. That being said: I hate this class. Being positive is an important part of staying sane while living in a country where you don’t understand anything, and I have given all of my best efforts to do that in every area of my life here. But. I hate my math class. We are learning calculus, which I have never learned. Cady Heron was wrong. Math is NOT the same in every language. However, I am doing my best and all that good stuff, but I do not expect to be able to understand and learn complicated mathematics that I have never dealt with, in another language.

Sozialwissenschaft (SW, or SoWi): My politics class! The teacher can be a little bit boring but he is interested in American politics and we have interesting class discussions, I definitely wish there was more of an outlet to be able to have those conversations in American schools.

Philosophie: I LOVE this class. The teacher is so very eccentric, but wickedly intelligent, and we talk about topics that are impossible to solve, but wildly interesting to talk about. Philosophy is definitely one of my favorite classes.

Englisch: Also one of my favorites, but not really because of the learning value I get from it. My teacher, though sweet and very smart, made the fatal mistake of telling me in front of the class that I speak “false English”, because “That’s what happens when one is American.” My classmates have not stopped making jokes since. I might add that her comment about me not speaking “correct” English came about after I pronounced the words “tissue” and “issue” with a sh sound where the double s lies. She was convinced that they were to be pronounced with only an s sound and has not stopped saying “issoo” and “tissoo” in front of the class simply to prove that both pronunciations work. I don’t think I have ever had to hold back as much laughter as when a woman who learned English in a German college told me that I don’t speak English. Our topic for the next two months is the American Dream, and I think it will be interesting to hear my classmate’s perspectives in an academic setting about my country and its values.

Jugendchor: Like I mentioned in my first post about classes, singing in the school choir is recorded on the students’ report card. Choir is as good as ever, I am very grateful to have outlets to sing here. 

It is already February and this year is just flying by. This Friday will mark five months since I moved in with my host family, and I have been in Germany for nearly six months. All good things. I am content with life and the way I have been settled in, and I am grateful for all of the opportunities I have had here.


German Vocab Word of the Day: die Gabel (fork)