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.

I'm spending one month (I only have a few days left) with 49 other exchange students in Würzburg. I've had great times hanging out with friends, going on daily runs, having intense ping pong sessions, and simply chilling in the hostel. I've met a group of great friends, who are always down for a deep conversation, like about the American government's response to climate change or our family backgrounds, or a spontaneous trip to town. I'm here living at a youth hostel while taking German lessons and adjusting to a foreign culture and way of life.

I share a room with five girls. There's six bunk beds and small locker-style storage spaces. We definitely complain too much about the hostel life, honestly, but I'm really enjoying my experience in Germany so far. Huge smile on my face right now. I'm constantly reminded how beautiful life is. A five minutes walk from the hostel is both a medieval fortress and delectable €1.20 gelato ice cream waiting for me.

I'm a social butterfly who loves hanging and talking to people, but I've also grown to enjoy solitude while strolling through the city, people-watching and reflecting on what I've learned and what I've experienced. The other day I spent three hours walking through the city then sitting at a park slowly eating a delicious pastry from one of the many bakeries nearby. I slowly navigated my way past the throngs of tourists. I had set out to buy peanut M&Ms (a spontaneous very-unhealthy craving) and ended up wandering, looking, and thinking. Sometimes when I've had these moments while going on walks or runs alone I become a little emotional. I think about how exciting it is that I'm in Germany, how weird it is that I graduated early and my friends are back home in their senior year of school. It's a good feeling, though. The day before my friend and I went for a five-mile run through the city, so I was visiting some cool spots we had passed by.

What has surprised me most so far is the different ways of child raising. Germans instills responsibility and freedom in children at a young age, so by the time teenagers are 16, they're treated like adults. We exchange students have so much freedom. After just four hours of German class, I'm free to do as I wish as long as I'm back at the hostel by 10 pm and in my room by 11. In America in a similar situation, there'd likely be chaperones or greater concerns over legality issues. It's a more relaxed and independent vibe here. My German counselors explain that they trust us, since we're "adults", unless we give them a reason not to. I'm interested in learning more on how these different patterns developed. Also note that I haven't actually met my host family, as I don't go to Aachen until this Thursday, September 6, so this explanation is just from observations and cultural discussions with my German teachers.

It's a little stagnant here. I'm not yet an exchange student since I haven't gone to my host family, but I've already left America. I'm in the middle. Living here feels a little sheltered and isolated, since I haven't met any German friends or family. I'm transitioning and finding a balance between my new activities: runs/workouts, nights out with friends, college apps, and studying German. I'm so excited to finally begin my life as an exchange student on Thursday when I take the train to my host town.

Germany is so beautiful, relaxing, and serene. My favorite parts are the beautiful areas I discover on my runs. Here are some photos of my experience.

I've been texting my host mom, packing packing packing, and buying gifts, but no, it hasn't hit me that I'm leaving in one week. Seven days and I'll be boarding a flight from Chicago to Frankfurt with forty nine other exchange students. My going away / graduation party (On July 3 I graduated early as a junior!) is this Saturday.

Since my last post, my German has improved so much. It's only been two months since I first selected the "German 1" course on, yet I'm already beginning to understanding the nuances in grammar and can converse with basic ability with my tutor. Six times a week I practice German for an hour with my tutor and language-learning websites.

I remind myself of the language and cultural challenges I'll face, so I'm prepared. I greatly encountered this during my six week homestay in Japan last summer. However, I look forward to these challenges, even though I don't know specifically what they'll be. My senior year in America would be predictably successful in that I'd attain my academic and extracurricular goals (as I have for the past three years of high school) through focused studying and hard work. Yet my path for success in Germany isn't as clear. In fact, I'm not exactly sure what all my goals are, as this is a new, exciting adventure. I know I want to get either my B2 or C1 language certification, but the other steps I have aren't so tangible: meet friends, establish a strong relationship with my host family, and travel some? (Back at it with the cliches and wants of every other exchange student). As an organized, goal-oriented person, it's a change, but I'm excited.

Seven days and all of us exchange students are taking a bus to Würzburg, Bavaria from the Frankfurt airport where I'll be attending language and culture camp until September 6. Then I'll take the train to meet my host family.

As of now, there's not much to say about Deutschland - I don't leave until the beginning of August. I'm both so excited and a little bit nervous to experience this total unknown. I'm confronted with bittersweet reflections on my life in America and the anticipation for the new experiences I will make in this country.

I've been practicing my German daily through YouTube videos and Memrise, but my brain tires easily after an hour. My German vocabulary, I can tell, is slowly expanding, yet accompanying this language learning is many frustrations in pronouncing the new sounds. I'm determined to be conversational before I leave in August 8. My ultimate goal is for my German to be advanced enough so that I can pass the Goethe-Zertifikat B2 exam, which certifies an advanced understanding of German. In the meantime, I've been emailing my host family in Englisch, but I use the German word when I know the translation.

This time last year I was using YouTube and Memrise to learn Japanese for my summer exchange in Japan. Funny how now I'm doing the same thing but with German.

67 days until August 8!!! omg

Also, I'll be living in Aachen. It's west of Cologne (financial capital of Germany) and right next the German/Belgium border and under the German/Dutch border.