Now that it's officially been a month since making the transition from language camp to my host family, I have been settling in more and more and have started making making good progress! I have found a good group of friends who I hang out with on a regular basis, and so far, people seem to be interested in talking to an American with a southern accent, which is quite relieving! In language camp, we talked about ways to make friends while in Germany, and after interacting with people my age in Germany for about a month now, the best advice I can give to others thinking about going to Germany is to just throw yourself out there! For a little while, I tried to see whether people would invite me to things and talk to me unsolicitedly to no avail. Germans are very focused on their own lives, and if you don't go out of your way to show that you are interested in hanging out with them, then they will simply assume that you already have something going on and won't bother to ask you if you want to do something with them. However, if you are proactive and ask them to hang out, as long as you are nice and they are free, they will be very likely to say yes and be your friend.
Even in the first month, I have found myself becoming more and more outgoing and social, which was necessary for me to make friends here. There are definitely some exchange students who will get invited to things without having to ask, but for the most part, I would say to expect to have to be brave and open, and people will like you a lot more!
One of the most interesting things so far has been going to high school in Germany, called Gymnasium. I personally have noticed a lot of differences already, especially in the way school is organized and structured. In Germany, older students have the freedom to go home during breaks and come back before their next class, similar to college in the United States, and classes are canceled much more often here as well. The entire school resembles a mixture of high school and college to me because of this. Also, in class, there are no worksheets or "busywork" assignments, but instead more discussions, where students are expected to raise their hands and participate and earn their grades by speaking. Because I'm a gap year student and have already graduated high school in America, my school let me pick whatever classes I wanted and gives me a lot of freedom, but if you still need grades in order to graduate back in America, then expect to have to put in some real effort in those classes. Teachers have been generally very nice and accommodating, but they will definitely not "pass" you just because you are the bright, bubbly exchange student. So far, it also seems that German students take school more seriously than Americans, and as such it is sometimes hard to hang out with friends during the week, since they usually have to study or do homework.
One of the things that will definitely keep you going if you find school in Germany hard is English class! The teacher has welcomed me with open arms and it is a great way to meet new people and help them with something that is very important to their education. Right now, we are talking about globalization, a very important topic and one that is also relevant to CBYX, a program built on the relationship between two very interconnected countries. English class also allows me to get a break from my other classes, which are all very rigorous. This year in Germany, I'm also taking philosophy, history, geography, math, sport, economics, and, of course, German.
If you're ever struggling to talk to German students at your school, the most foolproof way I've discovered to get anyone to talk to me is show them my American driver's license! Almost every single time, it will start a very interesting conversation where you can talk about a part of your life back in America which is very different to what they experience living in Germany, as well as allow them to teach you what things are like in Germany, where most kids have to spend at least a year and up to 2,000 Euros before they can even take their driving test! If nothing else, that is something that us Americans can be thankful for!
Last week, my host family and I traveled to Amsterdam for the weekend to visit my host brother, who is currently working there! It was my first time there, and it was an experience that I'll definitely never forget! We got to walk around the entire city, take a boat tour of the beautiful canals, and even meet up with Lily, another CBYXer who also happened to be in Amsterdam the same time that we were! My favorite part was definitely getting to eat "stroopwafels", which are very thin waffles that also usually have toppings on them like chocolate and caramel. As a southerner, I really do miss Waffle House, and nothing will compare to that, but this was definitely a good consolation!
For the next two weeks, I will be traveling to a few cities in Germany staying with some friends while my host family goes on a trip to America for fall break! I am definitely looking forward to getting to see some of my CBYX friends again, and hopefully we will get to have a lot of memorable experiences. Until then! Bis bald!