Sunday, July 11, 2010

Last Entry

I'm home. Though at this point it feels quiet weird to call anywhere home. The goodbyes with the host family were as sad and teary as expected. Afterwards, it simply left me feeling emotionless, not knowing what to think and being drained of all thoughts. The flight was painful, 9 hours in the middle of the day. Of course, I was the one whose TV was broken. Great. But I slept, and read, and listened to my Ipod, and at one point switched with my friend Jess to watch Ratitouille for an hour or so.

Coming home was unreal. My room smelt the same as I remembered. My books and pictures from before were still on my wall. Other than the new me, not much had changed. But I was glad to see my parents and sleep in my bed. I got an email from my host Mother telling me she misses her third daugter and that reading my letter that I left for them left her in tears and that shes already bought my host sister a suitcase to come visit me this Spring. She said its amazing that in 8 months I became a real part of the family. It was sad and nice to sleep after reading that email. But I called them today and it felt a lot better.

So now I'm left in a very very VERY stressful stage. A lot of things had been left behind this year. Leaving me with a driver liscence to acquire, summer school to complete, searching for colleges, and giving birth to the 17 pound German Food baby I made this year.

Thank you all for reading my blog, I hope it met standards. I encourage everyone reading to host an exchange student =D or to become an AFS volunteer. If anyone has any questions, I'd be glad to answer any at

Peace bitches!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

First Goodbyes

Today was my last day in Berlin. My family threw a goodbye party, inviting family, neighbors, and friends to wish me goodbye and reminisce on the year. Gifts were given and speeches were made, but I didn't have to say goodbye to them today, that comes tomorrow.

But today was my last day with my friends. It was also the Germany vs. Spain game. At the same time, Germany's time in the World Cup ended and so did my time in Germany. My friends and I walked through the dark city to the train station, where they waited for my train with me. As my train was announced over the loudspeaker, my heart stopped.

Indeed, a year had passed. And as much as you want to deny it, this is goodbye. For a long time. We cried, and I don't think I've ever felt such real-loving hugs as I felt tonight. Hard hugs that try to stop time, but fail, and yet hold on longer. They continually pressed the button to open the train door, so that we could hold a few seconds longer of a tear filled look goodbye and last second kisses on the cheek.

I found surprising refuge in a group of soccer fans going home. College kids who saw me crying and made me laugh and walked me home, even through my deep sadness. They all hugged me goodbye (something that after 5 minutes of knowing someone doesn't usually occur in Germany), but I know they knew thats what I needed. And still need.

Tomorrow I say goodbye to my host family. Something I don't even want to imagine right now.

Even though they won't read this, I'd sincerely like to thank those people here that took me under their wing such as Pitty, Herr Schuttler, Frau Doktor Schussel, and Steffi. I'd like to thank my Grandparents for giving out their love to a complete stranger as if I was their own grandchild, and...and a million others. I thank you all. And though I never thought it would happen, I've fallen in love for this country and this life.

I don't know how to be a good writer when I'm upset. Or have a nice ending. Instead I'll leave off saying the thought of sleeping right now is hard. I don't want to loose even one of those last moments.

Monday, July 5, 2010

I tiptoe towards the end

Leaving. Something that at times during this exchange you dream about, and others you slap yourself in the face for even pondering. Its a hard concept. You had a family here for a year, a community, a home, a room, a school, and all of this-good and bad- for a year was yours. And though I left as quickly as possible from Pennsylvania looking for any adventure available (as my Stepmom rightly phrased it-into a black hole), I've unconsciously become attached to all this. From little things like my German style bedroom windows and sharing our one bathroom with the whole family, to big things like how the main train station looks at night and being able to stay out until all hours.

I think what I'll miss most is the freedom. The trust, that once 16, your instantly handed in this society. Your never told "your too young" or made to feel inferior because of your age. Parents don't wait up for you or ask you a million questions over how your getting home. Instead, they trust you to take care of it yourself, that your smart enough to get home. And it makes you step up to the plate at a very young age. Or so I think.

