Friday, February 24, 2012

Sour Patch Kids: The Foundation of Friendship

They should have let us exchange students know that candy belonging to your home country is a certain form of invasive species.  The only difference between the two is the fact that the candy itself doesn't grow and spread: the rumor of its goodness and the rumor that you are the only person to get it from spreads.  I made the mistake of wanting to show Germans what real sour gummies taste like.  Back in October (yes, October) when I went to London I brought my first bag.  Like I thought, they were a HUGE hit.  Unfortunately, I did not realize that Sour Patch Kids are only available in the USA.  Not only did my friends search high and low in Germany, but also in London. They felt cheated.  I had exposed them to this new thing that they could never have again.  So, I thought, problem solved: Christmas would be a Sour Patch Kids event.  That only made the demand greater.  One friend in particular  - Julia - LOVES them, so I asked my mom to send me another package just for her.  I gave them to her Wednesday.  So far she has screamed, hugged me, told me she loved me, offered to pay me for them, wrote on my Facebook Wall how "wundervoll" I am, etc.  I am glad to make someone so happy, but today I had three people beg me to get them a bag as well.  All offered to pay me. Hmmm.... smuggling candy, eh?  Haha.

Other than my candy dealings not much else has been going on this week.  I got very sick after my Rotary weekend in Hundisburg.  Hundiburg was very interesting because it is in the old East Germany.  For those who don't know, after World War II Germany was separated by the allies into four sectors: the Soviet Union sector, the British sector, the American sector, and the French sector.  Berlin, because it was the capital, and because it was located in the Soviet Union sector, was also sectored between the allies.  The Eastern half or so of Germany was given to the Soviet Union, and, because so many people began fleeing to the Western side, which was much more developed, they built a wall between East and West Germany.  This wall was just suddenly built, both along the border in Germany and in Berlin.  It was so sudden, in fact, that some people left their houses in West Berlin to do some grocery shopping in East Berlin, and couldn't get back to their homes and families when they were finished.  Many families were separated by the wall without warning.  If that wasn't hard enough, the wall was also closely monitored by guards, who had the order to shoot any person who attempted climbing over the wall.  From what I learned that day, being shot by the guards was the best option. There were also electric fences, glass shrapnel, and dogs.  I can't imagine losing part of my family and being so oppressed.  It must have been so hard.   Here are some pictures of the preserved part of the wall and the guard tower that we saw.  You'll notice that the guard tower is located at the highest point so that they could see everything.  The east side of the wall is the one with the mud "pit" and the black things that make the 10 ft wall harder to get over (10 ft is an estimate, it was just tall).  There is also a barbed wire "pre-wall" wall on the other side of the picture that you can't see.  This wall would have a silent electric alarm that would alert the guards.  The other side is the supposed "west" side, but the other thing that the Soviets did was build the wall significantly into their sector so that, if, and I mean if, someone made it over the wall, they thought they were safe, but really they had to run 500-600 ft or to be safe, and they would get snatched right up again.  I can't even imagine.

I also have here a picture of my tour for the Europa-Tour :D More on that to come later.  Miss you all!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

You Know You're Considered a Native When....

Today I had a couple of moments that made me feel officially accepted as a native in my little town.

This morning when I got on the bus to go to school, I did the usual: I waved my school pass with my ID and ticket by the driver's face and turned to get in.  He stopped me and took my card.  He said, "Hmmmm...... Hmmmmm," and kept flipping it over.  I asked him if something was wrong and he told me that, although it didn't show it on my card, that my ticket was expired.  Now that got me truly confused, because I buy monthly tickets, so there was no way.  I told him so, inwardly freaking out that I was somehow going to have to come up with the money for a new ticket.  He just stared at me for what felt like 10 minutes and then burst out laughing.  "Just kidding, just kidding," he said.  This entire conversation was carried out in German, by the way, and so the fact that he didn't treat me like a foreigner made me laugh too.

The second thing that happened was that Fabian, a boy in my class, brought his new exchange student to school today.  Matthew is from London, and he is staying with Fabian for a couple of weeks.  I'm not the newbie anymore :)  I'm not the one with the wide-eyed stare, pretending to understand what everyone is saying. I know, I know, it's mean to make fun of him since he is what I once was, but I was nice.  I came over and spoke to him initially in German, because I always was insulted when people spoke English to me without giving me a chance to show I could speak German, and asked him where he was from.  It scared him so badly that he quickly said London and waled away before I could be like, "Cool, I'm from the USA." Oh well.

