(Originally written on Dec. 16th, 2016)
Though it seems slow at times, I can tell that my integration into German society is really coming along! When looking at where I started, which was generally no German language at all, seeing that I can now continue conversations for longer than 20 or 30 minutes without switching to English means that fluency may be a possible goal. This proves that the fastest way to learn a language really is by immersion!
For those curious souls who were wondering what I meant by assisting a few surgeries, that was no joke. This is a perfect time to explain how Germany established a process of work-study weeks for high school students. Many 10th-grade and 11th-grade students will be able to become an apprentice for two weeks in either a practical or social work environment. Unfortunately, due to my earlier leave from Germany, I wouldn’t be able to participate at the same time. Fortunately, I am able to find my own times to do similar feats during vacations or other breaks with the help of knowing certain individuals that I could ‘shadow’. In this case, I was lucky enough to have a host father who practices Neurosurgery! My host father gave me the option pretty early on in my study to watch in on one of his days in the OR. I accepted his offer graciously and participated during my fall break.
After taking up that amazing opportunity, I had a clear view of what a day in the field could potentially hold. That alone had boosted my interest in a very broad and fascinating line of work and even led me to decide on different colleges. Due to the opportunities that Germany had been able to offer, I could change more than just my view about a culture, but also my own future endeavors.
The day right after that life-changing adventure, I had set off on a completely new one; it was still Autumn Break. I took the train to Munich and spent three days with people from the program that I am in the hands of while over here. While in Munich, I enjoyed tours of extremely neat historical places, including Neuschwanstein, which was the castle that Walt Disney had based Cinderella’s Castle from. I had a great time exploring the city as well, as it was different to see how the different areas of Germany have totally diverse cultural traditions. We had come to Bavaria only a few weeks after Oktoberfest, leaving an interesting break to see the real culture of Southern Germany before the city would swell with people once more when the Christmas Markets would set up. It was great to see some of the people from my program as well so we could touch base and see how everything had proceeded while living in our host communities. After enjoying the wonderful sights of a large city, I was picked up by my host family and headed for the Alps. It only took a couple hours to end up right in the middle of the hills, and they were most definitely alive!
(The view from within Neuschwanstein Castle)
We ended up staying in the center of the mountain lines in a valley town called Großarl and was easily one of the prettiest places I had ever stayed. We stayed at a hotel that was in the central area of town, allowing us to drive to many different hiking trails. Just choosing which ones to hike seemed like an impossible decision! The day we arrived, we took a short hike on a mountainside that ended up reaching a playground that was on the edge of the mountainside and looked over the vast and mystical terrain that surrounded us.
(My host father wanted to be a little bit courageous and hiked down to the edge to get a better view)
The next day, we took one of the coolest hikes I think I had ever been on. We set out for a trail called Himmelsleiter, which translates as the “Ladder to Heaven”. Here are some of the sights we feasted our eyes upon:
We spent one last day in the Alps with a trip to a cavern and a wonderful evening walk by some more natural Austrian scenery.
After our stay in the Alps, we drove across the country to Vienna to enjoy the history, recreation, and lavish architecture that came with it. We even ended up riding one of the oldest working Ferris Wheels in the world!
(Park in Vienna with the best depiction of Autumn I have ever witnessed)
After our short stay in Vienna, we drove up to Prague, which was our last stop of the trip. I have heard many recommendations to go to this wonderful Czech city, and it surely does not disappoint! The culture is a fantastic brew of street artists, traditional Czech food, and medieval buildings and bridges. We enjoyed walking around the city and taking in the final view of the wondrous Prague skyline before spending the last night and enduring our eight-hour drive back home the next day.
After the trip, things just reverted to how it was before the vacation. Whether it was finishing college applications, trying to learn more German vocabulary, or continuing my local club activities, I always had something to keep me busy. However, one thing has become very clear within the month of November – this is not a vacation anymore. I am not here to soak up the joy and wonder that Germany can give me without having a positive contribution back towards my community. So, the most logical thing to do was to join even more activities! Joining the local orchestra and local volleyball group could help me get more involved with team-building and could allow me to integrate more as a member of the community. Switching a few of my courses in school allowed me to form more connections with kids within my age group. It also made it so I could enjoy lessons that were easier to take part in, rather than sitting and staring without providing any feedback during the lessons.
Though November truly allotted more time to adjust, it also allowed me to prepare for the more important stuff… the holidays! Thanksgiving was right around the corner, yet I had no specific history of making full Thanksgiving meals, and we didn’t have a kitchen or refrigerator large enough to hold the loads of food that would typically amass from such a feast. Luckily, I was invited by another current CBYX student to celebrate it with his family! He lives in an area around Cologne, so we met in the center of the city to peruse the Christmas Markets (as they just begun popping up), and enjoy the livelihood around the area. The next day, we enjoyed a delicious meal with his host family. I did the honors of carving the turkey, and we had all the essentials (minus a pumpkin pie) that would complete a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
There are a few traditions in Germany that are very specific to the region, and cannot be found in America or other countries around the globe. One of these is the celebration of Adventszeit. This is celebrated in the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas and is usually distinguished by calendars with gifts counting down to Christmas Eve, Christmas Markets decorating every town across the country, and bounties of food to indulge in. After receiving my very own Advents Calendar (thanks to my loving host family), and performing Klezmer music at the Christmas Market in my town, I was feeling more and more festive as the month went on. Enjoying these festivities in one of Germany's many historic castles can make the experience even more magical! This past weekend, we enjoyed going to a huge market located at Schloss Dyck, which was in the area around Düsseldorf.
For the holidays, my mother sent me a package with a plentiful of goodies to share with my friends and family filled with brownie mixes, pie ingredients, and a whole lot more. Right after, I made my signature Key Lime Pie to celebrate the season and to bring a small hint of Florida back into my life.
(A beer glass fell from the refrigerator door onto the pie, and I had to improvise…)
Though the holidays are usually something that would be missed back at home, I am really thankful to celebrate them in a totally different culture and to experience even more things that I would have never thought to see back in America.
Bis zum nächsten Mal, (Until next time,)