apologies for being afk

I owe this blog a post. I’ve also been meaning to post for quite some time now (was trying to stick to the unofficial once-a-month thing) but I’ve just been totally swamped.

I am currently sick and partially miserable and sitting at home–which does mean I finally get a chance to sit down and write.

I really am at a loss for where to begin, but I know that if I push this entry off to an even later date, it’ll just be more difficult to start.

January went slowly. Cold weather, regular school schedule. Going to Düsseldorf on free days, seeing movies, eating Japanese food, going thrifting. Birthday party of a friend. The entirety of this month sits hazily in my memories; I’m not really sure where the month started or where it ended, or if anything crazy happened somewhere in between the pages in my notebook where I logged entries for January.

February started off with Karneval. We got about five days off from school for this holiday, where everyone dresses up and parades out onto the street to celebrate. It is also a sort of regional celebration, where only this region of Germany (Northwest-ish/in the vicinity of Köln) celebrates the holiday to the greatest extent. I believe Karneval is based (as many things are) in some religious tradition, but the spiritual aspect of it has been stomped out over the years. On one of our days off I went to a parade in town and literally found the entirety of grade eleven from my school there.

In the middle of February, just before going bowling on the same day with my Englisch course, I met with the local Bundestag representative. A member of the CDU (the same political party as the current Chancellor, Angela Merkel), she’d been the vice-president of the German Bundestag (their legislative body) for the majority of 2017. So I was intimidated going in. But the German representatives are not quite as superficially intense as their American counterparts. During our summer visit with CBYX to Washington D.C., we made a round trip to talk to our congressional representatives personally, and were greeted with security clearances and double-door office entrances. In Germany, Michaela Noll’s office looked like a non-imposing, somewhat average house with a cosy office inside. I just had to stand at the side door and ring in. I (along with one other CBYX scholarship recipient) was greeted by the German representative personally. We were offered tea, coffee and cookies and sat down for a chat about politics, culture, the representation of America in Germany. We were then sent off with a request to keep her posted on what we were doing for the rest of the year in Germany.

Then at the end of February was our Mid-stay camp for AFS CBYX scholarship recipients. For this camp, I hopped on a five hour train ride down to Possenhofen, right next to Munich, and was reunited with the other (approximately fifty) CBYX students for the first time in five months. It was incredible to see how some of us had progressed with the language–and hearing about other exchange years was a good way to put my own in perspective. No exchange year is alike (at least that’s how the cliche goes); but it is true. We all struggle with different aspects of our lives in Germany–host family, host community, friends, dealing with schoolwork, etc. In talking to each other, we learn to be grateful for the positive aspects of our ongoing years and assume new approaches to improve the not-so-good aspects.

The camp was four and a half days–two spent in our youth hostel, doing workshops, meeting the Public Affairs Officer from the American Consulate in Munich. The two days in Munich–a political city tour, art museums, a Jewish synagogue, and just wandering around churches, doing touristy things. The one major downside to the entire excursion was the -10 degree Celsius weather, which left my toes stinging and numb.

After coming back to the Düsseldorf area, the weather drastically improved, and along with it, both my mood and my sense of panic. I am simultaneously relieved at the sudden warmth and sunniness outside and anxious to think that I now only have four months left in this country. But boredom and loneliness are no longer constantly hanging over my head like they did in the first few months. I’ve got so much to do and so little time to do it.

Just a week after getting back home from Mid-stay, I took a weekend trip to Belgium with a friend of mine from the CB Program. This was wonderful because 1) my sense of independence has been rising slowly this entire year as I’ve gotten practice traveling without my parents and 2) the bus ride there cost only nine euros. I’d always imagined travel before as getting on an expensive plane ride, flying a minimum of two hours, getting off the plane, and being somewhere totally foreign and new. But in Europe, you certainly don’t have to go long distances to be in another country, surrounded totally by a language you don’t understand (i.e. after my bus ran into difficulties on the road, I got off prematurely a half a kilometer from our end destination, surrounded completely by signs and storefronts in Flemish, in a country I’d never been in before and walked those five hundred meters at 10pm to the Central Station in Antwerp, where I was to be picked up). Americans don’t know what they’re missing out on.

That weekend was truly lovely. We had late brunch everyday around 11, spent one day in Brussels and one in Antwerp, walking until my feet were crying in pain, drinking pink lattes and devouring Belgian waffles. We visited art museums, walked through parks, went vintage clothing shopping–and took some awesome pictures. I felt totally recuperated.

And that’s been my life until now. We have school break in another week and a half, and during that time I’m hoping to do a sort of bicycle tour with my host mother. And otherwise I’ve finally caved and made a bucket list of things I need to get done here before I leave (for example, the Haribo factory in a neighboring town. HOW can I pass up the opportunity to get marked down gummy bears?).

Thought dump time, to finish the post off.

One thing I would like to take with me from this year so far is the concept of second chances. Almost every friend I’ve made this year, be it in my host community or within the CBYX program were people I never thought I’d be friends with at the start. People are extremely complicated beings, act differently under different contexts. It takes so much more time to realize whether I’ll like someone than just the split-second time frame of a first impression, or even the first few weeks in which I get to know them. For so long at home I’d had friends who I’d been friends with for years, so I’d forgotten how long and sometimes cumbersome of a process it is to actually become friends with someone in the first place.

I feel like my personal tolerance of awkwardness has increased tenfold over the course of this year. Or at least there’s some kind of social awkwardness meter that has quickly been filled in the last seven months and has overflowed, and I am now desensitized to it. The amount of awkward silences I’ve endured, the amount of times I’ve been publicly humiliated in front of a large group of German teenagers, the amount of times I’ve said something entirely stupid–these are innumerable. And- they are, as I posit, indispensable to a successful exchange year. If you don’t embarrass yourself, you’re probably should. From these experiences you take away a reassurance that even if you make a fool out of yourself, you can move on from it. Or you get so used to awkward silences that it really doesn’t faze you as much as it did, and you become much more open to meeting new people. What’s the worse that can happen? I also can’t count the number of times I’ve been to some party of some person who I really don’t know. And everything turns out A-okay.

I’m also not as panicked about my German capabilities now, because 1) I can indeed hold a very good conversation in this language which I could not speak seven months ago and 2) I realized that language learning is a looooong process that I can’t force my brain to conquer within one year. There are so many people who do exchange years, who’ve learned the language for years beforehand and of course still continue to improve on that language after their exchange is over. Breath and take it slow. I will continue to learn and improve my German in the States. I will return to Germany, without a doubt. All will be okay. I just need to enjoy the time I have left.

