Tuesday, September 29, 2009


So.. a lot has happened, and it seems really big and cool as it happens, and then afterwards I realize it wasn't really worth getting excited about. For example, today I decided to get off the U-Bahn early and take a different bus home to the stop right in front of my house, just on a whim. I got to enjoy the streets instead of the dark smelly organs of the U-Bahn, until we stopped at a stop where I would guess about 30 or 40 teenagers got on. Clearly there was a school there, and I was lucky enough to already have a seat, however I spent the next 20 minutes squished against the window as more people tried to squish on at each stop. One stop was called Grindelwald Weg, which reminded me of Harry Potter and made me happy. Then I was zoning out and staring at a Feuerlöscher, and was racking my brains trying to think of the English word, and after about 5 minutes I realized it was a fire extinguisher. Maybe it's good that I'm forgetting my English because it means I'm improving on my German! Who knows. But that was my long and rather dull story, but as it was happening I was thinking how exciting my life was. :)
Another highlight of my day: before Sprachschule began, my teacher pulled me out into the hallway and asked me in German if I wanted to move up to a harder class because it seemed like I was getting bored (which was so true, but I thought I was doing a better job hiding it!). So I joined another class, which was much bigger and quite a bit more advanced, so I had a sort of hard time understanding what the teacher said but I understood most of what was going on. I'm just going to study really hard to try and catch up... although I can't believe I just spent 25€ on books for 3 more days of class. I didn't really think it through very well. But they'll be good to have for grammatical reference, and hopefully AFS will pay for them, so I'm glad I bought them.
I will try to briefly summarize the weekend, although it was full of events. Simon, Sebastian, Daniela and I drove down to a tiny little farm town somewhere near Frankfurt. It took around 4 1/2 hours to get there, and we passed so many windmills it was like I was in windmill wonderland or something. The town was really sweet and old, and smelled like cow poop but in a good farmy way. We, along with at least 50 other people, all stayed in this little religious hotel place where we would celebrate Christa's 60th birthday. Christa is, from what I gathered from a family friend Rebecca, a member of the 'Friday Group' which was the group of young people (including Daniela I think) who had their Confirmations together and then met on Fridays for a while and became good friends. So everyone there was raised in the same religion, and Christa's husband is a priest, so there were like 5 religious services in the whole weekend... I think that's more than I've ever attended in my life. But they were pretty fun, and I got to sing loads of German hymns, and eat Jesus' blood and body. There was a ton of good food, one of my favorites being basically a hot-dog-like sausage wrapped up in a layer of tater tot. Except 5x better. And during the big Saturday night celebration, we all dressed up and drank wine (not very much for me, I didn't like it) and ate food and danced (only a couple times for me as I have no coordination when it comes to dancing) and listened to music, and everyone under the age of 30, plus a few older people, stayed up until 2:30 a.m. So that was a good time, and I got to get to know some more people who I'll probably meet again at some point this year.
Well, that was a rather long summary, but there it is. Lately it has been really cold, and I've heard that the German winters are FREEZING. Tonight I walked to the bus stop after rowing, and it was already dark out at 7:30, and I had my north face fleece on but my teeth were chattering and my fingers were tingly. Tomorrow I'm wearing my wool hat. Maybe I will find a lovely little bakery (okay, finding one is not at all a problem-they're everywhere!) to sit down in and drink something warm and delicious and study my präpositionen and akkusativ rules. Tchüss!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


I was going to make this my original post but then got sidetracked... 2 posts in one day you lucky ducks!
Bizarre/weird/different things I've noticed:
-smartcars are EVERYWHERE
-on bigger streets, cars park on the sidewalk
-on smaller streets, cars park on either side of the road, and then if someone's coming from the other direction one of you has to pull into a driveway so the other one can pass.
-the lightswitches are the size of an altoids container (My brain isn't functioning properly yet; I couldn't think of anything better)
-everything looks like it walked out of an ikea store (actually I'm pretty sure a lot of it did)
-about 75% of people smoke
-you have to use a Euro coin to unlock a shopping cart to use, and then it spits it back out at you when you lock it back up (hence, no stolen shopping carts?)
-they eat SO MUCH FOOD and yet they stay skinny!!!
-there are no closets, just wardrobe thingys.
-they keep all the doors closed all the time. even the bathroom. which is annoying because for the first night I waited for like 20 minutes for someone to come out because I thought they were taking a shower, then I realized that the noise of water was just the fountain outside
-they keep their bathroom windows open all the time, even though its 45 degrees outside at night
-they eat very methodically, and make sure their meat fits their bread perfectly
-they have at least 6 different types of toilet-flushers that i've seen so far
-their toilet paper comes perforated in rectangles instead of squares

