blog posts from a year in germany 

I spent ten months in Germany on the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) scholarship, a full scholarship managed by the U.S. Department of State and German Bundestag. From August 2018 to June 2019, I lived with a host family and attended a Gymnasium, a secondary school for higher academic education, in Aachen.

"How was Germany?"

I get this question allllll the time. From my best friends, from strangers, from classmates I run into whom I haven't seen in a year. But I mean, when I'm thinking back on living in Germany, how do I honestly answer such an open-ended question? Not even as a response to the people asking, but for myself. Like how I changed, what I learned, what I experienced. And other intangibles, like cultural differences and behavior. I thought about -- and think about -- that stuff a lot.

I usually just give people the rundown, like living with a host family and attending school. Or sometimes I explain the CBYX scholarship too, all the facts. Like how I visited over 35 cities and 7 countries (!!!!) Oh and yeah of course how I now speak German. I understood cultural nuances I wouldn't otherwise think about, like how Germans constantly open up windows to get fresh air, even when it's pouring rain outside. And no sir, I don't regret missing senior year of high school at all. I didn't go to Senior Ball or Disneyland with the senior class. Instead I was chilling along the river in Berlin drinking cider with friends and biking around Amsterdam and just eating German sausages with my host family.

The year was:

an adrenaline rush running on the ocean dock with twenty feet high waves crashing over me and my best friend in England.

soo frustrating sometimes not being able to convey my emotions to the nuanced extent I can in English.

thrilling while dancing in nightclubs with friends on weekend nights. Dancing with friends to good music is so. much. fun. and I love going out to do that.

isolating during the beginning of school when I didn't understand the conversations happening around me. It motivated me to learn as much German as I could.

humiliating when I had to repeat sentences because my grammar and pronunciation didn't make sense. But everyone was so so so respectful and patient with me.

so sweet whenever my six-year-old host sister wandered in my room and plopped herself on her bed, or rather bounced up and down, and starting chattering away. I treasure these moments.

full of family time, like eating pancakes with my host family every weekend. It was a way I shared American food traditions with them, and it brought us together.

humbling to navigate a new language and culture, and it reminded me of the journey immigrants, including my mom, brave. Experiencing this firsthand, although to a much lesser degree, made me more empathetic and tolerant.

There were also a few nights during fall when I just cried in bed, fed up with the language barrier and tired of writing college apps. But it was worth it. Exchange is where I met my serious ride-or-dies: three girls who I know will always be there for me. And lived with the most welcoming(!!!) host parents and sister. I have many flashbacks of my sister's high-pitched squeals and laughter. The exchange was seriously the most rewarding and exciting year of my life.

When I returned to California I had such a frustrating and difficult time reintegrating into life here. I was busy hanging out with friends but still missed speaking only German and the life I had carved out for myself and community I had found there. But it's easier now as I move on and get ready for college. I've understood that no one can completely understand what I went through. Even I'm still figuring it out. Instead I can focus on remembering and sharing bits of German culture and life and stories about my exchange year while continue to process it all.

So HUGE thanks to everyone who followed along my blog throughout the year. I'm starting college in one week. Wait what! The next chapter. So yes, this summer has been a transition of reflecting on Germany while preparing for Berkeley. But I'm already planning on studying in Germany again, so the study abroad adventures await...

And. Highlights of May and June include: visiting Berlin and Prague (Czech Republic), meeting my German Bundestag Parliament Representative Partner, and sweet sweet times talking and laughing with all my German friends and host family.

Updated: May 7, 2019

So every time I write a new post I remember how many months I have left. It's only one more now...But I know I'll live in Germany again! My plan: I'm going to study at UC Berkeley, but I'll spend one year studying abroad at RWTH University in my host city Aachen or the Technical University in Munich or Berlin. Studying abroad at one of these tech universities = living in Germany again (!) and saving money because tuition here is so cheap.

But that's a little while off from now. So what have I recently done?? During the two-week-long spring break, I visited England, France, Switzerland, and Southern Germany. I was in Cornwall, England with my best friend Karla and her parents. It was SUCH an adventurous, exciting, and crazy time. We were jogging every morning along the beach and coast; trekking and exploring through mud and heavy winds; and getting soaked by two-story-high waves spilling on the port. We also visited an island only accessible to pedestrians during low tide, checked out a sheep farm, and went surfing and horseback riding.