I'm currently under the dilema of packing. I didn't realize the sheer load of crap that I've built up here. A lot has had to be thrown away (thereby I have no jeans to wear) and a lot is staying here. Still, I've had to send two packages home. The limit for my suitcase is 20 k. I will thoroughly enjoy lifting this on and off trains to get to Frankfurt, where I'll be flying out from. I'll be bringing back things that hold a lot of memories here. A carton of hand painted eggs I made at Easter with my host sister. Train tickets from all over the country. Entrance cards to the Black Eyed Peas concert and a Queen tribute at the planetarium. I'd rather bring those back than clothes.

Tomorrows my last day of school, and then Wednesday is my goodbye party with family and friends (and also the Germany vs. Spain game). It's ganna be a tough transition, but I suppose at least I know that beforehand. Summer school, getting a drivers licence, a job, and volunteering all await my return. I said towards the end that I wouldn't get sad and instead enjoy every moment. But at the very very end, its becoming harder and harder not to ignore the clock.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Sounds of Summer

I find it hilarious that the kids at school complained all winter about the cold, but now its over 30 degrees Celsius and they are all still wearing pants, long sleeves, and scarves. Yes, scarves (God forbid Man be any less stylish due to weather). Then again, I go to a school where most of the kids come from the Middle East and Asia who are very "traditional". So basically I have two options. 1: Wear what they wear and die inside of myself. 2: Wear weather appropriate clothing and get dirty looks. I take the second. I always have the excuse of being the exchange student.

Summer vacation here hasn't actually started yet but the feelings definitely there. Fieldtrips are being made, ice cream eaten at cafes at all hours, and lots of naked butts to be seen tanning in the parks. I've been enjoying going to the countryside with the host Dad and swimming in the lake and tanning by the river with friends(my fellow students think that the reason I'm so tan is cause I'm American?). Parties are a lot more enjoyable now that I don't have to wait for the train in -20 degree weather.

As far as my report card, it was sort of stressful. I am getting grades in Math, Chemistry, French, Gym, and Music. They aren't amazing grades, but I was graded literally EXACTLY the same as the other students, no "your an exchange student, I'm just ganna throw a good grade at you". But its nice, I feel like I really worked hard for what I got. Before I left, I did English and History summer school for my credits. And then I'm doing Pre-Cal in the Summer I get back.

Trying to enjoy every minute I've got left and appreciate everything I have here. Hope everyones enjoying their Summer =D

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Rush Hour in Heaven

Tonight was one of those times that you tell yourself "Don't forget this". So I thought I'd write about it. Short and quick before I get into bed.

Today a family friend, Saskia, came back from a year in the US. A group of about 20 of us waited to greet her at the airport.

But before she came out...A teen guy walked out with the same look I did on my first day. His host family was waiting to meet him for the first time. I was in aww. At first I smiled and laughed, as if watching a family movie of myself. But my smile quickly faded. Realizing that seeing him was confronting me with my year. That was me. That was a scared young girl arriving in the first foreign country in her life. That was me arriving at a huge train station after dark and looking around frantically to where my host family may be waiting. There was me 10 months ago.

Then Saskia came out. Flabergasted and unable to speak German, she didn't know how to react to leaving one life for the next. In a matter of minutes, I saw my year flash in front of me. I saw my first moment in Germany. And through Saskia, I saw my last.

We all headed to Saskias house for a welcoming party. But my head was a blur. I cried in my host Moms and sisters arms knowing this party made me realize how close I am to the end. I realized my year has flashed behind me.

The party ended up being amazing. But coming home at 11, riding in the dark of the countryside with my family, seeing the planes fly over and the trains pass where all you could make out was lit up windows, I realized how much moments like that mean to me. Simple moments where I think with all my heart "I'm happy"- as easy as that. The end is coming, and its sad, but the ride is so enjoyable that one just has to close their eyes and act like the end isn't coming.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Speaking the Language

Fresh back from my End of Stay camp in Berlin (aka here), I'm now faced with the fact I have three weeks remaining. Though some cried at camp about how little time is remaining, I'm not ashamed to say that I am equally as sad to leave as excited to return. Yes, Germany has been a great year and I have tons of memories, buuuuut I also put my life on hold back home for a year, and I'm quiet looking forward to all that the next year will bring.

But one thing that was a surprise for me at camp, was how many fellow exchange students spoke to family or friends in Germany in English. Some people got calls from their host sister or friends from school, and spoke completely in English. I know they don't all do it, but it was just quiet shocking. I feel incredibly guilty talking to anyone in English, and I only have a year to learn German.