Things I miss (or probably will be missing) about America: (not in any particular order)
-my cats
-having a girls' bike
-knowing what everyone's talking about (but that wil come with time!)
-the fun spring regattas on lovely days where the race is quick and fun and mostly we all just hang out and stuff ourselves.
-English movies & books
-proximity to a very well-stocked library
-my alarm clock that plays music to wake me up instead of beeping loudly and obnoxiously

Things I don't miss:
-having crew 5 days a week (at least)
-construction in my house
-having to get up at 6:30 every morning
-living right on a main road next to a hospital
-AP homework
-NHS (I miss the people. just not the schedule/building/homework/etc)
-having a quick, small breakfast and a big, heavy dinner
-cat hair on my clothes

i love you all!

getting better, i think!

So today was pretty good overall! The morning was bleh, although I did splurge on a vanille frappe (not really knowing what it was, but it sounded good) during break and it was AMAZING. I think they used legit vanilla beans. I'm going to have a very hard time not buying another one. After Sprachschule I walked to the bookstore to try and get a receipt for the schoolbooks I bought... I didn't even think to ask for one when I bought them. But the man was very nice and taught me the German word for receipt (Quittung), and then reccommended a book for me in English (The Reader) which I bought gratefully. So now I have new reading material and a receipt, so hopefully AFS will refund me for my schoolbooks. After school there was nobody home, because Clara had Judo and Simon was... somewhere. So I watched part of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, first in German with English subtitles, but the German voices are SO OBNOXIOUS so I watched it in English with German subtitles, which was much better. It's rather blissful to hear English, even if it is British. I got about a third of the way through and then Clara and Simon and Daniela came home, so I went downstairs and I had gotten a letter from AFS about post-arrival orientation in mid-October. It's in Berlin, and I'll probably take the UBahn over, I might email some of the other exchange students and see if they want to go together. I'm really excited; we're staying in a student hostel and it will be my first AFS event with students from other countries! Plus we get to talk about what it's like to be here... and I do like to talk... Also, Daniela had a talk with my schule and she tried to tell me about it... I think I understood around half of it (of course, Sebastian was mumbling things in English to help, so that was somewhat helpful although sometimes I can't even understand their English). But I know that I'm going to have to do some kind of apprenticeship thingy starting in January- Jakob did his in a bike shop, Simon did his with computers, and Judith did hers somewhere else. But Daniela mentioned something about a dentist.. I don't know if I would want to be a dentists' apprentice, it sounds a little gross. But I'll keep my mind open. I also learned that in the end of June, my class is going to Amsterdam!!! So I'm really psyched for that.
So after dinner, which was basically apple crisp (the Germans have bizarre eating habits) that Simon made out of apples and zwieback, Clara and Daniela and I went to the grocery store. German grocery stores are funny- all the drinks are displayed in the shipping packaging, so you can either take a whole bunch all wrapped in plastic or rip it open and take one. And there are 2 aisles in this very small store almost entirely devoted to chocolate. And another 2 aisles devoted to meat and fish. And then there's random vegetables and snack foods squeezed in. But going out of the house with people always makes me feel better, and so now I'm pretty cheerful, but it has definitely been an emotional roller-coaster! I think it's bringing down my immune system, because I have a cold- I had a runny nose for a few days, and now my throat hurts and I'm getting a cough. But hopefully it's a quickie cold, and tomorrow morning I'll be all better for my presentations! I'm excited to miss language school.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Beginning to connect

