Hello, and welcome back to another post! This time I’m writing from Deutschland!
Goodbyes and Hellos
August 2nd was the beginning of Pre-departure Orientation in Washington, DC. My mom and my grandma, who had flown in for my farewell party, went with me to the airport and sat with me at the gate until my flight. That was the hardest part of the program for me so far. I cried like a baby when I said goodbye to my siblings and my dad and my dog at the house, and when I had to say goodbye to my mom in the airport. I gave her one last hug, turned my back, and walked away through the bridge...the last time I’ll see my family until June 2019.
One of the benefits of ugly-crying on an airplane, however, is that you get the window seat AND the seat in the middle for your stuff, because no one wants to sit next to you. The flight attendants are also super nice and will give you the whole can of soda without you even having to ask. 7/10 would recommend.
I met one of the CIEE alumni at the airport, and, after almost forgetting my checked bag on the luggage carousel, headed to the hotel where PDO was held. It was so great to see all the people from the interview, and the people I’d been talking to via Facebook Messenger group-chat since last August when we were applying together. This year, 50 of the Germans from the opposite end of the CBYX program came to PDO too! It was a really good combination; all the Germans wanted to talk to the Americans about America and all the Americans wanted to talk to the Germans about Germany, and everyone was happy to share. The alumni led us in group discussions about the problems we might face in our new countries, the cultural differences, and the things we’re excited or worried about.
On the second day of PDO, we toured DC! Even though my family and I have done a lot of road-tripping, we’ve never actually been to the Capitol. My favorite tour was actually the tour of the Capitol building. They play a video before it starts that briefly goes over the history of the United States and all that had to happen for us to be the country we are today, and man, I left that room feeling so patriotic.
There’s a staircase that they take you up near the beginning of the tour — make sure you have your camera ready, because this is what you’re going to see:
Our guide said that her favorite part of the tour is this room because everyone’s eyes always snap up to the ceiling when they walk in.
Standing against the wall around the rotunda are statues of people who have influenced the United States for the better. Each state has one. I found it appropriate that Florida’s statue was the inventor of air-conditioning, John Gorrie.
After an 8 hour flight and a 2-3 hour bus ride, we arrived at Language Camp! It was surreal driving through Bad Laasphe — there was a moment when I looked up, and there was Schloss Wittgenstein perched on a hill overlooking the town.
It’s a really beautiful castle. It’s a boarding school during most of the year so the inside isn’t too fairytaleish, but there’s something captivating about knowing you’re in a place that’s been around for so long. (Since 1187, actually!) And, according to Wikipedia, there are rumors of a secret escape tunnel between the Schloss and the oldest building in town, the Protestant church. I’m determined to be the person who finds it. The castle is also the best place to play hide-and-seek, hands down. The floor-plan is super confusing, but that also means there are a dozen top-notch hiding places to be found.
Teamers, Small Groups, and Daily Life
So what do we do at Language Camp?
The first day we arrived, we were introduced to the Teamers. They’re German Experiment volunteers who’ve gone on exchange before, some through CBYX, some through other programs. The point is, they’ve all been there. They all know what it’s like to leave your family and your culture for a year, and they give really good advice. On the second day, we were organized into Small Groups. A Small Group is 8 or 9 CBYXers led by a Teamer that serves as a discussion platform for anything from worries about host families to your favorite thing that you did this week. You’ll have the same Small Group throughout the whole year: Language Camp, Midyear, and Berlin Re-Entry.
Here’s what tomorrow, Monday, looks like:
8:00 Breakfast (usually Brotchen, cereal, cold meats, cheese, and fruit.)
8:30 Announcements (first in German, then in English. I noticed at the end of last week that I was mostly understanding what they were talking about without needing the English translation!)
9:00 Class (I’m in class 3, the highest being 6. I hadn’t had any prior German experience aside from Memrise/Duolingo, so we’re going over basic things like household items vocabulary, Dativ, Akkusativ, Nominativ, and how to conjugate verbs in Past Perfekt.)
12:30 Lunch (In the USA, our hot meal is usually dinner. In Germany, it’s lunch. Expect a lot of pasta and meat and vegetables.)
1:00-2:00 Free time (Most people hang out in the courtyard, in each others’ rooms, or sit out in the hall where there’s Wifi to do homework. You can also get permission to go into the Plenum, the room where we meet every day for some sort of group lesson, to use the piano.)
2:00 Small Group
6:00 Dinner (Basically the same as breakfast.)
6:45 Self-Reflection (You and your Small Group meet in a classroom and have 45 minutes of quiet time to write in your journal, draw, or even just think. As long as it’s quiet and you’re not on your phone, it’s usually fine.)
7:30 Movies (Bad Laasphe has a movie theater! We have 3 movies to choose from. I think I’m going to see Mamma Mia 2.)
10:00 Room Check
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we have class again after lunch instead of free time. On those days, the Teamers (bless their souls) bring us snacks to keep morale up. My German classes have been really fun, though! Last week we learned vocabulary for shopping, and then tested it out down at the weekly market when we bought ingredients for a fruit salad and a greek salad. I also bought some potted lisianthus flowers from the flower stall! I paid for one pot of pink ones, but the lady was so nice and gave me a pot of purple ones for free! And I got through the whole interaction in German! It's the little things like that that make me happy to be here.
It’s true that some days have been tougher than others for me. Leaving home, navigating the social situation of 49 teenagers living together in a castle for a month, and trying to communicate with strangers who don’t speak my language is both exciting and emotionally draining. But I don’t think it’s been as hard as I was bracing myself for. Ever the overly-cautious, I had braced myself for daily tears, constant homesickness, and frustration with my German classes, but it hasn’t been that. All these new experiences and friendships and information have left me feeling very content. Every day, I prove to myself that I can handle more than I thought I could. Every day, I get to know myself a little better. I can’t wait to meet the person I’ll have become at the end of the year.
Bis zum nächsten Mal,