This got me to an interesting topic. Apparently, many host kids have been asked by their host families to teach them English and many host in order to "learn English". They have asked that in return for them paying for your food and housing you, that it's only fair that you speak English with them, even if its just at meals. Now, my host family didn't do that, but I'm drawn in my mind of what I would have done had they asked. I mean, I understand that hosting really is not only time consuming but takes money, but its also not an exchange students job to teach and if I came from any other country I would not be put into this position.

But I get it quiet often, people trying to practice their English on me. A good tactic is just to respond in German until they stop. It's just that in Germany, they teach English very well, and when someone hears your accent they almost instantly respond to you in English. But, if I started talking to you in German, you should respond in that language. If I was a tourist, I'd start in English.

Also, the World Cup is going on right now. Something I've never heard of in the states (because if you haven't noticed we suck at soccer...). People all around the city go to bars or viewing parties to watch the game, and in fact my host family is hosting a viewing party tonight for the first German soccer game against Australia. Last night, America tied against England 1-1. Not bad, America.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

It's Tuesday the 8th!

Things I've Surprisingly Gotten Used To:
- Sucky weather. I got so used to it that when good weather came I didn't know how to react. But my mood lifted like crazy, until a random day of cold dark weather, in which it dropped from its high.
- People not moving on the sidewalks. When someone is coming in your direction, your ganna have to move, cause they won't. This makes me wonder what happens when two Germans walking in opposite directions pass one another. Must be cataclysmic.
- Class's "falling out" (snaps for Claire's direct translation). In school, when teachers don't come, you don't have class. No substitute, just no class. Free time. I think I'm ganna die when I come back to substitutes and busy work.

Things I Don't Think I'll Ever Get Used To:
- Seltzer Water ( ALL water here is with bubbles, and despite my year long exposure to it, I can't drink it. My family thinks I'm nuts that I drink from the tap)
- Lack of shorts/skirts. Lets just say its been over 20 for a couple weeks now, and NOT ONE person in my class has worn shorts or skirts.
- Meals. My stomach, after 16 years of having Dinner as my biggest meal, is still not used to lunch being the biggest and eating practically nothing for dinner.
- Using the formal and informal versions of "you" (much like in Spanish). I can't seem to remember that when speaking to strangers or elders I should use "Sie". With strangers its not a big deal, but the elderly here get really peeved if you don't show respect.

I also wanted to discuss the grimy parts of living in the countries capital.

1. Gypsies. Yeah, yeah, Ezmerelda was cool and pretty in the Hunchback of Notre Dame, but these ladies are no Disney characters. With gold teeth, long skirts, and always seeming to have a baby in their arms, I find myself avoiding certain parks and train stops so I don't run into them. They always ask the same question, "speak English??" and when I first came here, I fell for it! EVERY TIME! I kept thinking it was someone needing directions. But once you say yes, they'll hand you a card explaining some tragic story and asking for money. I think it goes way too far when I see them training their young kids to beg for money or when they come into restaurants or coffee shops to beg. So if your ever asked in Berlin if you can speak English, don't answer.

2. Pfand Diggers. In Germany, they have a system in which if you give back the bottles you buy for soda/water/etc. then you receive money back (Pfand). Its similar to what the states has with cans, except it gives back a lot more. Its a way of encouraging people to recycle and not just throw away their bottles. But this invites a huge group of homeless people to spend their days going through all public trashcans looking for bottles. Some will come with flashlights to look into them, and some come into trains to check those trashcans. THIS goes too far when you are in the park or at a picnic and they come and wait for you to finish drinking and then snatch your bottle. But many people work with them, giving them the bottles to get them out of the way.