Anyway, I'm a native because the bus driver says so and because I am old news, not new. :D  Hope you all had a wonderful Valentine's Day.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

First Hockey Game Down, Many More to Go (and other miscellaneous things going on in my life)

Listening to "Shake It Out," by Florence + the Machine as I write this.  She is an awesome artist.  Anyway, My first hockey game last Friday was amazing!  It was 2 degrees Fahrenheit.... Yeah that part wasn't a highlight for me, but hockey is one of the most exhilarating sports to watch.  There are so many things happening so fast, and the fact that everything the players do they are doing on skates just adds more to the excitement.  I also got my wish about 10 minutes into the second period: a fight.  Helmets, gloves, and sticks came flying off, and boy was that an interesting 2 minutes.  Think about this: it took three referees to stop a fight between two hockey players.  One for each player and one to go in between. I can only imagine how hard it would be to stop a fight between more players.  The game was also exciting because fouling placed the team I was rooting for 2 players down against the other team in the last few minutes of the game, but they played amazing defense and managed to win the game.  That was also because the goalie for my team was freaking awesome and the other goalie... well, he wasn't.  I am going to another game this Friday too. :)

Other things going on in my life.... Hmmm...... Well I am starting to please myself with my level of German.  I still convert English to German and German to English, but in a very different way.  I also can keep up with any speed of German as long as I've heard the person's voice before.  I don't really know why that matters, but when strangers talk to me sometimes I don't get anything at all.  Maybe that is also because I also rely on understanding and interpreting people to understand the German, and therefore when I don't know the person or what they would want from me I get too nervous to rely solely on my German.

February marks the sixth month in my 10-11 month journey. Wow.  I would say that it has been going by fast, but that is way too simple of a statement for the way this experience has gone.  As I recently wrote in a report to my contact from Rotary in the USA, this experience has been an amazing - at times, hard - at times, and always eye-opening experience.  I have had some of the hardest times and some of the best times of my life on this trip, and I think that the hard times have almost been more important that the best times because they have taught me to rely on myself and have helped me to understand myself better.  There have been times where I thought that the exchange would never end, and there are times where it couldn't be flying by faster. 

Well, that's about good for the night I think, hope everyone who reads this has a wonderful day :)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Winter Blues

FREEZING.  That is what I am right now.  Europe is going through this cold wave - over 120 people have died in the cold.  One thing that I hate is cold.  It's pretty hard to imagine that winter gets on my nerves then, right?  No I didn't think so haha.

What's hard about winter is that it is the season of waiting.  Everything is in hibernation, waiting for spring.  Soccer had been reduced to once a week indoor practice, there are no more hikes in the woods, no outdoor breaks during school, etc.  I get restless. 

Fortunately, I have a busy weekend to get me on my feet, even if it is in the cold.  Tomorrow night I am going to my first ever live hockey game :)  I am really excited because not only does this sport sound awesome, but I also get to big out on German "junk food" like bratwurst and currywurst.  I am going to this game with my host father and a woman named Manja.  Manja is my BFF in the house, and she is the "maid" so to speak.  She cleans everything, cooks everything, does all the shopping, etc.  She even semi-raised Lynn and Gesa, my host sisters.  She's practically part of the family though.  Her favorite thing is Ice Hockey, and I am so glad that I finally get to experience it with her.  I also am traveling to a nearby town called Göttingen on Saturday with my friend named Anna.  We're just going to window shop and get something yummy to eat.  Then, when I get back, I am going to my good friend Vivien's 18th birthday party.  18 is a big deal in Germany, because then you become an adult.  I don't mean you "become and adult but not really," like in the USA, it's legit here.  You can drink, smoke, enlist in the army, sign your own forms at school, everything. Parents respect it too.  You can do whatever you want when you are 18 ;). Wait, how old am I?  Haha, just kidding Mom and Dad........

Anyway, hopefully people still read this since I am a horrible blogger, and more to come soon!

Monday, December 19, 2011

The kind of embarrassing moment every exchange student hopes they don't have, but they inevitably do....