It sounds indeed dumb, but I feel so old now. At the beginning, when I arrived in Germany, there was a division between exchange students among “Oldies” and “Newbies”–the Oldies were the exchange students who’d arrived a half a year before us and would also go home a half a year before we did. But now I’m an Oldie. Our local AFS exchange committee just received a new exchange student from Japan, who’ll be here for the next ten months. Now I’m the one with the experience, the one who can speak better German. His presence was a slap in the face reminder that my time remaining is the smaller part of my year.

Furthermore, the new CBYX scholarship recipients for the 2018-2019 year have just found out this week that they’ve been accepted. So I wish a hearty congratulations to them–they have a hell of a year in front of them.


Currently listening: Tightrope (from the Greatest Showman)

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Graffiti wall in Brussels!

 

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a letter to my university

In the spring of last year, all of us who decided to defer our enrollment at Princeton  received such a letter from our Dean of Admissions:

“Dear Audrey,

I am happy to defer your enrollment at Princeton to the fall of 2018.

Please send me a letter next January 2018, letting me know how your year is going, what you have learned and how you have grown, and confirming that you will be joining the Class of 2022.

I know you will have a productive year, and I look forward to seeing you in September 2018.”

Hopefully Dean Rapelye won’t mind if I share a version of my letter here.

January 11, 2018

Dear Dean Rapelye,

When I first deferred my entrance at Princeton, January felt inevitably very far away. At that time, I thought of my January self as someone who’d be incredibly more experienced, with a fresh new outlook on life and a new set of skills and beliefs. I wasn’t wrong. But the road I took to my current me was nothing I could have anticipated.

Just days before I was accepted to Princeton, I was accepted by the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange, a government program which sponsors American students like me to study abroad for a year in Germany. Since the middle of August, I’ve been living in Germany. I will return to the United States in July of this year.

Right off the bat, I’d like to reaffirm my intentions of coming to Princeton this fall. I am ceaselessly grateful for the opportunity I’ve been offered to study at this university. I even cried tears of joy when admitted…but somehow, I want there to be an eternity between now and this fall.

I’ve experienced so much in my last five months in Germany.

I came here with “learn German” as goal number one. I came here with no previous German language experience, and the only thing I could think about in the first couple months was that I wasn’t making enough progress with the language. From my years in American high school, I was used to constantly being validated on my intellectual progress. But as I’ve found out through learning German in Germany, validation is more than just that A on my report card. It’s when I successfully convey my opinion in a conversation with a classmate, or I actually understand that joke that someone told. Somewhere between August 2017 and now, my concerns about my German ability decreased significantly. I realized then at some point that study abroad is less about the language, and more about the people I meet. I used to view making friends and human connections here as only a means to improve my language. Now I frustrate about my language abilities only because I want to connect with other people as best as possible.

Being in Germany has forced me to be a different kind of student than the one I’m used to. In high school, I was extraordinarily academically oriented, driven by my achievements, focused on everything curricular and extracurricular in my life. Here, I don’t receive grades for any work I do in school. Because of the inevitable language barrier, I’m forced to be the dead weight in every group I’m put in. I can’t participate in class the way I used to; I can’t contribute to discussions intellectually with the facility that I have in English. Playing this new role has already forced me to discover the person I am outside of academics–an experience in itself.

With academics out of my life for the year, most of what I have left is to focus on people. These are my host family, for example, who make me truly appreciate how much generosity there is in the world. And some of my classmates, who have also shown me inexplicable kindness, although I’m definitely not the most interesting person to talk to in German. Since the first day of school (which was more draining and difficult than anything I’ve been put through in American high school) I’ve been slowly acquainting myself with the people and this community; and I’m not sure if I’m ready to leave it all again in July.

And of course, studying abroad brings along that “expanded worldview”, where the American realizes that yes, there are other countries in the world besides the USA. I’ve been incredibly impressed by the political awareness of my classmates, by how advanced in foreign languages they are, by how familiar many are with the idea of cultural exchange. For maybe the first time ever, I’ve felt to be an inconsequential part of a much, much larger world, filled with cultures I still don’t comprehend and peoples I now want to discover.

So who is this January me? She’s been through overwhelming homesickness and loneliness, lived through small joys and victories, and feelings of maybe, maybe, being accepted. She can communicate somewhat decently in German. And she’s looking at the next six months with eagerness and hope.

Despite the endless associated difficulties, coming on this gap year was one of the best decisions of my life. I can’t say how I would have turned out if I hadn’t come to Germany, but I know that because of my year abroad, I’ll be arriving as a freshman at Princeton more attuned to my identity and to my goals in life.

I thank you for reading this, and I’m looking forward to the fall.

Sincerely,

Audrey Yan


Currently listening: Numb, Linkin Park

Chaos im Leben

First of all, happy new year. 🙂

(Sidebar: honestly it’s a little frustrating how all nouns in German need to be capitalized. I’m in the habit of writing everything lowercase in English because it pleases my aesthetic, but in German I have to capitalize all the proper words. Sucks)

I actually wrote a post in the past month that I decided not to publish, because I was feeling rather moody and homesick-er than usual at the time. We were told before we left for Germany, that the holiday season could turn out to be one of the most difficult times of the year. Everyone here celebrates with their closest friends and family and that’d trigger our homesickness…

But there are so many wonderful things going on in my life here, that it’s definitely making up for it. My life has been pretty hectic in the last month, so here’s some snippets of the stuff I’ve been doing.

In the last month:

I went with my host family to their vacation house in the countryside and we chopped down our own Christmas trees. We also did a yellow elephant gift exchange, where everyone forced unwanted presents on other people.

I went to a Christmas Concert with my host mom and sister in Wartburg (a freaking CASTLE) which was of course stunning.

School ended, and on the last day of school, I went into Düsseldorf with some friends and got sushi. (Yes! I can eat with chopsticks again!)

I went ice skating, once with my Chemistry course, and once with some friends.

Celebrated Christmas, bought and wrapped gifts for my lovely host family, stacked them high under the Christmas tree. I also received soooo much wonderful krimkram from my host family for Christmas.

I went to a New Year’s Party and met some really sweet people. Everyone launched fireworks together at midnight. Was spectacular.

I went to a New Year’s Concert the next day in Düsseldorf with my host family. I just barely managed to schlep myself out of bed at 9 in the morning, after having gone to sleep at 5 (dat party tho), but the music was definitely worth it. My host dad also bought me a Lang Lang (Chopin and Tchaikovsky) CD as a surprise gift, and I am listening to it right now!