So I'm going to make this one short... today I successfully got to class 15 minutes early, and had time to practice reading a dorky German poem from my workbook. Then class began and I was one of the few who did my homework and could read the German poem without pausing (so I got kudos from the teacher- I was pretty cheerful inside). After school I got a chocolate crossaint (SEHR GUT) and took the u-bahn back home. Then Clara and I walked up the street to the market- it's really small and doesn't have a very wide selection of anything, but it's convenient for meat and produce and bread. But for anything else you should go into the city.
Last night I met Sebastian's sister and her husband. She and Sebastian look a lot alike. Also, Clara and her friend picked a bunch of acorns and cracked them all. I didn't even know you could eat acorns. I don't really like them- they have no flavor and a weird texture. We had a creamy yellow soup for dinner, which was good even being a soup, and then we had this yogurt-berry parfait thing with a carmelized layer on top that was also good. After I finished my homework I went downstairs and read my National Geographic Adventure magazine (English- I can't even read a children's book in German yet) and then Clara turned on the tv to Galilleo- I'm not really sure what it is, but I think it's aimed for children and the episode we watched was this guy who was trying to cook a bunch of desserts in huge quantities- so he made jello in a kiddie pool, and an enormous crepe. I couldn't understand most of it, but it was still fun to watch.
AFS had sent us the wrong info accidentally for the Survival Orientation, but I think the actual one is next weekend, but since my host family didn't know that until Saturday, they already had plans to bring me to a big birthday celebration in Frankfurt. So I don't think I can go. : ( However, I did get in contact with my liason, who seems very nice, and she said that she wants to meet me in person and she can tell me what they discussed at the survival camp. So it should all work out.
Also, I got invited to present to an English class in another school in Berlin on Thursday. I'll have to miss language school, but I think it should be fun. It's a school that's 95% Turkish, because they offer Turkish as a second language. AFS put together Thursday to be a cultural-exchange day, so I think they're having a bunch of AFSers do presentations. I don't really know what I'm going to say- hopefully I'll be able to say it in English, but I'll only have been here for a week and a half! Oh well. The guy who emailed me seems nice and he was an AFSer to Ohio a long time ago, so we have something in common to talk about.
I miss you all, but alles gut!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

One week down!

Hello everyone! It's been a week already, but it seems like I've been here for so much longer. I started Sprachschule, or language school, two days after I arrived and it's been pretty fun. My class (of 6 students, all older than me) went on a field trip on a Berlin watertaxi, which was really cool. Learning the language is really hard simply because I feel so helpless in understanding everyone, but every day I understand a little bit more. The language school is mostly helping with grammar and sentence structure, and a bit of vocabulary. Also, I have to take a bus and 2 different U-Bahns (basically subways) to get there, so I'm also learning how to use public transportation... in German. It's been interesting. I've gotten lost a few times, but I've been able to ask for help so far and I've always found my way back.
I miss home more than I thought I would, but I'm having a really good time. I said that I didn't have many expectations of my experience, but I think that I ignored the fact that I had expectations of myself to be less homesick and quicker to pick up the language. But I keep trying to remind myself to give myself a break and just concentrate on listening to people speak in German. Someday I'll get it!
I started rowing 2 days a week with a rowing club about half an hour away by bus, plus a 15 minute walk. The other rowers have been friendly, but it's been really awkward since none of them speak very good English (which is probably a good thing) and so I just stumble around following people (and on Friday I almost got into the wrong boat. Oops.) I think that I'm on the just-for-fun team, which means no regattas to get up early for! Cheers! Of course, their idea of a practice is rowing for 2 hours straight with one five-minute break in the middle. Yikes. It's definitely different than what I'm used to. It's probably for the better though, because the coxswain doesn't have to say anything other than 'row' and 'stop' (except in German), so there's less for me to get confused by.
This morning I got up at 6 and went with my host parents and host brother to another part of Berlin, where we were volunteers in the Berlin Marathon. We got to watch the wheelchair section (they were going reallllly fast!) and then we handed out cups of water to the runners. There was an hour and a half long mass of marathon runners that pounded their way over the lake of trashed plastic cups. Sebastian said there were around 30,000 of them- that's like everyone in Northampton getting together and running a marathon. Whoa. But I did get a very cool neon yellow volunteer's jacket, which is waterproof (thank goodness, the runners were throwing water everywhere) and says Berlin Marathon on it. I was pretty excited.
Well, it's a lazy Sunday afternoon in my house, and I feel like I should be doing something more German and not connecting with all you (although I miss you all very much!!!), so I'm going to go study my language books... urgh. I can't wait until the language books get to easy for me and I can just spew out a load of German! I'm going to have to wait a little while, though. I think this experience should definitely do some magic work to my patience.

Monday, September 14, 2009

In Deutschland, at last!!!