 On the upside, my embarrassing moment took place during a time which I was completely alone. On the downside, that was the reason why the moment became even took place. These past couple of weeks are what are called “Vorabis” Vorabis are like midterms, only on steroids. They are all six hours long... yep... six hours of writing and scrambling your brain looking for that one answer. Sounds pretty horrible to me, and that's why, holding the lucky position of “already graduated” exchange student, I opted out. Haha. Anyway, that means that once or twice a week I have no school. Last Friday this was the case. It also happened to be a day where the housemaid Manja began her vacation. That meant that I got to spend until lunchtime alone in the house. Honestly, as an exchange student, true alone time tends to be nonexistent. I believe that most of cherish these short hours alone where we can truly unwind and relax. I like it because I can do things that I do in my own home, like going barefoot and staying in my Pj's until noon. Unfortunately at eleven, as I was sitting upstairs putting the final touches on my college applications, the doorbell rang. Now, most houses in Germany have a speaker system and a buzzing system built into the house so that you don't have to run to the door, and my house especially. My house is HUGE. The bottom floor is a two-car garage, the washroom, the storage room, a doctor's practice, and my host father's dentist practice. Yes, really. We live on the second, third, and fourth floors. The entrance, however is on the first floor. You then walk up a flight of stairs, through a door, across an open corridor, through another door, into the mudroom, and then through the front door. Complicated, I know. It's even more complicated when you don;t know how to buzz someone in, and in your comfy short-shorts Pj's. So I scramble and pull on a pair of pants and run. I run downstairs and then through all of those doors. By the time I get there, no one is there. “Okay,” I think, “Cool. Just saved myself some major embarrassment. No one will see me like this afte rall.” I then walk up the stairs and look. Every single door shut behind me. I have no phone. No key. I am quasi in my Pj's and I am barefoot. This is getting good, isn't it? As I sit on the steps, I think over my options. I could wait for someone to get home around two. I could walk through the first floor corridor and into the practice and ask for a key. Yep.... That's pretty embarrassing. But there was no way I waiting for someone to get home. So I go down to the corridor and as I'm walking through I peek in the washroom and see a pair of sandals,; I throw those on to preserve a bit of dignity, and then I go to the door to the practice. I stood outside of that door for about ten minutes, putting off the inevitable embarrassment. That;s when another option hit me: Ring on the other resident's doorbell! We also rent a small apartment to an old woman on the second floor. I rang her doorbell, and she answered. The problem was that she had never met me. I explained, and I think my accent mixed with my desperation and the state I was in convinced her that I probably was living in the house. So she let me in, and no one but her would have know if I had remembered to bring the shoes back down to the washroom... shoot... haha.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Long Time No See....

So it's quite obvious that I am not very good at maintaining a blog... I am very sorry about this, and I will try to do better for all those of you that check hopefully everyday.  One of the problems is that, while I am very busy and experiencing all sorts of things to include in this blog, I am getting settled as well.  So now something that would make a great blog seems more like the norm to me, and I don't recognize it for its blogging worth.  Again, I will try to do better.  Here is my life since November 1st.

On November 12th I switched my host family.  I now live in town, rather than on the top of a mountain.  I have two host sisters: Lynn (19-20) and Gesa (17).  Both of them are very, very nice and very, very fun to hang out with.  My host parents, Astrid and Charles, are also awesome.  Charles is actually from England... yes, England.  It's actually quite helpful to have someone who went through the same process of learning German though.  My German has improved tenfold since I moved in.  

Thanksgiving was a depressing and fun time at the same time.  Depressing because I only saw digitalized versions of the delicious food and wonderful family, and fun because I saw digitalized versions of the delicious food and wonderful family.  Jealousy to all you people who actually saw your families in the flesh and got to EAT THAT FOOD.  My mind was quickly drawn away from Thanksgiving because the next day I drove to a Rotary weekend in Wenigrode.  Wenigrode is a small town about forty-five minutes from my town, and it was definitely me favorite weekend yet because all my Rotary friends that live in and around Hannover (that = all of them) got to see what the country looks like, and quasi where I live.  They thought it was so beautiful and quaint.  Don't get me wrong, it is both these things, but they forget that I am also cut off from all the things they get to experience.  Each place has its advantages and disadvantages.

