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.
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.
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.
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.
The number of bakeries here can be compared to the number of McDonald's and Starbucks in the States...it 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.
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.
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.