Today, I had my first full day of orientation activities in Washington D. C. for my Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) Study Abroad Scholarship. The program is a partnership between the US and German Governments and provides 500+ students a full immersion opportunity in a foreign culture for a year. More information about the program can be found here: http://www.usagermanyscholarship.org/
We got to take a group picture at the Lincoln Memorial and then go to the U.S. Department of State for a presentation with an Alumni Coordinator, a German Desk Officer, and a few other people.
After that, we drove to Union Square and we had our meetings with a staffer for our congress representative. My meeting went well, and afterwards, I went to lunch at the National Museum of the American Indian.
Finally, we visited the German Embassy before heading to an Austrian cafe for dinner. I concluded the night by finishing my blog and thinking about the days ahead.
Today was my first day of Sprachschule (language school). Class began at 8:50, and I had to leave my house around 8:20 to get there on time. It took a little while to catch on to the format of the class but after a while I started learning new words and phrases very efficiently. After class got out at 1, I ate a Falafel-Gemuese Teller with my host dad (falafel/vegetable plate).
Later, I went to my Gymnasium (high school for college bound students), in order to get a stamp so I could buy a Monatskarte (monthly travel card) at a discounted rate. Next, I did Hausaufgaben (homework) on my Dach (roof). The view was amazing and I could see all of Hamburg. I concluded the night with a dinner of squash stuffed peppers and rice.
Photo is the view from my roof
Today I played 8-Ball with one of my friends after school. After I talked with him about the different rules people play by in the USA and Germany, we found out (thanks to the guidelines of the German Billiard Union) that we had both been playing with false guidelines.
After sharing a Brezel and talking a bit about politics, I headed home to prepare for the movies. The reason my host dad and I were going to the theater was to see the TED Conference Opening Session (Session 1: Our Tomorrow) . It was the first time ever they broadcast it to theaters across the world, and I was very excited to take part in such a monumental event. The collection of speakers was absolutely astonishing. The range of ideas represented was unlike anything I had ever seen before. After one of the TED Talks on taking time away from work to play, we got to see this really funny music video filmed in low gravity. You can check it out here: Upside Down Inside Out
Photo is of the German Billiard Union's Rules for 8-Ball
Today I had the privilege of giving the second week of Parlamentarisches Patenschafts Program Stipendiaten (Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Scholars) a tour of Hamburg. After leaving school a bit early, I headed into town to meet up with everyone. I showed them lots of interesting sights from the Chilehaus to the Alte Elbtunnel. This involved lots of walking of course, but we also got to take a ferry for part of it, and an old fashioned lift going in and out of the Old Elbe Tunnel. I was just doing it because I liked showing them around my city, and seeing my friends again, but the students and the liaisons got together and made me a photo and gave me a box of chocolate as a thank you. This reminded me that often even small acts of kindness can be really appreciated. Finally, we went back and watched Monsieur Claude und seine Töchter. It was an especially funny movie and showed cultural differences through marriages.
I know my Halftime Camp was a special time in my exchange year. To be completely honest, I was not especially looking forward to packing all of my things only to travel less than an hour away for a week, but it ended up being well worth it. I think what makes this experience so unique is that halfway through our exchange, we have been here long enough that for most of us, it really is starting to or already feels like home. On the other side, it still feels like we have some time left. I know it sounds a bit cliche, but I really can not believe how fast the time has gone. Although it will be interesting to see the Bundestag in Berlin, I think the End of Stay Camp will possibly have a bit of a sad note while we will all, at that time, be going back to the USA soon, just as we are really starting to have almost everything back to "normal" in our life.
I know I had an amazing week at my camp and I hope all of the other exchange students in the second week had a blast as well!
Looking back on my exchange so far, I think I've really done a good job of getting the most out of my time here. Without giving it a second thought, some people might think that means I've travelled all around Europe or taken a trip every other weekend. However, what that means to me is that I have lived my life here in such a way that it doesn't feel like vacation, but instead, simply as if I am living my life in Germany instead of in the US.
This scholarship has given me this opportunity to live my life in Germany and it is an opportunity few people ever receive. I think one of the biggest lessons I have learned this year is how different it is to experience a country as a tourist, or on a short term exchange, and to experience a country as someone living there and taking part in day to day society.
A few months into the year, I thought that meant a country somewhat lost its charm. What used to be something new and exciting became typical as it transformed from a dream to real life. Now that my exchange year is entering its last quarter, I am starting to realize that everything being so real makes it even more beautiful, as I have the opportunity to appreciate the smaller things in life.
After having my view of Germany radically changed, I am finally starting to feel like it is home here and as if I was going to be spending the rest of my life here instead of in the US. The next few months in this regard are offering a sort of dilemma. On the one hand, I have a great number of events planned from a sailing trip on the Baltic Sea, to a concert with one of my favorite German artists, but yet, despite all these exciting events, I am a bit afraid for the next months to come, because I know that along with all these great times comes an ever nearing departure date.