The second week my host family and I drove down to Colmar, a city in the Alsace region of France. Each morning, I went on a run around the city then picked up fresh, warm croissants for breakfast. We ate so well there. The FOOD, the WINE. So tasty. I understand the hype around French cuisine now. We also did a lot of day trips in the area, including to Basel in Switzerland and the Black Forest in Germany.

In high school, my goals were to maintain straight As, create art, and improve youth education in my city while balancing a social life. Quite academic -- school was the biggest priority. My exchange goals are more about enjoying my time with my friends and host family, cultural integration, and language fluency. A group of girls from school recently told me that I was the most integrated exchange student they've met, as I spend time with Germans, not other exchange students, and only speak German. That was so nice to hear. I'll be taking the B2 German intermediate-advanced test in September in San Francisco. Having this certificate will provide evidence of my advanced German skills for job applications.

So I was hardly even home during break. As soon we got back from France that Saturday night, I took the train to visit a friend in Bonn, the capital of West Germany during the Cold War. On Sunday we walked along the Rhine river. Bonn was another beautiful German city.

& Pics from my two vacations below!!

Hitting the March 11 date was a slap in the face reminder that I have (now) less than three months here. My time here is ending, but on the daily basis, I have never had so much down time. I fulfill this experience with entertaining and deep conversations with my host family, grabbing food with my friends, taking day trips to nearby cities (and countries), going to discos, and just overall spending time with my family and friends. My other activities include tennis, badminton, German lessons, and working out at the gym.

The first weekend of February, my friend and I visited Münster, a city about four hours north of us. We took the train there and stayed overnight at her grandma's house. It was so much fun to walk around the city and spend the weekend together.

münster, germany

I'm really impressed by how much freedom my friends here have compared to my friends back home. People my age travel to other countries or regions in Germany with each other (no parents!) during school holidays or breaks. It'd more uncommon in my city in California if a group of sixteen-year-old girls went without parents to another city or country for a few days. This is however possible in Germany due to a

i saw this right outside the münster train station: the link connecting east & west germany

number of factors: the close proximity of countries in Europe, reliable and safe public transportation, affordable youth hostels, and the general freedom German teenagers are granted.

my friend and i by aasee, the lake in münster

thüringer good

I was also in Weimar for one week with my exchange program. Here I visited a concentration camp and the house of both Goethe and Schiller, learned about Bauhaus style and architecture, and reconnected with all the other Americans, most of whom I haven't seen since the beginning of September.

duchess anna amalia library in weimar

I remember how I always envisioned castles to be so romantic and fairy-tale-like. I had only visited a few castles previously in Europe. There's so many castles and palaces in Germany though. I've probably seen over twenty in the last few months. The views still impress me each time.

a unique yellow castle in weimar

Probably one of the most exciting weeks of my exchange thus far has been KARNEVAL. This is a week long public celebration of parties, parades, and dressing up before Lent, which is a fasting period that lasts until Easter. For one week, I had no school and instead went out nightly with friends to dress up, dance, and sing to Karneval music. It was so much fun!

watching the children's parade (and collecting candy)

costumes necessary

Language Updates: I feel quite comfortable in the language. In the beginning, I spoke with the friends who had taken me under their wings mostly in English, but as my German improved, I branched out more and formed friendships more on my own. I've never even heard the majority of my friends speak English. Of course, at the beginning it was difficult because I couldn't understand anything that was going on in class or what people were talking about with each other. I would just sit there quietly as I tried to follow along by picking out out words I understood. It helped that everyone was extremely patient and understanding of my limited language abilities. Now I can articulate myself in class, understand and make jokes, and carry out the social interactions to the similar degree I do in English. My host family also is so encouraging and they were the first people I started only speaking German with, around December. Of course, there's so much more I want to and need to learn to speak German like it's my mother tongue, but I'm getting there.

monschau, germany: a village surrounded by forest
bike riding with my best friend karla

this forest is right in my city