Thursday, December 9, 2010

'You can't have everything.' (aka the-phrase-that-is-really-annoying-to-hear-but-is-true)

This past week has been hectic because I've somewhat overloaded my schedule. On Mondays I'm in the school Theater club until evenings, Tuesdays I have Chor and Yoga, Wednesdays I'm in a Scout's group, and I this week I tried to add Horse Vaulting into my schedule (which would have to be on Thursdays and Sundays). Even though I really enjoyed my first Vaulting lesson and I could technically fit it into my schedule, I decided that it would leave me with not enough time at home with my host family. Everything feels in place for me to have everything that I wanted out of this year and more- I'm discovering/ pursuing new interests, I'm building a really good relationship with my host family, I'm learning the language quickly, there are lots of cool people who I want to be friends with, and I get to travel to a lot of places (Denmark, Spain, France, London, and Belgium). But there is always a but- you can't have everything. I can't pursue all of my new interests here, travel to lots of places, develop good relationships in school, become fluent in the language, and be super close to my host family. It doesn't work- I don't have the endless reserves of energy to achieve that and I only 10.5 months here. I think it's lovely that I have to choose from so many things that I love and make me really happy, but that doesn't make the decision any easier. I've decided to prioritize making strong relationships over pursuing all of my interests because I would really regret it if I went through my exchange year without having made any lifelong friendships. It's hard to have the possibility of so much and to not be able to have all of it, but at the same time that's what makes what you have special- because there was a possibility of not having it, but you chose it.

On an entirely different note, I've learned some interesting new words. One is Kopfkino, which literally translates to head cinema/ head movie theater and is used to refer to when someone hears or reads something they see it in their head like a movie. The other is Ohrwurm, which translates to 'ear worm' and is the phrase used for when you have a song stuck in your head. Now I have four favorite words- Kopfkino, Ohrworm, genau, and doch. Genau amuses me to no end because it is way overused by the Germans (similar to how overused the word 'like' is in english) and because it means 'exactly', which fits into the stereotype of exact, rule abiding Germans. I also like the fact that everyone seems to have their own unique way of saying it. I also love the word 'doch', which combines 'but yes' into one word. For example if someone were to say to me 'we have no key to get into the house.' and I had the key then I would say 'Doch, I have it.' You can also use doch to argue with someone, for example if someone disagrees with you and says 'No you can't do that' or 'No, that's not true.', your simple reply can be 'Doch.' meaning 'Yeah I can do that.' or 'But it is true'. I also love the fact that in German you can write a page long word to describe something very particular. For example 'the-ink-on-the-metal-tongs-in-the-machine-that-makes-tips-for-fountain-pens' would be written as one word in German.

So that's all I have time for for now. This weekend I'm going to Dresden and visiting the Weihnachtmarkt (Christmas Market) there, so I'll get some good pictures and hopefully I'll have the chance/ computer ability to post pictures next time.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Finally blogging :)

I'm really sorry that it's taking me so long to blog. These past two months have been full of ups and downs and it has often been stressful and exhausting. Even though it's hard, I really love it here.

I have a really awesome host family who are very kind and patient with me. I have a small pale yellow room on the first floor with a view of the garden and the windmills in the distance (in the morning the sun rises over them and it's really beautiful). We have a lot of family who live nearby and we visit them often. I particularly enjoy this because I don't see my relatives at home very often. I especially like visits with Oma and Opa because that means super yummy Kuchen (cakes), or even better Oma's specialty sweet dumplings with a cherry sauce, and I really enjoy their company. With Oma we always play Rummy, her favorite card game, and when she comes to visit us while Mama is working, we play Ping-Pong in the Greenhouse. Opa enjoys talking to me about various things and telling me about his favorite hobby- hang-gliding. Opa wants to make his English better so he speaks in English to me, while I respond in German. Normally I'm very obstinate about everyone always or at least almost always speaking German to me, but I decided it was okay for Opa to speak English with me because he seems to really enjoy it.

Right now everyone is getting ready for Christmas and we had our first snow a couple of days ago. Life here has only just begun to feel totally normal and natural. Always hearing and speaking German also feels totally normal, except, that is, when there is an English speaker being interviewed on the News or when the news shows Obama speaking, and dub it over. For some reason I'm always confused at first when they do this- why would the news station dub over something I understand?! But then I realize who yeah- that's english and I'm in Germany where they don't speak English... Once I realize that and get over the fact that they are dubbing something I can perfectly understand, then I'm actually able to understand the dubbed voice, which is pretty cool. I've made lot's of progress with learning German. I've now been journaling almost entirely in German and earlier this week I finished my first book in German. It's technically a Manga- so it's not very hard to read, but hey it's progress! I had bought the book in Celle because I had read some earlier books in the series (the series is called Fruits Basket in case anyone's wondering) and I thought it would be helpful to read a book with a lot of visual aid :) . It was really cool because when I first began the book I was living in Habighorst, and it was really slow reading because I would have to look up pretty much every other word, so I stopped reading it until a few weeks after arriving in Papendorf. I then discovered that my German had become good enough to be able to read up to five pages and understand enough that I didn't need to look up any words! I've now begun to read Coraline, which is quite a bit harder (12 and up) and so far that's going well. I'm also very proud to say that I can understand a lot in movies and without subtitles!!