Two weekends ago, I had the opportunity to go see the Hamburg Haspa Marathon.
It was the first time I had ever watched a Marathon in person, and I have to say, I was very impressed. I've done an Ultramarathon before, but the atmosphere at the Marathon was something totally unique. It felt as if the whole city had decided to spend its Sunday Morning cheering on the runners as they gave their all over the streets of Hamburg.
Maybe it had something to do with being on the other side of the barriers (due to an age restriction, I was unable to participate in the race), but I believe it was simply a one of a kind experience to take part in Marathon festivities. I love running, and would never even think about trading my sport for a more glorious one, but runners tend not to be quite as famous as football players, or other sports that people enjoy watching on television. As such, it was especially inspiring to see the huge celebration put on just for the runners and the news coverage regarding the event.
One of the favorite stories I heard, was of a Hamburger who has ran every Marathon since the first one in 1976. His goal is to keep running them till the 50th in 2035. He was really excited to still be able to participate and really embodied the spirit of the Marathon.
At the beginning of my exchange year, The American Field Service, or AFS (my study abroad organization) told us that Germans are sometimes a bit like coconuts. With this, they meant that making friends in Germany can be hard at first, but once you do, it is well worth it.
I knew they were right but I never thought I would have a picture like the one above to prove it. It all started after school as I was riding home on my bike with some friends. My lock fell out of a hole in the basket on the back of my bike, and got stuck between my tire and my splash guard (Schützblech). Long story short, it destroyed the guard and in the process wedged it in between my tire and the basket so my bike could not evel roll.
As we were only about halfway home, my friends came back to try and help me. This resulted in one of them carrying my bike while riding his bike, and the other carrying me with on the back of his bike. The friend who carried my bike even took me back to his place and helped me get my bike up and running again.
My friends saw it as something only natural to do to help a friend out, but I am still in awe to this day of how much they helped. What could've ended up as a long, frustrating walk back home turned out to be a learning experience about how bikes work, and a bonding experience with some friends.
Letzte Woche, habe ich die Gelegenheit gehabt, ein Praktikum bei meinem Bundestagsabgeordneter im Büro zu machen. Während dieser Woche, habe ich den folgenden Bericht geschrieben, um ihn mit allen in Altona zu teilen:
„Nichts hat mich so verändert wie mein Austauschjahr in Altona“
In den letzten Jahren hat mich keine Sache so verändert wie mein Austauschjahr mit einem Stipendium des Parlamentarisches Patenschafts-Programm (PPP). Als ich erst in Deutschland ankam, dachte ich, dass ich dieses Land schon kannte. Aber was man im Urlaub erfährt, ist etwas ganz anderes, als die Erlebnisse, die man während eines Auslandsjahres erfährt.
For the past 6 months I have been taking dance lessons. Dance Class for most men in the US is often viewed as anywhere from ridiculous, to subtly acceptable as wedding preparation. Here in Hamburg however, it is not only widely accepted, but seen as a right of passage for both boys and girls.
As such, I have class once a week with my host sister, our friend/her dance partner, and my dance partner where we learn (starting with the basics) a multitude of dance types from discofox to Viennese Waltz and even some Salsa moves. This weekend, we missed dance class so my friend and I tried to go to the Monday class. Our dance partners were both busy, so we went hoping there would be a few more girls than guys, as often occurs.
To our bad luck, we got there a few minutes late and everyone was already dancing with a partner. Usually, we would just wait and switch in, but there were already two other boys waiting and we decided to spend our time elsewhere.
At first, I was a bit sad, as I was very much looking forward to one of my last dance lessons, but then my friend suggested we play tennis instead. Not going to lie, my tennis skills (if you can even call them that) leave much to be desired, but I hadn't played in a year and was really excited to get back on a court.
As my time in Germany sadly comes to an end, I thought it might be interesting to talk about some aspects of German Culture different from those of US Culture.
One aspect that I found intriguing was the perspective on sports, and staying active. Before you can understand this topic, it is important to know that in Germany, Sports and other Extracurricular Activities are not parts of school, but instead clubs that take place completely separate from Gymnasium.
Now, the main difference in Sports has to do with practices. In the US, most sports have practice five to six times a week, and if you miss a practice, your coach usually wants to know why you weren't there if he even allows you to miss in the first place. In Germany, it is a bit more relaxed, with most sports having practice only two times a week, and a majority of the coaches are lot less strict on missing practices.
At the beginning of the year, I wondered how anyone could possibly improve at a reasonable rate with so few practices. In the US, I run cross-country and it is absolutely critical that we get in our daily run if we wish to be competitive.