Since all regions of Germany are on school break right now, a lot of CBYXers having been meeting up with each other, and I’m also really looking forward to a visit from a few of my friends in the next few days.

Also I’m meeting with my Bundestag Representative in January, which is super exciting. My local representative also happens to be the Bundestag Vice-President, so I’m more than a little nervous.

Another side-note: this isn’t my New Year’s Resolution, but in that spirit, I’ve set a definite goal for myself that by the end of the exchange year, I want to reach a C1 level in German. (This is the required level for anyone who wants to study at a university in Germany) I’m really looking forward to working towards that.

And on that same thought, I was video chatting with my father and my grandmother, who are currently in China, and I definitely realized today that there are a lot of things I can better articulate in German than I can in Chinese. This is of course, an exciting sign of my German progress, but also a sad indicator that I’m losing a grip of the language I grew up with. I’m definitely going to have to work at regaining some Chinese capability when I return to the US.

So, this was a short, straightforward (honestly pretty low effort) post. Will maybe write something more reflective when I’ve gotten a better handle on my thoughts and how I’d like to express them.

In the meantime, sending love back to the States ❤

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Currently listening: Chopin Scherzo #2 in B (or H-moll LOL)-flat Minor, Lang Lang

happy holidays <3

Exchange is like waiting for the S-Bahn. Every time I ride the S-Bahn into Düsseldorf from my town, I stand on the platform and stare over my shoulder to the left, at the tracks coming in from the distance. Beginning at two minutes before the train is scheduled to arrive, its highlights appear and glimmer ever so faintly in the distance. I watch and I watch as the train comes towards me, the two orbs of light at its head barely growing bigger. It is agonizingly slow. It’ll never get to me. And then after an apparent eternity of waiting, with each passing second, the headlights grow brighter and brighter. And before I know it, I hear the screeching of the train as it sprints towards me, and the headlights are gone and have whooshed by.

What I wanted to say with that poorly written metaphor is that I can almost feel the time passing faster as I stay here. In the beginning, I thought the time would take forever to pass, and that my language abilities would stagnate and never get better. Wrong on all counts. This year is rushing towards me and I feel like I need to do something to slow it down.

A few months ago (!), I was lamenting to my host mother one day about how difficult it was to approach my classmates, to make friends, to feel like I belonged here. She told me then, “You don’t believe it now, but when you leave here, there’s going to be people you will miss.” I can feel that starting to take shape. I can feel school becoming a little more enjoyable everyday. I can feel myself smiling more often.

Of course there’s still SO much frustration, negative emotions that bubble out of me randomly, but I know I feel life looking up.

Yesterday I was called on in physics class. I even gave the correct answer to my teacher’s question. In that one sentence I spoke out loud in class, I made exactly three grammatical errors. But it didn’t really matter to me in retrospect, because this one experience meant that: 1. I actually understood what was going on (!!!), and 2. I knew how to formulate an appropriate answer in German and vocalize it in front of my classmates. This one instance could have been a total fluke; it may be another few months before I can regularly participate in my classes, but I allow myself to be proud nonetheless.

I would like to insert one random culture shock blurb before I move onto some practical updates. MY FELLOW MUSICIANS: the note B does not exist in German. They call it H. I cannot believe I’ve had music for almost three months and I still hadn’t noticed it until recently. If one takes a mundane C major scale, for example, the notes would read C-D-E-F-G-A-H-C (read them out loud and it sounds like tsay, day, ay, eff, gay, ah, HAH, tsay) WHAT

So, as the title points out, it’s holiday season. In America, the Christmas products don’t come out in stores until after Thanksgiving (i.e. the reason Black Friday exists). Here, the Christmas stuff was out in stores probably starting mid-November.

I’ve been to three Christmas markets so far (and will likely go to at least a couple more). These are collections of stands often set up in the Innenstadt (inner city, usually a pedestrian zone with more or less cobblestone streets) in most cities. They sell ornaments, food, Glühwein (mulled wine, apparently traditional as I’m told), jewelry, etc, and sometimes have other features (music, rides, in Düsseldorf there’s also an outdoor ice rink).

I also have my FIRST EVER Advents Calendar. Every morning since the first of December, I’ve woken up to see a small fabric bag with a number on it, hanging on the staircase next to the kitchen downstairs. And everyday, I open this fabric bag to find a small gift or trinket inside (pocket books, chocolate, jewelry, etc.) I love this, needless to say. We’ve also mass-baked Christmas cookies, and they sit atop the piano in the hallway. Every once in a while, I walk by and steal a bite.

I’m booked for the next few weeks. Tomorrow, I’m driving with my host family to their vacation house in the (quasi) countryside, where we (and many other family friends) are going to cut down our own Christmas trees. The weekend after, we’re going to a VERY FANCY (my host mother stresses this) Christmas concert in a castle somewhere.

Ah yes! I’ve also joined a choir in my school recently and we’re singing in a Christmas concert the week after next. The members of the choir are mostly older people from this town, teachers from our school, but it’s still fun to sing with them. It does perplex me that we sing almost exclusively in English, even when a German set of lyrics is available. At the very least, I’m spending some time making music. 🙂 I’m planning with my host family also to do some caroling with our neighbors, one of whom is an opera singer.

So as I’m writing I’m waiting for my dance class today to start. I’m thinking about doing a Christmas painting later, and I also have to think about making time to do some German grammar exercises (because I am a f&cking nerd). I am additionally stressing out about Christmas gifts for my host family.


Currently listening: White Winter Hymnal (Pentatonix)

a post out of normal life

Changes in my life here occur gradually–it’s like before I realize it, the assumptions I live with and the expectations I hold for myself are changed.

I don’t feel too much like a newbie anymore; I’ve been in Germany for almost three months now. The touristy feel of language camp has mostly passed. There’s a kind of homely feeling that’s been established here, a familiarity that has been growing along with the amount of clutter I have in my room.

Life has a routine and rhythm, but there’s a mood and atmosphere that surrounds my life here that I’ve never experienced before. I’ve heard it said that an exchange year is both the best and worst year of your life, and I can see where that comes from. Everyday is elating, dreadful, strenuous and wonderful. There’s a constant subconscious discomfort that comes with a linguistic ineptitude–I consistently worry that it’ll be too loud and I won’t be able to understand what someone’s saying to me, or that if I misunderstand what my lab partner’s trying to tell me, I’ll mix up water and NaOH. But the delight I feel at just getting a smile and a greeting from someone in the school hallway is indescribable.

Sometimes it feels like I’d rather run repeatedly into a wall all day than go to school, but I wouldn’t want my life any other way. (“Aud, you’re an effing weirdo.”)