I go to a cool school where everyone walks around in socks and it often reminds me of Casco Bay. The teachers are nice and even though I don't understand a lot of what the teacher says to the class, with some explaining I'm usually able to do the classwork and home-work. My classes include History, English, French, Philosophy, Gym, Music, German, Calculas, Physics, and a free block everyday, which I use for reading and doing homework. I find the concentration and effort that is required to pay attention and try to understand in school, often difficult to mantain- it's exhausting to have to focus so much!  I've also had difficulty in making friends because right now, it's hard for me to participate in conversations. I understand about half of the conversations I hear, but even when I understand, I often can't think of anything to say. Even though I don't have anyone I consider to be real friends, I do have people that I hang out with at school and I'm going to see the new Harry Potter movie with a group of them. I know I will have friends- it just takes time to build real relationships and it takes time to learn a new language and understand a new culture. Right now is the hardest part of the exchange- I have to put effort into every aspect of my life- making friends, building relationships, learning the language, and often just trying to understand. I am often sad, confused, discouraged, but I am also often truly happy and content. So, we'll see where it all goes and I'm going to keep putting everything I have into this because I want to make the most out of being here.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Almost a month!

Today Katharina and I went to Voltigieren (vaulting on horses), it was so fun! I got to try and succeeded in standing on a horse while trotting. Katha showed me the different poses and told me the German names for each of them. Unfortunately I won't be able to go again, as I am leaving Habighorst in two days to go to Papendorf, but when I get back to the U.S. I definitely want to learn vaulting. I also learned today how to write German calligraphy. It's hard to read, but it is very pretty. I made a pretty monogram of my initials, which I am quite proud of.

Saturday will mark the end of my first month in Deutschland. I love it here! Learning the language is really fun (most of the time) and I learn so much everyday. I'm really excited to go to Papendorf because I think my Deutsch will get better a lot faster there because I won't have Americans to speak Englisch with. I don't think the language camps (when you stay with a seperate host family and attend German courses for the first month) are a good idea because 1. we are with native English speakers so we often speak English 2. it's really pointless because we would learn all that we have learned in school better and faster going to a Gynasium and 3. it's hard because I just disrupted my entire normal life coming to Germany and now just as I am becoming really comfortable here and life feels quite normal, I have to uproot the little life that I have here, go to a new place, and get used to it all over again. But, at the same time I'm really happy I got to know my present host family and a different part of Germany, I just think that AFS shouldn't do the language camps in the future.

Meine lieblings Dinge im Deutschland (my favorite things in Germany)

* Marzipan!!!!!!!!!!! (I just discovered it last week and it is sooo yummy. It's like an almondy, sweet-but-not-too-sweet, delicious heaven)
* Scho-ka-kola! (also super delecious and is like eating a mocha latte)
* riding on the back of a bike (all the teenagers do it here and yesterday Mary Kate and I tried it and it was so much fun, although really hard to steer)
* die Bröt (bread)  (I know that almost everything on this list is food, but the food is so good!)
* Heißmilch (hot milk)
* the countryside
* the traditional houses!
* Deutsch lernen
* speaking Deutsch with a stranger and understanding and being understood
* when Deutsch comes completely naturally to me
* Voltigieren
* Käise (cheese)
* Müllers (a department store chain in Germany that sells pretty much everything and is very convienient for foreigners)
* Handball (a very face-paced game played in Germany, it's pretty insane to watch, just look it up on you tube and you'll see what I mean)

That's all for now, next time I blog I'll be in Papendorf with my permanent host family!


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Part 2: homesickness, learning the language, and being an exchange student

The purpose of this post is mostly for future exchange students (afs has links to exchange students blogs so that if someone wants to go on an exchange they can read about what it is like), but also for anyone who is curious about what I am feeling :)

Homesickness: I have not been homesick at all except for brief moments of it when something reminds me of home, like petting my host family's dog for the first time made me homesick for my dog. That doesn't happen much now, although I have had a lot of dreams about home\ people from home, which is kind of weird, especially when i wake up and realize that i'm actually not at home and am in a foreign country.

Learning the language: When I first came I couldn't understand any German that was'nt slow and basic. Now about 12 days in, I can understand much more. Sometimes I still understand absolutely nothing someone says to me and sometimes I understand all of it without concious translation (which by the way is a really cool feeling). I have a notebook book where I write down word I don't understand or want to know and the translation. So through that I have been able to somewhat keep track of how many new words I've learned so far, which is around 65-75 new words. It is a bit weird to count how many new words I've learned, but learning a new language can be quite frusterating (it requires a lot of effort and energy ALL the time) and when I feel like I don't know any German, I remind myself of how many words I've learned and that helps. Last week I even understood a complex explantion about bio fuel made from fermented corn, which made me really happy.

