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.

A few days ago I received my flight information for my trip back to America. This means that the ending to my exchange is official, and I now have just five more months to enjoy my time here. And so far, I've loved living in Germany. I'm becoming always closer with my host family and I appreciate all the wonderful German friends I've met.

Every night, I write in my journal about what I did and what I learned. This notebook is now growing to be a small documentation of my life and my life lessons. It's not always easy and exciting. I've had the best days ever where I spent the entire night laughing with friends and grumpy days where I've been so frustrated with my German and inability to understand and communicate at the level I desire. But mostly, I enjoy my days here attending school, talking and hanging out with friends, and doing sports. The weekends are where I hang out with friends, travel, and spend time with my host family.

the cutest cheesecake there was

It's also SO COLD HERE NOW. I'm talking 30 degrees. California me isn't used to this! And snow! But now I've gained cold weather experience.

some of my good friends at my birthday

A few days ago, I celebrated my eighteenth birthday. That's a huge deal here because it means I'm finally an adult and can enjoy the perks that a twenty-one-year-old would have in the United States. My host family really trusts me and stayed with their friends for the night so I could have the house for my party. Celebrating my birthday with my friends here (until 4:30am Ha!) was one of the most fun and exciting memories of my exchange. I laughed and danced so hard that night. I was so exhausted the next day, which was my real birthday, but I still had a cozy day with my host family. My host mom made an American cheesecake for me, as I mentioned to her a few months prior that I've had cheesecake for my birthday since I was eight. I'm grateful for the kindness of all the people around me. I have a lot of people here to spend time with <3.

overcast weather: typical. hamburg, germany

the vacation in hamburg was beautiful

these were probably the best macaroons I've ever had. BRUSSELS, BELGIUM

Along with passing the 100 Days in Germany date, November flewwwwww by. I had a couple really challenging days where I felt like I was struggling with everything (though I really am not and doing well). The rest of the time were good days with my friends and host family.

A highlight was celebrating Thanksgiving with my host family. It was their first experience with the American tradition. It was also my first time baking pumpkin pie. I felt grateful for the support and friendship of both everyone here in Germany and America.

I also visited Belgium for the first time. Just a thirty minute train ride and I was surrounded by French and a whole different culture!

I'm settling into my life here. Monday: gym, German lesson. Tuesday: badminton. Wednesday: gym, German lesson. Thursday: free after school. Friday: tennis. Saturday and Sunday: sleep in, relax, do art, work on college apps, gym, and spend time with my host family and friends. Meanwhile, I'm speaking mostly German. I hardly have conversations in English anymore.

I also realized that I'm becoming more resilient and capable. I’m more politically and culturally aware and more empathetic and knowledgeable. As a foreign newcomer, it’s sometimes difficult as I don’t speak the language fluently and come from a different culture. Nonetheless, I ask many questions and speak German to immerse myself. I remember to keep a positive and open-minded attitude, knowing that being an outsider at times and facing cultural and emotional challenges are part of the educational experience and a situation many people, especially immigrants, encounter.


afternoon coffee and cake

the pastries and cakes are all so aesthetic

one of the big red chairs in front of my high school

liège, belgium

typically, breakfast here is yogurt with fruits and granola or breads with cheeses and meats

When you live your whole life in one country, you don’t think about how different your behaviors and lifestyle are from people living in other countries. No matter how diverse the lifestyles in your community are, you're often accustomed to it. It’s not a self-conscious effort to think about how others do things differently, because you’re used to the norms and cultural beliefs. Now, experiencing how a different society functions is the epitome of learning experiences for me as an exchange student.   

Recently in the supermarket I was impressed when my friends pressed a button on the wall for a pretzel and in seconds, one automatically slid through a hole...a bread vending machine in action. My friends were astounded that I’d never heard of one. I realized that the machine represented a sound technical innovation and response to German reverence for bread. Later that night, some Google searches revealed the controversy over the machine, because the rolls were manufactured, ignoring fresh baking traditions. My next Google search was, “why Germans love bread,” and I then spiraled into reading articles of German bread history and current issues the baking industry faced. As an exchange student, I constantly learn about cultural nuances and differences. I try to understand why the customs are so, and what they reveal about Germany’s values. I enjoy discussing this with my German friends and host family.

I love being an exchange student. My group of German friends and I click so well — we share similar interests and outgoing, loud personalities. I'm not as talkative because of my limited language abilities, but the language difference hasn't hindered me from communicating with people. I also fit in well with my host family. I enjoy conversing with my host parents and playing with my six-year-old host sister.

my baby host sister

I've noticed that the belief, "Don't say anything if you don't have anything nice to say," is not a part of German culture. Here, people are more direct with less sugar coating and honestly express their opinions. When they compliment someone, I believe it to be really true, otherwise they wouldn't say it. They’re also more reserved than Americans, though still welcoming. Of course, there are exceptions. This is just what I've noticed.

carving my name in a forest in belgium

It’s not just that I’m learning just German culture and language either. It’s also the cultural expressions, gestures, and reactions. For example, when I understand something in English, I respond with a sort of “Ohhh okay.” In German, it’s more “Ahhh so” or "Ah sooo". Whereas learning about the slang and nuances in language is totally new to me, my German friends seem to already know American slang -- it's part of their daily language among peers, too.

c l i o

Through social media, music, and movies, they're very familiar and acquainted with our culture. I didn't realize how expansive and far-reaching American pop culture and social media was. My classmates even watch American-produced Netflix series in English.

my beautiful city of aachen

more of aachen

The number of bakeries here can be compared to the number of McDonald's and Starbucks in the seems like there’s always one (or two) within a three-minute walking proximity in the city.

My school is also conveniently right in the middle of the city. It's a fifteen-minute bus commute away. All of my eleven classes are in German. I can sometimes understand the gist of what’s going on with lots of effort. In my past blog posts, I mentioned that my goal is to get my B2 or C1 German certification. I'm currently taking B1 (intermediate) German classes right now. So I'm one level away from my goal.

clearly didn't catch on to the no-smile look (cologne, germany)

A few days ago, I visited Deft, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam with my host parents. It was fascinating to see the architecture and experience the Dutch society for a couple of days. The close proximity of other countries by Germany and the EU's open borders make international travel almost commonplace. No plane necessary.

hiking with the fam in eifel national park

Having spent almost two months in Aachen and almost three months total in Germany so far, I'm truly enjoying my life here. I'm spending time with new friends and my host family while learning about subtle and not-so-subtle cultural behaviors and patterns.