I’ll definitely write about what I’ve done since my last post, but first I want to give a (very brief) run down of my classes in school. (As I promised a few posts ago.)

Englisch (LK–advanced course): There’s several people in my class who’ve done exchanges in English-speaking countries. The overall level of English that my classmates have makes me feel bad about my German. We watched the Butler recently and we’re reading Death of a Salesman right now (which, by the way, is apparently a B2 level English book. I find this absolutely ridiculous because of the amount of colloquialisms in the drama. I assert that someone with a B2 level of English probably wouldn’t be able to grasp the complexities of the text???). But I’m REALLY IMPRESSED by how much my classmates understand and remember; I don’t even know if I’m understanding what I’m reading…

Chemie (LK–advanced course): We’ve been doing pH-related content for as long as I can remember. This is probably one of my favorite classes and every two weeks or so, we have a cake day where two people in the class bake cakes and bring them in to share. This is honestly one of my favorite classes, but I’m skeptical of lab procedure. I’ve seen people sometimes take apparatuses dripping in HCl and dunk them into salts…

Physik: The first time I understood anything for a reasonable stretch of time was this Wednesday and I’m unreasonably proud. I believe we are doing something related to electric fields.

Kunst: We’re painting landscapes and trees.

Musik: We as a class collectively played an Ed Sheeran song during the week before break and I got to dabble in guitar playing. We also listened to a recording of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing Schubert at one point which I was really happy about.

Philosophie: The most recent thing I understood was a discussion about the separability of mind and body. We were assigned to read Descartes over break. I can’t wait to improve my German enough to understand more of what goes on in this class because I think it’s absolutely fascinating.

Deutsch: The class has been working on poem analysis. I’ve been trying to follow along, but I’m hoping the focus will switch to prose soon, since I think poetry in any language is hard even for native speakers to understand.

Mathe: We doin calculus.

Französisch: I love hearing French being spoken. When I try to speak French however, all that comes to mind is German. (I’m really going to have to study up my French before I head off to college next year) We’ve been talking about the pros and cons of living in Paris, and now we’re transitioning to study southern France.

Sport: I recently switched from Badminton to Dance because I’ve been wanting to have a dance course in school for soooo long. Me and a group of girls are learning BTS’ Fire right now. I’m told we’re going to have a dance battle of some sort soon.

And now, a quick run-down of new experiences and things I’ve done since my last post:

I went to school for about another week before I had two weeks of fall break. The first week of break, I drove with my host mom and host sister to Denmark. What left the greatest impression upon me in Denmark: the weather (gray, rainy, cold as $@&#!$& and somehow even worse than in Germany), the fashion (chic and damn polished), and the prices (25% tax!!!).

The second week, I went on an AFS trip in my region with approximately forty other exchange students and my host sister. We stayed in Luxembourg for four nights and spent a day in Metz, France. Definitely my absolute favorite part of the trip was meeting and interacting with the other exchange students. There’s beauty in a group of students, sometimes speaking German, sometimes English, every one from a different country, but altogether just people getting to know one another.

In the time I have leftover, I read and paint. I’ve started to read Inkheart (Tintenherz) in German, the language it was originally written in. I’m definitely being too ambitious, seeing that it’s taking me ten minutes to get through a single page because I keep stopping to look in my dictionary, but I’m proceeding in the hopes that the reading will go faster and faster. I think it will.

Some reflections:

  • I really, really want to try just about every flavor of Ritter Sport and Milka and Kinder chocolate that there is but I’ve gained about 4 kilos already??? ??? ???
  • There’s this saying about human beings, that goes along the lines of: you don’t recognize your own faults until you see them in another person; this applies 100% to my relationships with the English and German languages. I can see why they’re considered related languages! Especially with grammar and idiomatic expressions that I learn in German, sometimes I’ll scratch my noggin and think, “hä? why the f*ck would they use THAT preposition THERE?” and then I’ll think in English and realize that our expressions are oftentimes similarly weird and nonsensical.
  • Back when I was in the U.S., I started at one point to listen to some German music in order to attempt to learn some German before I came here. Needless to say, I never really learned very much from it, never looked up the lyrics or meanings, and at some later point deleted the songs out of my playlist because I became tired of them. For some reason about two days ago, I decided to relisten to some of the music from that playlist, and the absolute SHOCK that I could UNDERSTAND them now almost blew my ears off the side of my head. It was like I was listening to them for the very first time.
  • I’ve spent a lot of time recently exploring the idea of friendship. I’ve thought about friendship in numbers (the number of texts you’d send a friend a day, or the minutes you’d spend talking to each other in school); I push myself actively to reach out to people more, talk, talk, send out invitations, etc, etc, etc. But real friendship requires more time and patience. It’s based not on how much you communicate with your friends but rather the feeling that your friends are people you trust to be there. I’ve held incredibly high expectations for myself to make friends here (with German classmates, with other exchange students) when I remembered then that the best friendships I’ve had in the U.S. grew and evolved over years. How could I expect to build intimate connections faster in a foreign country than in my own? Must. Have. Patience. Audrey.

And lastly, how’s my German doing? I’ve made undeniable progress since I’ve arrived in my host family, and I’ve been told often recently that I’ve also made a big improvement in the last month. I definitely feel that it’s not as strenuous and effortful to produce full sentences. I don’t judge every sentence that comes out of my mouth like I used to. I can answer questions and have conversations (i.e. on the drive to Denmark I talked about politics with my host mom for almost two hours straight–damn did that hurt my brain though). But idiomatic expressions, grammar, my distinct lack of niche vocabulary (i.e. the main reason I have no idea what’s going on in physics class) still get to me. I’m still very quiet in large groups of people. There are some words that I’ve literally looked up in my dictionary more than ten times and still can’t remember. But nonetheless I am really, really encouraged now that I can do it, I can be damn near fluent by July when I leave.


Currently listening: Der Erlkönig – Schubert (Fischer-Dieskau)

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My latest creation. Left egg is NYC, right egg is Düsseldorf.

a blurb on expressing opinions in a foreign language

If you listened to my English class discuss American legislation, you’d perceive that they have a polarized view of America. Many are unafraid to vocalize their distrust of Trump. We learn in class that there are more deaths per year from firearms than from car accidents. In the face of the Las Vegas massacre, such statements are tossed around, “Almost all Americans are opposed to gun regulation.” In class, a lot of America is simplified to black and white, good and bad. We were once given a list of American historical events (e.g. Columbus’ “discovery”, the Trail of Tears, the Revolutionary War, the Emancipation Proclamation, etc.) and asked to adjudicate, decide whether each event was “good” or “bad”.

