Hello! My name is Marli, and I’m from Orlando-area Florida. I’m a homeschooled seventeen-year-old who loves to read (hit me up with those book recommendations), draw (mainly the characters from whichever book I’ve just finished), swim (competitively, recreationally, doesn’t matter - if there’s water, I’m there), and use parentheses in excess. Oh, and travel, of course!
I am also a CBYX finalist, and I will be spending my senior year in Germany.
I’ve said those words so many times since I found out I got accepted in March, but it still hasn’t really hit me that I’m leaving my home and my family for a year. In two months. At the time of writing this blog post, 64 days. Knowing myself, it isn’t really going to feel real until my suitcase is packed and I’m in the car on the way to the airport. I think that’s because I can’t really picture what this exchange will be like. Of course I’ve been researching everything I can about Germany and the CBYX program (obsessively, since last June, sorry Mom and Dad), but it’s pretty difficult to map out a whole year of your life no matter how many YouTube videos you’ve watched.
What I Know
- What the language camp looks like (it’s a castle! How cool is that?)
- That there are over 300 different kinds of bread in Germany and I will probably eat all of them
- How to say, “I’m angry because I’m hungry,” in German, as well as many other Completely Necessary and Very Useful phrases
- That the year ahead of me is probably going to be the most rollercoastery, knock-you-flat-on-your-face-and-then-help-you-back-up-again year I’ve had thus far. (Cheesy, I know, but true.)
What I Don’t Know
- Who my host family is (Hello, if you’re reading this! Can’t wait to meet you!)
- Where I’ll be living after the first 4 weeks in Germany (Bavaria? Just outside of Hamburg? On a farm in Bad Westernkotten?)
- What daily life will be like (Where will I go to school? Who will my friends be? What will I struggle with most? What will surprise me about German life? Will my host family have a dog, because I really hope so? How long until I’m able to understand enough German to get by without Google Translate? Etc)
- Pretty much everything else. (Or at least it feels that way.)
When I try to picture this next year in Germany, it looks like uncertainty and unfamiliarity, but also adventure and personal growth. It looks like meeting new people and making friends I feel like I’ve known all my life, and like learning more about myself as I learn more about the culture I’m living in. It looks like not wanting to leave when the year is up, and coming home a different person than I was when I left.
Preparing for a Year in Germany
So what have I done to prepare? First of all, I didn’t speak any German going into this. I’ve been taking Spanish for the past few years, and I knew I wanted to go somewhere in Europe, so I was looking into going to Spain as an exchange student. However, I did not have $15,000 dollars, so I had to find an alternative. That was CBYX! I did some research on the program and I was sold. (Was it the castle? Psh… That’s ridiculous. Okay, yes, maybe it was the castle. (Just kidding.)) Before the application was even available, I was learning German vocabulary for kitchen utensils and household objects.
As far as language learning tools go, most people use Duolingo. That’s what I used for Spanish, but it doesn’t actually teach you very much, unless you need to know how to say, “My cat is blue,” and “The monkey is rude to the horse.” For more useful phrases like, “The bank isn’t open until three o’clock,” or my favorite, “I’m angry because I’m hungry,” I recommend Memrise. If you buy the full version, there is also a ‘Learn with the Locals’ feature that uses videos of native German speakers to teach you vocabulary. Mango is also a good language-learning tool, and while it isn’t as interactive, it does help you with grammar. If you decide to try Mango, you may be able to get it for free through your public library.
As well as these apps, I recommend watching videos or TV shows in German. This helps you get an ear for pronunciation and to pick up new vocabulary. I’m currently watching a German high-school drama called Druck, and many of my CBYX friends are watching the sci-fi show Dark on Netflix. If you’re more advanced in German, there’s a great YouTube channel called Easy German that features captioned street interviews on many different topics with native German speakers.
T-minus Two Months and Counting
The next two months are going to be pretty hectic. As a homeschooler, I don’t have to worry about arranging for my credits to be transferred, but I still have some classes to finish up before August.
I also have a lot of shopping to do: I need to buy almost an entire new wardrobe (the American “athleisure” style doesn’t fly in Germany), host family gifts, and a laptop before I leave. A laptop isn’t required, but I’ve decided to bring one with me for things like video editing. With such a long shopping list and ever-mounting expenses, I’ll be working a lot, too.
Sometime in July, I’ll be having a going-away party. If you’re at the stage where you’re planning your own, a great place to get German food is Aldi! My mom went a little while ago when they were having a special sale, so our freezer is full of strudel and spätzle and bratwurst and Bienenstich cake and basically everything else from the Deutsche Küche line.
It’s stressful to prepare to leave my home and culture for a year, and it gets to me at times. But it’s worth it — it helps that I have an amazing support system in the friends I’ve made through the program. Just through the application and interview process alone, I’ve become braver, more independent, and confident. Thanks to CBYX, I’ve already been able to see possibilities for my future that I never would have considered before, and I’m grateful for that.
Until next time,