Christmas is a huge deal in Germany.  Not the buy blow-up/light up snowmen for the yard crazy, but city-wide Christmas market crazy.  They have a book full of foods solely for the Christmas season.  It will make me fat, this book.  Advent is also an important part of the way they celebrate Christmas, meaning that the Advent Calendars are out of this world.  Advent Calendars are actually large cloth things that people buy here. Some are in the shapes of Christmas trees, with little pockets, some are a string with 24 stockings on it, etc.  Then what they do is that they buy 24 things to put inside each year.  Not just candy, other things too.  Then there is the evening of December 5th/ the morning of December 6th, which is the time you put your biggest shoe out for Saint Nicholas to fill with candy and presents.  basically, I have a mini Christmas morning out.  My host mother told this funny story about how when she was a kid, she would put her shoe out the first night, get presents; put it out the next night, get presents; put it out the next night, get presents; and put it out the next night, and get coal.  Haha.  I decided that I have enough candy and sweets, no need to test that theory out.

Hope you all had wonderful Thanksgivings and wonderful Christmas preparations, please enjoy it all a little bit extra for those exchange students that don't get to do so.  Until next time, which will hopefully be soon!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Cruising :)

Ok so I'm not gonna lie:  I have always been one of those people who make fun of cruises.  I think about how clichĂ© they are, and how it's like taking a vacation with 2,000 people you don't know and having every minute planned with them... I don't know I've never seen the appeal.  I was quite wrong.  Cruises are awesome!!  There is always something planned for you to do, if you want, like volleyball on the deck, the food is free and there's plenty of it, and when you go to explore a city you have a guide that knows where they're going.  It was actually a lot of fun.  Here was my itinerary:


This day was mostly a loading day, getting settled, meeting the crew, and exploring a little bit of the Spanish island Palma de Mallorca.  I loved it.  It was very interesting because most of the store owners spoke German even though it's a Spanish-speaking region because the number of German tourists is so high.  That night was a late night celebration for taking off, and we also stayed up until midnight to celebrate my eighteenth birthday (picture below).


My birthday was the one and only sea day, a day where we made no stops.  We lounged on the deck, I read books, listened to music, swam.  It was nice to really relax for the first time in two months on my birthday.  


We stopped on the island of Corsica on the third day.  Our activities for the day were visiting a turtle park and going to the beach.  Yes, I said a turtle park.  Initially, I was quite interested in the turtle park because a) I had never been to one, b) I have friends that LOVE turtles, and c) turtles are cool.  When we got there and started looking around, we couldn't see any turtles... It was too cold out and they were all in there little incubated areas.  But then we kept walking and found the turtles that were willing to brave the cold and come be fed by us.  These turtles were humungous! I have videos and pics for people who want to see.  It had warmed up by the time we went to the beach, and for those of you that know I'm beach crazy, you can imagine how excited I was to get to swim in the ocean.  Well, the water was so cold that at first I didn't notice how different it was from any ocean I had swum in before.  The water was crystal clear.  I could see my entire body as if I weren't in water, and I could see everything else too.  I was surrounded by fish.  It was awesome.


In Rome I did a panoramic tour of the entire city, which was really interesting since I got to see everything in a nut shell.  Then we had free time and my host family and I went exploring.  The street we took, however, was the most exciting part of Rome for me :)  It was, of course, the shopping street.  Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Valentino, Gucci, Tiffany's, Mui Mui, Missoni, etc. Right there!  I didn't get to go into any though :/


In Pisa we did the obvious:  We visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  I found the stone that the tower was made of to be very beautiful since it was so white and gleaming.  We also almost missed our bus back here and had to run to catch it.... yeah that was an interesting site let me tell you.


This was probably my favorite day because we saw so much and heard about so much interesting history, not to mention we were in a very rich area where the taxis were BMWs and such.  In Monte Carlo the normal streets that cars drive on had diamonds mixed into them so that the streets glinted in the sun.  Beautiful, and horribly expensive.  Monte Carlo is also home to the casino where the first of the modern James Bond movies was shot.  So cool to actually be in the place where those scenes were shot.  


In Barcelona my host parents split from the host kids and me.  The host kids and I went on a bike tour for the entire day through Barcelona. If I had known that Barcelona is quite hilly, I think I would have rethought my choice to do the bike tour.  All in all though, I bet the bike tour was the best way to see an awesome city from head to toe, and my legs didn't hurt... that much... afterwards :)