3. Neo- Nazis. Now, Berlin's a bit different from the "East-German-Hood" (as we CBYXers have named it) of my past host family. In the EGH, the neo Nazis you see are indeed that- nazis. They are real and scary and truly believe in those ideals. But in Berlin I find it to be different. The neo-nazis are just punk kids trying to look tough, who drink a lot and pee on city buildings and all seem to have a huge dog with them ( I was napping in a park once and one of their dogs licked my face...). They won't hurt you, their just sort of douchebags. BUT the other day I saw a guy with a swastika tattooed on his forehead, technically illegal, but that's a good sign he was legit. One just has to remember to speak German when their around you, as to not raise your hand as a foreigner.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Why I've Been Gone

Hi. To all. So, apparently my blog disappearing created a bit of a stir. And yes, I know, it's been gone for quiet some time. Heres the thing: I really didn't like writing in this thing. At the beginning, when everything's new, it's really fun to verbally vomit out your reactions. But after Christmas I had nothing new to write, yet with the buzz about my blog I felt this extreme pressure to say something, anything. I had my political opinions on Germany or social expectations I felt strongly about, but readers are only readers when your feeding them information they agree with...or it seemed that way. And I'm not a journalist, so after a few really negative comments I just sort of said...."ya know what, fuck it. I don't like writing in here, and they don't like reading it". So when I had some technical problems with my account, I just let it be a reason to let my blog "disappear".

This being said, I've missed writing. If not just for the soul reason that ever since I stopped the blog I've had to actually respond in full to peoples emails as opposed to just saying, "yo, check the blog". But in reality, it's because I'm coming to the end of this little adventure's hard not to write about it.

I guess I'll start by informing you on the dillydallyings of my life during my hiatus (in which I actually had to open my assignment book to see because my brain has unfortunately deteriorated due to not giving it daily...cough weekly cough...workouts). I joined a chorus. My chorus "broke up" dramatically like a boy band. I went to a German opera- fell asleep and ripped my black panty hose resulting in me sitting with my hand awkwardly laid over the hole of my leg the rest of the show and a teen girl whispering "Schlampe" (slut) as she passed me. Why thank you, I loved the last song as well! I started cooking for my host family. Though Kraft mac n' cheese got the bigger smiles. I can read books in German. Like legit books, I like it a lot. Currently just finished Die Welle. I saw Alice in Wonderland in German and 3D, it was a brain explosion. I ran a 10k with my host Dad and proceeded to then eat the largest currywurst you've ever seen. My parents visited despite AFS constantly telling you not to have them. I started yoga. I started owning my French class ( Clarification: In Claire's deteriorated mind, owning French class means getting C's. But hey, I'm being taught French in German so...YEAH!). I turned 17, and my host family surprised me with tickets to the sold out Black Eyed Peas concert in Berlin. And then I went to London and stayed with friends for a week.

In short, thats a recap. Might go into more detail about them a little later. But first just wanted to establish myself as being back. Hope its okay.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Never Liked Sundays Anyway

You know, at home in the US, Sunday was a distinct day. I never got out of my PJ's, slept in til noon, and did homework until sundown. It was my relax day. Ohhhh how ironic to think about a relaxing Sunday.

But I suppose I'll begin from well...the beginning. This past week I spent at midstay in Bad Honnef (in between Bonn and Cologne). It was a midstay specifically for Congress Bundestag scholarship winners. Our first rule was "German is the camp language" which was definitely not at all followed. By the end of camp, we even managed to get our camp counselors (betreuers) to be speaking English.

I'd go through details, but they'd be boring. I had absolutely the most amazing time, and we all agreed that we haven't laughed so hard since arriving in Germany. I got absolutely no sleep during the night, to the point when we were given free time, my roommates and I went upstairs, closed the blinds, and took a nap time like a bunch of three year olds.

It's lovely to talk to other Americans doing exactly what your doing. It makes you feel...sane. You realize many have the same problems as you do, and also get to compare your German to others (some came with no German and have better German than I do...fml). But it's amazing times like these that have a price. Returning home everything seems so quiet, the nonstop laughter's gone, and your stuck missing those you left. It happened after my orientation in Washington, after Late Orientation Camp, and now again.

Now to the Sunday Story. Sunday was the day we all went home from camp. I was on literally one hour of sleep and was completely out of it. We said our goodbyes and then a group of us took a train from Bad Honnef to Cologne. From Cologne, I caught a train to Berlin with two other Cbyxers Jack and Mike. Or at least, the train was SUPPOSED to go to Berlin (about 5 hours away). But little did we know that Storm Xynthia (could they have not spelled it with a "C"?), which killed 62 people in France, now hauled ass over to Germany. So what would you know if our train didn't get hit by a tree? And while we were in the middle of nowhere?

