Wednesday, January 2, 2013

crazy couple of weeks

So! I've officially been in Germany for almost 21 weeks. I've been super busy, and I've been able to visit some pretty awesome places!
Update since my last post:
I had a great time cooking Thanksgiving dinner with my host family, visited Prague, went to a couple Christmas markets, visited Nuremberg, got to go skiing in the Swiss Alps, survived December 21, 2012, had a fantastic Christmas, and celebrated the New Year! I'm also leaving today for another ski trip.
It's gotten a lot colder here in Würzburg, something I'm not quite used to! I'm missing the sun and occasional 60 degree Texas winter day, but winter here has its own charm. We're in the middle of exams in school right now, which I'll admit I haven't done very well on, but hopefully by April (when the next exams start) my German will have improved so that I can do better in school.
Thanksgiving time was a little difficult for me, and I think it was when my homesickness hit its peak. Thankfully I was able to get involved with activities with friends, school, church and my host family. Now it's mostly behind me and I can just enjoy my experience here.
The Saturday after Thanksgiving (everyone was busy on Thursday and Friday), my family and I cooked turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, and a whole lot of other delicious stuff.

That same day, I went to a Christmas market in a town called Nordheim. It was my first time going to a German Christmas market, and I wasn't disappointed. There were a bunch of booths/stalls lining a courtyard, all selling different foods and crafts. Inside an adjacent building, a bunch of local artisans had set up tables displaying their wares. It was awesome!
The second Christmas market I went to was in Würzburg. It's quite a bit bigger than the one in Nordheim, with a lot more varied stalls. It was fun to just wander between the little house-things that the vendors set up. I tried some delicious roasted almonds, currywurst, warm punch with spices, and Lebkuchen, a Christmastime treat.
Then, I traveled to Prague with my host mom. We traveled with a large group of people (I was the youngest by far) on Friday by bus, and took a short tour of the (chilly) city before going back to the hotel. The next day, we walked around the city with the group and visited some of the most visited tourist sites, then split off and explored a little on our own. Prague is such a beautiful city! It just so happened that Saturday was also the opening of the large Christmas market there and it was PACKED. I took loads of pictures, and I'll upload some of those in a separate post.
Skiing was so much fun! It was my first time since last winter and then only my third time skiing in my life, but I had tons of fun and was able to ski on the red runs (equivalent to blue in the US, I think. Or maybe a little harder :)). It was also cool to see a little bit of Switzerland and Austria as we drove through.
I visited Nuremberg with another American exchange student, Chloe, her host mom and sister, and a friend of mine from school, Lisa. We saw the old inner city, the famous Christmas market there, and the castle, too. We had a great time walking around and doing a little shopping as well. It was a cold trip but worth it.
Christmas was interesting and a little different from home, but fantastic. The days before Christmas we had American guests staying with us, and it was nice to speak a little English. We ate a TON of food: fondue and salmon and a goose and lots more. In Germany, they actually open presents on the evening of the 24th and the Christmas holiday actually lasts 2 or 3 days (I'll have to check on that). It was fun to just relax at home and spent time with my host family!
After Christmas, we traveled together to Alexandersbad, a teeny little town where my host family and their group of friends meet up every year to celebrate New Year's Eve. I got to meet a lot of new people and everyone was nice and funny. I left a day early with Sarah and Andreas (2 of my 3 host siblings) to help Sarah prep for her New Year's party, which was fantastic.
I'm about to leave to go skiing again for 3 days, and I'm also going to learn how to snowboard! I'm super excited. I'll post pictures from the aforementioned events when I get back!
Happy (late) New Year to all!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A few pictures of Würzburg

A few parts of the Castle Marienberg-I visited here my second day in Würzburg.

The view of downtown Würzburg from the castle-the river you can see in the 2-5th pictures is the Main

A pilgrim church on a hill across from the castle
A few of the statues on the Alte Mainbrucke (old main bridge). I walk past these every day after school on the way to the bus stop.

Part of downtown Würzburg-there was a street music festival going on! The yellow building is the library, and the rust-colored church is called the Marktkirche.

Settling in

I realize that the amount of time between this and the last post is unacceptable. Oops.