We discuss politics a lot, but in class the nuances of politics are often lost on us. Part of this is likely cultural–I believe there’s less PC culture here, and the community I’ve joined in Germany also seems overwhelmingly liberal when it comes to American politics. But the other reason for the oversimplified view of America, I believe, is the language barrier some of my classmates encounter while forced to speak English in class. I have zero doubt about the intelligence of my classmates (or about their English prowess; I’m really impressed), and I believe that their personal opinions are also complex and nuanced. Complex opinions are just hard to convey in a language you’re not 100% comfortable in.

I mentioned in my last post that I no longer possess the nuances of the language that is spoken around me. And I’ve discovered, it’s much easier to articulate strong arguments in a foreign language than to complicate them with “not-really”s, “kinda”s and “yes, but”s (all expressions that I haven’t even begun to master in German). My life has been very filled with “yes, I love chocolate cake” and “no, I hate racket sports” because I couldn’t say what I wanted to, which was “I like chocolate cake when it’s textured like a brownie and contains no dark chocolate” and “I do enjoy badminton, when I don’t feel like I’m burdening my partner with my poor playing skills”.

So I guess this was mostly a language-oriented post. But before I go, I do want to leave you yet another anecdote.

I keep a vocabulary notebook and fill it everyday with twenty to thirty new words on average that I accumulate throughout the day. Some of these words I gather from reading short news clippings in German on social media. These words are more than just new vocabulary. They tell the story of my life here: what I’ve discussed that day, what topic predominated. You can tell what happened when.

Page 24 of my notebook is the Las Vegas shooting. The words I learned in German that day: das Grauen, the horror, schreien, to wail, fliehen, to flee, die Waffe, weapon, retten, to rescue.

My heart hurts for those people and for my country. America is etched into my identity; I’ve discovered here a kind of pride for my language and my nationality that I didn’t even realize I had before. It’s incredibly sad to hear the way America is sometimes talked about. I’ve been asked, “Your parents are immigrants, right? Was it dangerous for them to enter the country?” (The answer is no.) This assumption paints a picture of an America that is unfamiliar to me. I want to say that I come from a community filled with immigrants, where we are educated, where people don’t live in fear of being shot everyday. That there are communities like this in America. But my life is filled with immense privilege. I, in many ways, do not represent America.

I’ll stop myself there. I won’t write up anything highly incriminating or political. I won’t criticize or laud with the broad bravado that some people use. I guess what I wanted to convey is that my awareness of America and its faults is greater here than it was when I was back home in the states. And that might seem ironic or obvious, depending on how you look at it. My own country is a little more foreign to me.

Just a thought.


Currently listening: Augen Auf (Sarah Connor)

english language i refuse thee

This is ironic since I’m writing this in English.

I willingly speak English:

  • In my English class
  • With other exchange students
  • Nowhere else

So I face a lot of difficulty expressing myself in German. I expected that. There are a lot of frustrations that come with this immersion type language learning process. A lot of times I understand what people tell me and find myself not being able to formulate a reply. A lot of times people misinterpret this as a lack of understanding. A lot of times people don’t wait for me to complete a reply. A lot of times I’ll say a full sentence and then mentally facepalm because DAMN-I-MESSED-UP-I-KNEW-THAT-ARTICLE-SHOULDVE-BEEN-IN-DATIVE. A lot of times I’m asked yes-or-no questions instead of open-ended questions by sincerely kind people who are trying to make my life simpler by giving me less to say. But sometimes I want to have to struggle to get through an elaborate explanation in German. And then sometimes I just want to scream, “I’M A REALLY INTERESTING PERSON I PROMISE! I’M JUST NOT INTERESTING AUF DEUTSCH.”

(Hello cliché!) I’m fighting the good fight, I know.

I don’t feel my German getting better, but I have to trust that it is.

I feel like I keep repeating the same sentences and sentence structures everyday (i.e. How are you? I’m good. My name’s Audrey. I come from the U.S. and I’m an exchange student. I’ll be staying 11 months in total and I’ve been here 7 weeks already–4 in Hamburg, 3 in town. Blah, blah.), but I have to trust that I am learning new words and constructions.

I’ve still got time. It’s only Oktober.

Or rather, DAMN it’s already October.

Alles gut. My life right now is filled with some amazingly kind and generous people who go out of their way to make me feel welcome and happy. I’m adjusting to my everyday routine here while still discovering new activities and meeting new people.

Let’s get into some substantial informative news.

The big thing: I’ve started school. School in Germany is a rather complicated matter. There are a few different options for secondary schooling–Hauptschule, Realschule, Gymnasium, Gesamptschule. I have no desire to expend the effort explaining the system since my understanding of it isn’t even complete, but I can say that the bulk of CBYX students attend either a Gymnasium or a Gesamptschule. These two schools are intended more for people who plan on pursuing a university education (aka us). People enter these schools in grade 5, when they’re around 10 years old and complete a (to my understanding, a series of enormous exams called the-) Abitur in either grade 12 or 13.

Comparison of American high school with my German Gymnasium:

Age range:

American high school is grades 9-12. I’d give an age range of 14-18. By contrast, as previously stated, people start at a Gymnasium at around 10, so I’ve seen a lot of little kids running around. Roll-y backpacks, all that jazz.

Academics:

There are different levels of classes in the U.S. A typical structure would be normal classes, Honors or Accelerated classes, AP or IB classes in order of increasing difficulty and workload. Every year our classes are different and have different specific focuses (i.e. take World History this year, take U.S. History the next). Here in Germany everyone who attends the same school is equally academically advanced. Each person must choose two and only two advanced courses. These courses are labeled as LK, Leistungskurs, and generally people choose LKs in their academic specialty areas. All other courses are labeled GK (Grundkurs) and are “normal” level classes. (However I would posit that all courses at my German school are comparable to Honors level classes in the U.S. Don’t mess with German education, dude, it good.) Courses are more general here and course selections are far narrower. My schedule consists of English and Chemistry LKs (#APchem), and French, Art, Music, Philosophy, German, Physics, Math GKs.

