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!
^ Thanksgiving 2016!
Our two turkeys. <3 We ate them real fast.
It was a happy weekend!
It’s not a southern Thanksgiving without a pecan pie.
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.
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:
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,
German Vocab Word of the Day: die Ukulele- ukulele!