So, to bring you up to date on my adventures: I have learned a lot more German (although nowhere near enough), visited Magdeburg, Frankfurt, Neuenkirchen/Rheine/Münster, settled in with my host family, and have had a month and a half of school. Language camp was a lot of fun, but I'm glad that it's over. Now, I have to speak what little German I know all the time, and it's kind of exhausting...well, as exhausting as speaking can get.
On the second or third to last day of language camp, all the exchange students went to Magdeburg, which is the capital of the German state of Sachsen-Anhalt. There, we visited the Landtag (state parliament) and explored the city a little more.
THEN, it was time to pack up and meet our host families. I took the train from Magdeburg to Hannover, switched trains, and came to Würzburg, where I am now! Würzburg is a beautiful city. I love it here! There is a castle, a residence, lots of old churches, and a beautiful vineyard on the hill. School didn't start until 3 or 4 days after I arrived in Würzburg, so I was able to explore the city a little bit with my host family. Then, school began. The first two days (Thursday and Friday) were a complete blur, and I understood basically nothing. It was nice to have the weekend to recover. Slowly but surely over the past few weeks, I've started understanding more and more. My speaking skills still leave a lot to be desired, but I'm slowly improving!
Every day, I take the public bus to and from school. I have a free bus card from the city, and I use it as much as I can. riding the bus alone was a little nerve-wracking the first few times, because I had only ridden the public bus one time in the US, but after a few tries I got it down. Now, I am a confident public transportation user. I can't imagine going back to the US and not being able to hop on a bus to go downtown for free!
School is still a little difficult, but I'm making it through. German school is different from American school. A large chunk of the grade is class participation (which I'm not doing too well on) and homework doesn't count. Tests count for a lot, and there are 2 big tests every year. I've already done a presentation in German class (in English, though) about the effects of the French Revolution on German society, politics, and literature, and taken a test in math and biology (neither of which I did well on. Oops). The biggest issue is the language, definitely. But that is slowly fading away! I'm pretty proud of my accomplishments so far, and I hope I can keep improving.
School ends at 1:00 for me on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I absolutely love it. Most days after school I walk through the city and try and find a part I haven't explored yet. However, there is also an H&M on my way from school to the bus stop, so I've stopped in there quite a few times. :)
I visited my friend, Rachael, in Nordrhein-Westfalen last weekend and we had tons of fun! We visited Münster and went shopping a little, and I got to meet some of her friends.
I'll put some pictures of Würzburg in another post. Have I forgotten anything? I hope not. Let me know if you want to know something about my German experience so far!
Over and out,

Monday, August 27, 2012

Culture Shock?

Guten Tag! Just as a warning, this post is quite long (and a little late)! It’s weird to think that I’ve already been here for two weeks. Right now I’m relaxing in my room with an amazing breeze blowing through my window. The weather here is great! These past two weeks have been busy but so much fun. I’m staying in an old monastery (built in 1253, I think) in a little town called Hedersleben in eastern Germany.
Here are some parts of the monastery:

 I’m here with 50 other (almost all American, besides my roommate) students, getting used to German life. My roommate is from Taiwan, so it’s really cool to have the opportunity to learn about her country and culture as well.
To be honest, I don’t really know what I expected Germany to be like, but it wasn’t as different as I thought it would be. Besides the distinctive architecture (I’ve already seen a castle and too many old churches to count, and the houses here are so cute!) and the fact that everyone’s speaking a different language, I could still be in the U.S. So besides the helpless feeling I have when someone speaks to me in German, I’m pretty comfortable here, and I think the culture shock aspect of this program was a little played-up. But, I have now experienced jet lag, and I can say that it’s as bad as it’s made out to be. I was barely coherent on the bus from the airport to Hedersleben and I think my bus-mates got some goofy pictures of me with my eyes half closed. But thankfully, I got over that fairly quickly.
I’ve really enjoyed the German food so far, to the point where I think I’m going to have to be a lot more careful with what I eat! Curse you, Nutella and Brötchen. We eat a LOT of potatoes and meat, along with the best bread and pastries I have ever had (besides yours, of course, Mom!). There’s also coffee/tea/cake time every afternoon, and I think I’ve exceeded the amount of cake any person should eat in two weeks. Oops!
I have 6 hours of German classes a day, and it can get kind of boring. I’m learning a lot, though, and I’m glad I’m able to be at this language camp to at least get the basics of German down. We are also required to watch the news every night, and I’m proud to say I’m starting to understand more and more! There is an hour of free time every day and a popular thing to do is go to the supermarket. I’m not sure why. But it’s a good excuse to get out and walk through Hedersleben.
The streets here are very picturesque, narrow and cobblestoned with very German-looking houses lining both sides. While walking, we’ll often see little children or sometimes elderly people leaning out the window, looking at us, and sometimes they say hello. All in all, Hedersleben is a very cute town. I'll take pictures this week and upload them soon!
Last weekend, all the students took a trip to Leipzig. It was definitely the highlight of the past two weeks. We all went as a group to see an old church where Johann Sebastian Bach played and composed some of his music. We also got to visit a museum about the Soviet occupation of East Germany. That wasn’t something I have spent much time learning about, so it was interesting to hear about what life in the DDR was like. We had some free time, so the students all split up into groups to explore the city. I had a great time at H&M, which I’m sure I’ll be visiting quite a lot in the future.