Schedule:

American high school had a consistent, everyday-the-same kind of schedule. Everyday was 7 subjects and gym; periods were forty-somewhat minutes long. We had passing times between classes of 4 minutes, and we had a lunch pause of just over 20 minutes. My German school schedule is somewhat comparable to a block schedule in the U.S. Every week is the same as every other week but everyday is different. Each class is normally 60 minutes long, but can occasionally be longer or shorter. Each Grundkurs has class 2 times a week, and each Leistungskurs 4 times a week. There are 6 time slots, or periods, per day, but very rarely does one have class all 6 periods. (i.e. I only have all 6 periods full on Thursdays). There’s no “gym class” or “school athletics” but rather a hybrid, Sport, which we have twice a week for about an hour after school. School days end whenever my last class ends. (i.e. On Monday, I have 5 classes and sport, so I go home around 5. On Fridays, I have 3 classes, and I go home around 12:30) Everyday, there’s a twenty minute pause after second period and a longer pause for lunch after fourth period. This is. Really nice.

Rules:

  • In American high school, feel free to use your phone when class hasn’t started yet. Feel free to use your phone occasionally in class. In German school, don’t-you-effing-dare.
  • In American high school, walk off school property alone during school hours and expect the police to come after you. In German school, what are substitute teachers? If your teacher is sick, feel free to go into town during class hours, or go home. Feel free to leave school during pauses and during lunch. If your first class is second period, don’t bother being at school during first period.
  • In American high school, please sit in the cafeteria during lunch time. In German Gymnasium, no one uses the school cafeteria. Go to the Deli during lunch; get Döner, fries, 20-cent fresh bread at the supermarket.
  • In American high school, get to your classroom before the bell rings. You’re being timed. In German school, you’re trusted to get places on your own. Move freely from one class to the other without bells or set passing times.
  • In American high school, raise your hand to go to the bathroom during class. In German school, please use the bathroom during breaks.

Tests:

In American high school, tests happen during class periods and happen at the discretion of the teacher teaching the class. Most of my classes in America had a test every two weeks or so, and tests were scattered throughout the school day and throughout the week. It was very, very possible (likely) and normal to have four tests a week. In German high school, tests happen for each subject twice a semester or so. They are therefore somewhat of a bigger deal. People are tested on 6 subjects–the 2 LKs are mandatory, and 4 GKs are chosen. Tests are two hours long. Luckily, I’ve graduated high school and therefore receive no grades and take no tests. When the others take LK tests in the morning, I stay at home and study German.

Physical facilities:

I really just wanted to point out the lack of lockers in my German school. Everyone can carry their backpacks around, even all the little kids. Also my American high school library is probably 6 times as large as my school library here.

I’ll definitely talk about my school classes in a little more detail, maybe when I’ve started to understand a bit more about the discussion that goes on in my classes. I’ll save it for another post, maybe a couple of months down the road. 🙂 But just a superficial introduction should do for now, I believe.

Now onto my usual culture shock spiel:

  • There’s this one licensed Harvard hoodie that’s sold in H&M’s everywhere. The H&M’s have no other Harvard apparel, and I’ve seen lots of girls wear this hoodie who presumably have no tie to the university or no idea what exactly Harvard is. I find this curiously amusing.
  • IN PARKING LOTS there are sometimes “reservierte Frauenparkplätze”. I noticed these for the first time while heading into Düsseldorf for the monthly Fischmarkt today. They’re parking spots only for women traveling solo. These are the spots closest to the exit on each parking floor; they allow women easy access to an escape route or to their car when approached by strange or suspicious people. They are camera monitored. I asked my host mom about these parking spots and we ended up having a brief chat about rape culture.
  • Turning cars have special blinking lights that alert them to pedestrians crossing the street. But pedestrian lights, on the other hand, give zero warning before changing from “green, please cross” to “red, please stop”. No blinky red hand like we have in the U.S. And somehow this is the most annoying thing I’ve encountered in Germany so far.
  • Not only do many people speak wonderful English, many people also have other foreign language capabilities. It’s much more common to study abroad here than in the U.S. And most people in my French class are also curiously advanced. Their accents are not nearly as heavy as many of my Americans I know who try to speak French. Their grammar and the rhythm of their speech are also significantly better. I’m impressed.

So. I haven’t proofread this post, but my brain is thoroughly fried. Everyday is mentally draining and physically tiring, but I happily accept that as a sign of my learning process. Every language I know takes effort. In French class, I’m given vocabulary lists that have on one side French words and the other side their German translations, and I’m at a loss for where to begin. The other day I met some awesome other exchange students with whom I ate hotpot and spoke in Chinese; and I almost forgot I was still in Germany.

I’ll end this post with a quick story I told my host mom about a week ago. I was in English class one Monday, and my teacher told the class very generously, “It’s okay, you can speak in German today. It’s Monday; we’ll take a break.” I sat there, and I thought: I have no such break.

When you wake up and go about your morning in semi-consciousness, you must speak German. When you come home from a long road trip at 1 in the morning, you must speak German. When you’re sad, you must speak German. On Mondays, you must speak German. Such is the very essence of being an exchange student. I embrace it.


Currently listening: MIC Drop, BTS

 

the rest of language camp, leaving language camp, host family, etc, etc

Hello September! It’s been exactly one month since I’ve been in Germany.

You might be getting a sense of how frequently I’ll be posting on here.

This post is timed well, I think, because the frequency at which I’ve been asked “how is Germany?” recently has increased.

The short answer is that it’s still wonderful, of course. Language camp ended last week and now I’m writing this from my host family’s living room. But as my host mom has told me before, I should always give more info.

Let’s do more culture shock/random experiences first, since I can barely remember everything that happened since my last blog post.

The slugs here are enormous and since it’s autumn, they blend in really well with the dead leaves on the ground. This is very unfortunate. I’ve seen a lot of slug guts in the past two days.

All the commercials I receive on social media are in German now.

There is so much cheese and meat and alcohol in supermarkets.

People’s driving skills are insanely good. Parking spots and streets are narrow. It’s common, if one’s driving in the right-most car lane, to be flanked on the left by another car and on the right by a cyclist (those bike lanes I mentioned before).

People pay money to throw trash out! Recycling, however, is free. The residents collect their plastic in big yellow bags that they can get from the city hall. Then it’s the city’s responsibility to collect the plastic for recycling.

It seems that a great many people’s impression of Asia here is based predominantly on Japanese culture. This is fantastic, since a lot of people seem to take a genuine interest in Asia. However (I won’t delve into specifics, but–), as a person of Chinese heritage, I’ve been asked a lot of questions about China that were prefaced with descriptions that I believe would more accurately describe Japan. Then again, I might be wrong, considering my understanding of neither Chinese nor Japanese culture is thorough. But- in America, strangers on the street would sometimes approach me with a “nihao, nihao”—I think some people here would greet an outwardly Asian person with “konnichiwa” instead.

The number of consecutive consonants that can fit into a German word is incredible. My new favorite word is Kopfschmerzen. Headache. Six consecutive consonants; a very useful word to know.