So after sitting in a halted train for two hours, watching sparks fly off wires and hearing of a flooded train car, we finally actually went the wrong direction on the tracks back to a small train stop in the middle of nowhere. They had two buses waiting to take us to a real train station where we could catch another train. But those two buses only fit half the people, leaving the other half of us waiting in the pouring rain and wind for another 2 hours before more buses came. We were hungry, and exhausted, and many had small children. Jack and I spent our time playing the game "How could this situation be worst". Finally we caught a half hour bus to the Dortmund Hauptbahnhof. Looking up at the Destination-Board, there was not one train that hadn't been delayed. It was now dark. The next train to Berlin was delayed an hour. We met an English guy and a German who were just as confused and we all went for Turkish tea together before our train came. Upon returning to the train station, it was announced that our train was canceled, as were all the other trains going to Berlin. It was 8 pm, in a town we'd never been in, on a school night, and none of us had working cell phones. My family had expected me home hours ago.

The train station said, "Tough luck. Find a hotel or sleep at the train station". They set up a train that stayed in the train station for people stranded to sleep in. But, Jack Mike and I weren't exactly thrilled to sleep in a train with strangers. So we called AFS who found us a former AFSer living in Dortmund who picked us up, bought us pizza, and gave us a beautiful place to stay. Needless to say, we were lucky. Our host was the nicest German I've ever met. We slept in and caught a 2 o'clock train the next day. It was an adventure, and as stressful as it was I am so thankful for both AFS being there and the fact that I had Mike and Jack with me.

And to add to this story. This is what happened to my shoe at 8 am on Sunday morning. But I said "Oh, no problem, I'll be in a train all day". Little did I know I'd be spending the day walking through the rain, wind, and mud for the next 14 hours.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Yes, I thought I'd actually be enthusiastic in a title for once. And indeed I am quiet enthusiastic about the experience I just went through. I went to the city of Koeln for Karneval (Carnival). Koeln is the biggest city in Germany for the celebration which gets to crazyness through the Friday-Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Thereby, I came from Friday to Tuesday.

Now, I hate blogs that tell you details about what you did day to day, but for this entry I feel its appropriate. I left Friday after school (meaning I had to bring my duffle bag to school which was a pain in the ass) and about halfway through my 4 hour journey to Koeln, they announced over the loudspeaker that anyone going to Koeln had to get off and there would be another train for us. I was so confused that I asked the woman in front of me for clarification, and wouldn't you know if she was Scottish? We thereby caught the next train together and realized our second train would get us there an hour later. My friends were waiting for me and had all already arrived in Koeln. I got into the Hauptbahnhof and it was PACKED and every single person was in costume. Jumping onto the bandwagon, I put on my flapper costume and joined my friends.

We spent the night dancing at a salsa bar and all around having fun with other exchange students ranging from America, to Argentina, to Latvia. And there were only two slight downpoints to my first night. First off, being myself, I naturally absolutely whipped out on the ice outside the bar--practically cracking a kneecap. God forbid I be at all graceful at any point of my life. Second downpoint, I got asked to dance by a South American guy at the bar. EPIC FAIL. But, if I'm to be fair, I always warn people when they ask to dance with me, my first answer being "I can't dance". Literally, every guy has answered back " all?". No, not at all. But yet they insist on me proving it. So yeah. Other than that, it was a fabulous night to start the experience, and we returned home around 3 am.

Saturday was a sort of...non Karneval day for us. We went to a local parade, in which I underdressed and was therefore miserable. We then went back to our host (Marios from USA) along with two other Americans (Tess and Ian) and Elina from Latvia. Through much teamwork we made curry...or what we called "Creation" which was delicious, watched Harry Potter and the Olympics, and ate candy thrown to us from the parade. Not the hard partying expected of a Saturday night of Karneval, but I found it quiet enjoyable.