 I was also introduced to a popular Turkish dish(?) called Döner. It’s basically warm, buttery pita stuffed with MEAT MEAT MEAT. There’s also some lettuce and dressing in there, but the meat is the main part. They have a huge chunk of lamb meat rotating and they just shave off slices. It’s kind of like a gyro, I guess. Whatever it is, it’s delicious! I'll probably eat some more in the future, and I'll take a picture next time.
I visited Quedlinburg (a larger town close to Hedersleben) this past Thursday with my beginner German class and again on Saturday with a group of friends. It’s pretty stereotypically German, with cobblestone streets, some very old houses, a castle, multiple timeworn churches, and great food. We saw treasure at the Stiftskirche St. Servatti (a sort of church/castle frequented by Ottonian emperors that dates back to the 900s), played Count the Crucifix at the Marktkirche St. Benedikti (we got lost around 27), bought delicious warm waffles with fresh raspberries, and had possibly the best ice cream ever. I also visited a cute little bookshop in Hölle Strasse (Hell Street). There was a box of books, all from the 1920’s and 30’s for only a Euro each. I picked up 4 with interesting covers and I think I’m going to make something out of them…stay tuned to find out what! 

Last night, we had a talent show. There are some very talented people in this group of teenagers. There was a girl who sang/played her own song on the ukulele, a group of girls rapping about our time in Hedersleben, and a guy who recited a Japanese poem, along with lots of other acts. My class and I performed “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” in a variety of languages. We sang in English and German together, and then each of us sang it in a different language we were familiar with. There was Japanese, Finnish, Turkish, Spanish, French, American Sign Language, Chinese, and I sang in Russian. It was a lot of fun.
I haven’t really felt homesick yet, but I want to bring everyone here so that they can see the awesome things I’m seeing! Seriously, if any of you ever get the chance to travel in Europe, I would strongly suggest visiting Germany.
One more thing: I really don't like mineral water.
Also, I bought pink pants. Woo!
Now I'm off to class, wish me luck while I'm struggling to conjugate verbs!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

First post!

Guten Tag! Alright. So the time has finally come for me to start this blog. It still hasn't hit me that I'm actually leaving!
In case you don't know why I've made this blog, here's a little background info:
I was selected to be a part of the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange program (you can find out more about that scholarship here). Basically, I'll be spending the next 10 months in Germany, learning the language and becoming a part of my German community. I'll be living with a host family and going to a high school (called a Gymnasium).
I leave today from Washington, DC, and I'll arrive in Frankfurt tomorrow (there's wacky time zone difference stuff involved). Packing was no easy task; I had to pack and re-pack and rearrange all of my clothes, shoes, and other items that I'm bringing (including a massive jar of peanut butter) at least 5 times. Eventually, though, I was able to fit everything that needed to be fitted AND stay under the weight limit! I gave myself a pat on the back.
I'm extremely excited to leave the U.S. for the first time, only a little nervous. I've got my Euros all ready in my wallet and my scarves are packed; what more do I need?
I don't know German yet-and this could be a bit of a problem. I'm not entirely without hope, however, because the first month I and all the other scholarship recipients are in Germany, we get to go to a language camp. Also, I have my trusty book, The Complete Idiot's Guide To Learning German, which I'm sure I will be relying on heavily.
There is one negative aspect of language camp, though; I won't have much Internet access. I may be able to post once or twice over the next month, but I wouldn't get my hopes too high if I were you. :)
So, this is me signing on to my blog, and, just as quickly, signing off for a month.
Auf Wiedersehen!
P.S. my next posts will hopefully have pictures!