Recommended reading for anyone studying German (or anyone interested in language in general): Mark Twain’s The Awful German Language.

Okay, now it’s time for me to try to remember everything that’s happened since my last post.

Language camp lasted for another three weeks. Everyday was class and then an activity or excursion. Super busy, lots of fun, much exhaustion. Some highlights:

The second week of camp, we spent an afternoon at the Hamburg DOM—Hamburg’s summer carnival. It was everything one could have imagined and possibly more. Of course there were the typical spinney, bouncy, droppy rides. And there were full arcades of those push-the-button claw games that no one ever wins. But the food. Was there ever so much food. Alongside the rides were elaborately decorated, colorful stands selling huge varieties of German sweets, baked goods and savory foods. Perhaps I was unreasonably impressed because all the food was foreign to me. The day we went happened to also be family discount day, so the entire time we were pushing through crowds of parents with small children. The more the merrier.

My eighteenth birthday was near the end of August, and in Germany, eighteen is a big deal. I had happy birthday sung to me six times in four different languages over the course of the day, and was showered with chocolate and cake. I also had woken up at five that morning to head to the Hamburg Fischmarkt (fish market) and bought tons of fruit and fresh seafood for breakfast.

We had one day-trip to Celle, an absolutely gorgeous historic town. All the houses were up to seven centuries old and were religiously maintained by the city government. They looked as if they were freshly painted; they were time capsules. And as our tour guide pointed out, from looking at the colors and architecture, one could tell in which century the house was built. Very fancy.

In Hamburg proper, we had two fascinating, somewhat niche-y tours. The first was of an underground bunker, right outside Hamburg’s central station. It was first built during the World War II, along with a series of hundreds of other emergency shelters in Hamburg and throughout Germany. But when the Cold War era rolled around, the bunker was upgraded to sustain a couple thousand people for two weeks during a nuclear attack. The part of the tour I remember best was when our tour guide switched off all the lights in the bunker to show us the glow in the dark paint on the walls which would direct people around in case of a power outage. “This paint will only glow for a few hours”, he said, “because if the people cannot figure out a way to restart the generator within these few hours, all the clean air, the air that’s been run through the filter, will run out. This bunker will turn into a mass grave.” He then added, “I hope through this tour you’ve been able to see the value of world peace.”

The second tour we went on was a “homeless tour”. I can definitely add this to my list of culture shock events. We started our tour in the headquarters of Hinz & Kunst, a street magazine that can only be sold by and bought from homeless people. Becoming a vendor of this magazine would be a way for homeless people to start decently sustaining themselves without turning to drugs or robbery. The homeless people would buy the magazines from the Hinz & Kunst office for a little over a euro and then sell them on the streets of Hamburg for double the price. The magazine also provides a café with free coffee and easy access to social workers that homeless people were free to take advantage of. We were also shown other independent resources and locations that were available to the homeless—a shower and meal center, a doctor’s office. There was even a building funded by the municipal government where the many homeless people who’d turned to drugs and alcohol could do their drugs under the supervision of hired workers who would make sure they wouldn’t overdose. Wowie culture shock.

And then in the final weekend of language camp, we commuted to the outskirts of Hamburg, to Neuengamme, a former concentration camp. It wasn’t a death camp like Auschwitz, but nonetheless over fifty thousand people had died there. As the camp was a brick factory, most were worked to death in the camp’s system of churning out bricks through manual labor. We walked around, somber and silent, for four hours and looked at art created by survivors of the camp of what they remembered of their time there. The wooden barracks that used to house the prisoners had been taken apart—because they were “useless” and because the Hamburg government had not wanted such a memorial to be erected there. Not much of the camp remained, but nonetheless, as another CBYXer said, “I feel a true negative energy coming from this place.”

As such, the history of the places I’ve seen already is astounding.

And as such, language camp ended. I took a four hour schlepp on the train last Friday to get from Hamburg to my host family’s home, where I currently am. Already I’ve done a lot. My host mother is a teacher at a Berufsschule, a career school, where she teaches German as a second language. Her class at the moment is therefore composed entirely of refugees, all of different backgrounds and language abilities. Yesterday I went to sit in on her class. We talked about fairytales and stories; and when my host mom asked the class if they had their own stories to share, one boy recounted having to move from Algeria to Spain, France, and finally Germany. The entire class was so sweet to me. Since a few of them knew some French, with my limited ability, I tried to translate some vocabulary from German to French for them.

All is well. I’m still so frustrated by my inability to talk in German. I can barely form full sentences, and I tend to answer people with a five-second pause, a nod, a smile or a single word. But I’ll really try to push myself to speak more. I’m understanding quite a bit more now than I used to; improvement is improvement. I believe this upcoming weekend I’ll be traveling with the host family down South, near Munich. I might get a peek at Oktoberfest. And I start school tomorrow.

More on that later. Much love and greetings to all whom I know. A warm welcome to anyone new.


Currently listening: I Get Overwhelmed (Dark Rooms)

I leave you with a quote about the German language: “Whenever the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth.” –Mark Twain (of course)

IMG_5766

“how’s germany?”

Really amazing.

Have a quick walkthrough of everything I’ve done since my last post.

I –

Went to Gateway Orientation in D.C. This consisted of: dropping into our Congressional Reps’ D.C. offices to promote CBYX and foreign exchange programs, sitting through hours of sessions to mentally prepare ourselves for this year, and eating hotel buffet food. We studied cultural differences between the U.S. and Germany, learned about methods of communication with our host families, etc.

Took two flights to get to where I currently am. The first was from D.C. to Frankfurt, and the second from Frankfurt to Hamburg. I maybe slept for a little over two hours on these two flights combined. I remember being in the airplane, watching the little German cars below pushing lethargically forward with their headlights glowing in front of them. Even though I was hyper-fatigued, I could feel anxiety bubbling in me.

Finally, arrived at this hostel (and upon arrival, passed out asleep on the common room floor). I unpacked and moved in.

So I’m currently in language camp. This youth hostel has been my home for the past week, and will be where I’m staying for the next (approximately) three weeks. I quite enjoy it here. We’re located perhaps at the fringes of Hamburg (or maybe just outside Hamburg?); I would say this neighborhood is in the fuzzy area between urban and suburban. There are soccer fields and a playground in the back of the hostel and an elementary school just next door. Inside, girls live in rooms of six, and the boys in rooms of three or four. The rooms are small but not intolerably small, and my room even opens to a communal balcony where we huddle sometimes to do homework in the evenings.

The first few days here consisted mostly of icebreakers and getting to know our Betreuer (essentially our German counselors, although some of them are the same age as us). Then on the Monday following, we started language classes.