Sunday was the highlight of my Karneval experience. We went to an AFS party in the early afternoon that was horrible but provided free food...hehe. Then we went into the city. It hit dark, and under the famous Koelner Dome there were African drummers (dressed as sailors?) and a huge group of people dancing to their beats. So naturally, Tess and I joined them. Unfortunately, Ian went home that day but after getting him on his train, we all went out to a really large "typisch Deutsch" bar with tons of people in costume. We danced to not so great music, but mostly entertained ourselves by befriending Germans. At one point there was a guy dressed as a New Yorks Giant football player, and for some reason I decided that gave me perfect reasons to go sit with him and talk. And guess what? HE WAS A NEW YORK GIANTS FOOTBALL PLAYER. What?! Nuts the people you meet in random places. After the bar we went to a Cuban club because it had great music and no entrance fee (all clubs and bars in Germany have an entrance fee from 5-20 euros). The club ended up being a bit boring and in a sudden craving we all went for curry and danced in the restaurant while waiting for food. We went home and I hit the bed incredibly hard.

Monday is known as the biggest day of Karneval, here in Germany its called Rosen Montag. We went to a huge parade in the middle of the city that had over 116 wagons. It took around 3 hours in the freezing cold and getting hit in the face with candy thrown by parade participants who didn't look when they threw. But the costumes were amazing and I'm glad I went. Then we went to (surprising) a BAR! But it had good music and was more for dancing. Unfortunately, I wasn't feeling well and was so not in the mood to dance. Throughout the day I just got worst and worst, and by the time we were at a cafe at 8 pm I turned to Marios and just said "take me home". And thank God I did, as it progressively got worst to the point I didn't sleep a wink Monday night. I went home sick on Tuesday. And didn't go to school Wednesday. Not the perfect ending to my trip, but I'm still absolutely amazed at how much fun I had and am so glad I went.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Spain Photos Anyone?

I apologize for the suckness of my pictures. I don't particularly enjoy taking photos nor am I artistic enough to shoot valuable ones.

They tell me this church in Salamanca was built hundreds of years ago. But my question is why there's an astronaut in the carvings?

These are my two friends from Spain. Ana my host (left) and Palloma (right). I did a two month long international camp with Ana a couple Summers ago, and that's how we know one another.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Falling In Love

Yes, I fell in love this month. How year...romance. But who am I to argue? Who is this mystery lover you ask? Well its more like 46 million lovers. I fell in love with the country of Spain.

Now don´t go rechecking which blog your on, indeed I´m still on my exchange year in Germany. But a couple months ago my host family told me that during Winter Vacation they were going on a ski trip. They "kindly" told me they had no room in the car for me, and thereby I´d had to find someplace to stay for the break. At first I was a bit sad for being left out of a family trip, but I did understand that they had planned this trip before they took me in and that I fucking hate skiing. So I emailed a friend of mine who lives in Spain and asked if I could stay with her during my break, and that´s where my story begins.

I flew into Spain on the Thursday night before break began. I realized everyone on my plane was Spanish and quickly destroyed conversation with the guy next to me when he stopped midsentence after seeing I was reading a book in German. When I left Berlin it was -11 degrees and pouring snow. When I arrived in Madrid it was 12 degrees and balmy. Tip for travel: Never bring gloves, scarves, or anything you´d ever wear in Berlin on a trip to Spain, even in Winter. I was greeted at the gate by my friend Ana and her father. I got a kiss on both cheeks and had to tell them I wasn´t hungry 10 million times before they believed me (I had bought like a family sized bag of gummi bears for the plane ride, and actually felt quiet sick by then). I caught up on conversation with Ana on the 3 hour ride to Caceres and let the Spanishness start to sink in.

Oh right, that little detail I forgot to mention. I speak about 10 words of Spanish. And my list of words isn´t exactly...cohesive. Ajo= garlic. Maladie= illness. I know the numbers 1-6. Casa=house. Tranquile= calm down. Yes, for someone with a Cuban step Mom I sure don´t show it. Even better was the fact that Anas parents literally don´t speak a word of English. And this would be fine if Ana was there protecting my pride 24/7, but Ana had school and studying. She thereby awkwardly left me with her parents and my 10 words to survive. For a bit I felt total deja vu, as if I was returning to my first week in Germany. Lots of awkward smiles, hand gestures, and ¨no comprendo¨´s. But after 5 months as an exchange student, I find that awkwardness slides right off of me. Too many awkward moments this year has left me numb to them.

So Anas parents took me around town for hours and hours. We explored their city, which is absolutely beautiful. There are castles around every corner and torch lit streets. Theres tons of small Catholic churches which despite their size, are impeccably built. We also visited Santamanca, a college town where Anas siblings study. Her siblings were hilarious, trying out their English on me. Her brother would randomly turn to me and say things like, ¨You like Al Pacino?¨. I tried tons of Spanish food, which very rarely disappointed and tried to soak up as much of this culture as possible.