Okay, I'm really wishing I was fluent in German already. However, I know that the painful and difficult struggle I am about to pursue is part of the whole exchange experience, so I'm not focusing on my regrets. I am still pretty tired after many hours of travel but I don't think it's fatigue from being surrounded by a new country yet. I think that's probably coming soon, though. Our flight was good, although dinner was served at midnight, and so I finally fell asleep at 1 am and then at about 3:30 I woke up and it was light out (because it was 7:00 where we were flying over. We landed at about 6, which was noon German time. Then I, along with a few other people, was taken to the waiting area for people leaving on trains. For some reason my train was full of Brazilian exchange students, so I couldn't even understand the other students! But I sat with some other Americans and we played cards and bought our first German items... except we were on a train so there wasn't much to choose from. I bought a Twix bar for 1,5 Euro. It was deliciously German. Then some of us switched trains and there weren't any open tables, so I sat by myself and tried to get some sleep while listening to Portuguese. At 8 p.m. (German time) we got to our stop and I met my host familie!!! They are very nice. Clara made me a sign and a pin with my name on them. When we got to the house we had dinner: bread with meat and cheese and salad. I was so happy there was salad. I met Simon and Lisa, his girlfriend, and everyone spoke in Deutsch while I sat there eating... oh well. Then I took a shower- the showerhead was really low but I managed. The toilets are very funny- they all have a sticker on the seat with 2 pictures of a man peeing (not real pictures, just those little black figures on bathroom doors) and one says "bitte" (please) with a red x over it and the other (the wrong way) says "danke" (thank you). The one with an x is a man standing, the other is a man sitting. Apparently German men don't stand when they pee. I haven't embarrassed myself terribly yet, although I did mistake a soup plate for a bread plate. Whoopsie-daisy.
I went to church with my host parents on Sunday, for the first time in my life. It was definitely a good experience, but I don't think I'll be going every week. Or even every other week. Clara talked to me all day long, and I'm not sure she realized that I couldn't understand anything she was saying, but sometimes I could get the jist of it. She taught me how to play this simple game with pegs and dice, and then we played Rummycube (I won!!) and pick-up sticks, and after the afternoon meal (lunch + dinner combined) we played "Cafe International", a board game from the 80s that was fun but definitely entailed some stereotypes... there were cartoon pictures of men and women from different countries, and all the Cubans had cigars and military outfits, the Russians had fur hats, and the Americans had big flashy sunglasses. It was fun, though. Today Daniela (host mom) took me to the market to get food. It was an interesting experience. Did you know that in Germany you have to put a Euro coin into the shopping carts in order to use them? And then when you're done you put the cart back and lock it with the others and it gives you your coin back, to prevent people from stealing. Also, everyone brings baskets or bags, if you don't then you have to buy bags. Overall it is very eco-friendly here.
I have found that at night and in the morning I feel pretty down, asking myself how I got myself into this mess where I can't understand anything and I won't be home for 10 months. But as soon as I go downstairs and start talking to people, even if they can't understand what I'm saying it makes me feel more cheerful and very lucky that I get to learn this cool language. Well, I love you all, but I'm going to go help make lunch now! Auf Wiedersehen!!!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Worries, Woes, and Walla-Walla

So last night I had a dream that I was at the airport about to get on the plane when my mom tells me that I'm not going to Germany; instead she's booked me a flight to Walla-Walla. She said that it's closer to home (not by much, but it is in the same country) and since nobody actually knows where it is they'll still be just as impressed. (I know where it is. And I'm only 16. I'm sure there are plenty of 40-something-year-olds out there who know it's in Washington.) Anyway, I think Mom's sort of starting to freak out a little, and so she tells me to relax and breathe and that if I don't buy everything I need before I go then I can buy stuff there, but I think she's really attempting to relax herself. My poor sister started school today and last night my mom kept forgetting that she had to go to bed early. So then we had to go find a Staples to try and find a binder for her, because Mom keeps forgetting it's September and she's not on vacation anymore. Oh well. She'll get a kick in the rump soon enough when I'm not there lollygagging and Olivia has piles of homework and the driveway has piles of leaves.
So, now for my worries and woes... I don't really have a lot, but it made for a good title. I decided to deal with a winter coat once I get there. I bought a North face fleece that should do for fall, and I'm bringing a hat and gloves and such. There's a pair of boots I found online that look quite nice (on sale!!) but I wouldn't be able to pack them anyway so I'm just going to wait. I might have mom order them and then ship them to me anyway, though. Because she won't have enough to do. I think I've got nearly everything I need. I'm going downtown today to buy a lens filter and some new Converse, and I have to go peanut-butter-and-oreo shopping at some point. I don't know how I'm going to fit all this stuff though! I stuffed my backpack full of clothes yesterday, and it only weighed 25 pounds. I'm going to have to start using Ziploc baggies to squish out all the air. I decided on a many-layered airplane outfit so that I can take as much weight off my bag as possible (not that it matters a whole lot since I've got 20 pounds to spare.) So, now that you've heard all that gloriously boring stuff, I'll put up some pictures of my house and host family that my familie emailed me!!