Being an exchange student: It has it's ups and downs. The first five days or so I was having lots of ups and downs in each day. I would wake up happy and excited to be in Gemany and then in the afternoon not find it exciting at all and being a little impatient with the slowness of learning a language. Now that has gone away and I am very happy. It was also hard at first because I felt kind of lost in the new language, culture, and family. Family can be especially hard because you don't know their routines like you know your natural family's, how to fit your routine into their's, and it takes a while to figure out how to be part of the family. It was confusing, awkward, and fun at first, and now it feels more normal and isn't confusing anymore.
I'm also tired a lot because living in a foreign place takes so much energy that it not only exhausts your mental energy supply but also your physical energy supply.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Part one

Hallo! I've now been living in Habighorst for about a week. Habigorst is a very beautiful, little village with lots of farms and traditional German houses. My host family is very nice and I like them a lot. I went to my host sister's vaulting lesson (on horses), which was really cool. All of the little kids there were really curious about me and asked my host sister who I was. She explained to them that I was her family's exchange student and that I am American so I don't understand very much German and when you speak to me you have to talk very slowly. I found that quite amusing. Then they all came over to me and began asking what various objects were in English and then teaching me the German word. With my other host sister, I go for bike rides with her and we've been watching Der Herr der Ringe (lord of the rings) in German with English subtitles everyday after school and homework. My host mother is very nice and we have a lot in common. She recently published her first book which is a fantasy, romance novel that takes place during medieval times, which I think is super cool. My host father is also very nice and is very patient with my often slow German and explaining words I don't understand.

I have language school in the nearby city of Celle mon. thru Fri. 9 to 12. I've been learning a little bit in my class, but a lot of it is things that I already learned from Rosetta Stone (by the way if you really want to learn a language, I recommend Rosetta Stone because I did it about everyday for three months and my German is just as good as a girl in my class who had been taking German for three years in school). I've noticed that there are some cultural differences in how the class is run. For example, our german teacher gets upset when we ask a lot of questions that are off topic and she'll say All of that is later, now we are learning this. or she'll completely ignore the question and keep going with her lesson plan. After school I usually hang around Celle for an hour or two with some of the other exchange students. Everyday we go to a German bakery that we recently discovered and enjoy the cheap and absolutely heavenly joys of German pastries. Then we wonder around, find new places, and have fun. I've had quite a few stupid American moments in Celle, but I'll only tell you about the most amusing one because it would take too much time to write about them all. So, one day I went into a store called the New Yorker (an ironic place for a stupid american moment) and I was looking for a warm jacket or sweater and finding none that I liked I attempted to exit through a door. An alarm went off, so I quickly shut the door and realized I had tried to go through the emergency exit door, which was clearly stated in big bold red letters on the glass door, but I hadn't seen it. So with the composure of a clueless American I ask a sales clerk Wo ist die Tür für drausen?. She gives me directions with a straight face, which i am sure was hard to do and i successfully leave the store without setting off an alarm. Anyway i found that quite amusing. After hanging out in Celle I take a bus home (which I can now do all by myself!), do homework, read children's books (and looking up lots of words) and watching lord of the rings.
Part two will be posted later

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Six more days!!

Six more days until I go to D.C. and ten more days until I'm in Germany! I've said good-bye to all of my immediate extended family. Yesterday I had my last riding lesson, which was very sad because the owner of the farm is moving to Florida, so many of the horses I will never see again. So, there are lots of goodbyes, but so far I'm okay with it even though it's hard because as long as I look forward and not dwell on goodbye, I find I am able to just be excited for what I am about to do.
I have found out more about my host family since my last post. I'm going to live in Habighorst for the first month so that I can attend language classes everyday in the nearby city of Celle. Then in October I will go to the Müller family, where I will have two sisters that are 13 and 16 and also a dog! I have been emailing both of my sisters and I am very excited to meet them. I will be going to a school with them in Rostock that is a new kind of German school called a workshop school, which means that I would take workshops as well as normal high school classes. It sounds interesting and I think I will have a lot of fun there.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

First Post

It is now about six weeks before I leave and I just found out a few days ago who my host family will be! I have a mutter and a vater who live in Papendorf, Germany. So, around September 5th I will be driving from Portland, Maine to Washington D.C. for a three day orientation. After that, I will fly from Washington D.C. to somewhere in Germany and will eventually end up in Northern and former East Germany. I am so excited and a bit nervous. I am so happy that I finally know where I'm going and that I am going because most of the year I didn't know if I would even be able to spend my junior year abroad with AFS because it's so expensive. I applied to two full scholarships and was lucky enough to get both of them! I now get to go to Germany for free through the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange scholarship. Now that I know where in Germany I will be going to, I'm even more excited and anxious to go than ever before.