So now let us do a quick walkthrough of a typical day of language camp.

I wake up around 6:30 or so to catch breakfast at 7. Breakfast is usually of some kind of bread with something on top. This could mean cold cuts, cheese, jam, butter, nutella, honey, cream cheese, or some combination thereof. After breakfast, we ready ourselves for the commute from our hostel to inside Hamburg proper, where we take our language classes. The commute lasts around 40 minutes and requires a bus and two trains. Luckily, public transportation is very reliable here.

We are then in class from 9:30 to 12:45. We’re split into 6 different levels of classes depending on German experience. In my class, for example, we just went over how to give dates and tell time. Yup.

After class, we walk over to a nearby youth hostel to have lunch. Lunch in Germany is often the biggest meal and the only hot meal of the day. Everyday it’s something different–fish, pasta, wurst, etc.–and it comes with salad and dessert.

The food here is great. I like talking about it.

After lunch is typically a group activity that varies on a day-to-day basis. So far, we’ve done culture workshops, gone to a spice museum in Hamburg, gotten vegan ice cream, and much more. Occasionally, we’ll have the afternoons free to rest at our hostel or run errands in small groups.

Dinner is at 6pm, back at the hostel where we live, at the outskirts of Hamburg. Dinner and breakfast are remarkably similar here; dinner consists also of bread with savory spreads, cold cuts or cheese. We might also have fruit or salad. Voila, very healthy.

After dinner is usually social time or homework time. I’ll do my daily assignments, roam around and talk to people or whatnot. Our curfew is at 8pm, and we’ve got to be back in our rooms by 10.

On weekends, we have other organized group activities. Yesterday, for example, we took a trip to Lübeck, a city about an hour and a half from here by train. The city’s vibe was a lovely mix of traditional and modern (i.e. H&M’s lining cobblestone streets). The day we went was also the same day as the pride parade! There was probably ten times the number of rainbow flags as there were German flags flying over our heads.

🙂

Alright. So to finish this post off, I’ll leave a list of random facts/things I’ve observed/experienced here in Germany thus far (culture shock, mayhaps?):

  • The weather is temperamental (lol); and it’s consistently rainy and at 65 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Garbage is organized as hell–recycling, paper, plastic, trash, etc. Even public trash bins are like this
  • This country is SO eco-friendly–people in general take shorter showers, don’t litter, ride bikes A LOT/whenever possible
  • Bike lanes are a permanent feature in cities (or so I believe). And if you walk in the bike lane you will get shit on
  • Bathroom stalls are amazing (i.e. the doors don’t have cracks and actually extend to the floor)
  • Bread is astoundingly cheap–maybe 30 cents a bun or something? Also coffee is like a euro fifty and gelato in a waffle cone is like a euro thirty (ice cream here is amazing)
  • People are very considerate on public transportation–the cars on the U-Bahn are always close to silent (we Americans are always the only ones making noise). People sitting in two-person seats always sit with their bags in their laps so as to leave room for another person to sit down next to them
  • The variety of Haribo sold in supermarkets is incredible
  • Somehow the quality of H&M clothing here is better than H&M clothing in the U.S.
  • Many, many people (retail salespeople, cafe owners, etc.) can speak amazing English

So I really, really want to learn German well. I celebrate all the small victories: asking for the bathroom key, ordering ice cream successfully, forming full German sentences in class. I haven’t really entered the immersion experience yet (I’m still surrounded by 48 other native English speakers 24/7), and I’m already feeling frustration at not being able to understand people around me in public, but at least I know I’m going to study really hard going forward.

Ask me questions if I’ve left anything out! I’ll also write posts with pictures in the future, but I’m frankly too lazy to upload them at the moment.


Currently listening: Ist da jemand, Adel Tawil (I heard this playing in the cafe I went to yesterday and really liked it. And I was actually able to ask the lady working there in German if she could tell me the name of the song so this is a point of pride for me)

goodbye/hallo

Whoops, it’s July already.

I’ve been particularly unproductive these past few weeks, so I thought writing a blog post would make me feel more accomplished. This is going to be my last post from the U.S.; my plane flight to Germany is precisely two weeks from today.

But I’m actually leaving home a bit earlier, on August 8th, when I head to D.C. for Gateway Orientation. Hopefully there I’ll be meeting with one of my Congressional Representative’s staff members to thank them for the scholarship I’ve been granted by the State Department. Apparently I’m also taking a trip to the German Embassy. From there, I’ll fly out to Germany.

So these days are short and all about goodbyes. I’ve bade farewell to most of my friends already. I’ll also have to say goodbye to this town, to trips to New York, to homemade Chinese food, and to speaking Chinese at home. Pretty soon I’ll be telling my family “see you in a year”.

I’m super nervous.

But I already made a post about my fears. Now I get to talk about some things I’m excited about. (I may have covered a lot of this before, but since I didn’t reread any of my posts, I don’t really care. Sorry.)

I am really super excited to meet the other American scholarship recipients. I can’t wait to be around more people who are super passionate about learning German. Also, most of the other CBers are younger than me (naturally, as this is a high school program, and I already graduated high school in June)–which makes them also gutsier than me. A few years ago, I never could’ve imagined doing an exchange year abroad.

In the same vein, I’m really looking forward to language camp. I’m excited to visit Hamburg (which I hear is absolutely brilliant). I’m unreasonably excited to take language lessons (and maybe get some free German textbooks?), and I’m excited to do activities with the other students in the afternoons. It’s like a free month-long summer camp!

Finally (omg brace yourself) my host family reached out to me. I don’t want to reveal too many details about them before I’ve actually met them in person (for obvious reasons; all of this is public), but they seem incredibly kind and wonderful. I’m going to have a host sister and host brother who are around my age/a bit older. And even though my host mother’s English seems quite good, she has been so respectful of my request to communicate in German thus far (my German is god awful and I’m almost a complete beginner). I really appreciate it. I’ve actually learned quite a bit just by reading and translating her emails. I can’t wait to meet them all.

And now I can also announce where I’ll be staying! I’ll be in Hilden, in northwestern Germany. It’s just north of Köln/Cologne and vaguely close to the Dutch/German border.

Well, this is all I have for now. I suppose I should have more to say, since I haven’t posted in several months, but I can’t think of anything much at the moment. I think I’ll go try and fail again at packing (a year’s worth of clothing vs. Lufthansa’s baggage restrictions policy: who will win? idk).

Talk more in Germany. Will be back soon.


Currently listening: Sure on this Shining Night (Samuel Barber)