You see, Spain gave me what I´ve been searching for in Germany; a full, rich, distinct culture. In Spain they knew their history, ate Spanish food, listened to Spanish music, danced Spanish dances, and watched Spanish TV. They don´t try to be anyone else. Additionally, every Spaniard I met had a distinct personality, and one they definitely werent affraid to show. Unfortunately and unexpectadely, I got one of my worst bouts of homesickness during my time in Spain. I think its because all my stories of Spain before this came from my step Mom and I always imagined it as a place I would one day explore and discover with my parents by my side. I then got legit sick about halfway through my stay, due to the drinking water which I was warned contained bleach. Ana said they drink it cause their used to it, but it caused me to have headaches and a weasy stumach. Should have stuck to juice...

At the end of my trip here I realize how amazing it is that by a 3 hour plane ride I could end up in a totally different culture (something that in America would wind me up in say, Florida). The contrast between Germany and Spain is quiet shocking, but perhaps that made my trip all the more educational.

In 6 days I´ll have been here 5 months.When you start the journey you convince yourself that a year away is only that, a year. A small increment of time in the big scheme of things. But I find myself at the current moment in the ¨Wednesday Phase¨ as I like to call it. I´m right in the middle, looking at what I´ve done so far and also to the future. I´d like to finally join some extra curriculars such as a chorus and maybe art lessons or yoga. Cause time goes slow when you have time to sit and think here.

I shall post pictures once I return to German-land =D

Friday, January 22, 2010

Don't Tiptoe Around My Feelings Or Anything

Now that I'm about halfway through my experience here, I'm past my initial impressions of the country and beginning to feel fairly solid in my observations on Germany. There's definitely a lot of untrue stereotypes Germany's faces with. Its certain to me that Germany's history is the biggest influencing factor in their mindset on life. Such as in my country, patriotism beams even in the darkest of corners and many are oblivious to our unpopularity around the world. Here, they know what their history has done to their reputation. Unless your at the capital, you won't find a German flag displayed. They are taught every year the history of their countries wars and its ramifications. My cousin Fiona (from Germany) once told me, "We have to be careful, as to not draw attention to our country again".

But in a recent dinner conversation, an interesting point was brought up regarding American-German relations. America is in a war in the Middle East. Germany said from the very beginning that they will not join Americas "fight". For the current generation, they agree with this decision as its an unneeded war. But for the generation of our grandparents, those that lived through the war...well, their pretty furious. They attribute the fact that Germany is not currently under Russian occupation to the Americans helping them out in WWII. How could we not help them after all they did for us? They ask.

Now one thing most will hear about the Germans, along with a horde of absolute bullshit such as "everyone speaks English there", is that the Germans are both cold and blunt. Now this may be made as a joke in America, but its not here, and its no exaggeration. Germans are indeed not people who strike up conversations with strangers or who will flash you a friendly smile passing on the street. I think it puts it somewhat into perspective that German language has two forms of the word "you", one for friends and one for everyone else. This is how I would put it; Germans can tell you everything while telling you nothing at all. They just don't let you in. Added to this is a bluntness that during my first month here I thought didn't exist, but in fact I just couldn't understand what was being said to me. Now that I consider myself fluent, I've been SHOCKED by what Germans tell each other. I, personally, have been told things that would be considered completely rude in America. Take this conversation during a nice dinner with my host family:

Grandma: "Claire, how much do you weigh?" (keep in mind we are currently eating dinner)
Claire: "No idea"
Grandma: "Don't you weigh yourself when you go into the bathroom?"
Claire: "No. I don't think weights important if I feel healthy"
Grandma: "Well your definitely heavier than your sister."
Claire: "..."

Similarly, in school, grades are announced in front of the whole class, so everyone's aware of your success' and failures. I've heard teachers comment to the class on a students acne or been told by my French teacher that the American accent is the ugliest of them all. Even students say these things to each other. Take a girl in my class Jeanette who sat directly across from me and said this:

Jeanette: "I hate people who have a lot of piercings"
Claire: *Points to the total of 8 piercings on her ears*
Jeanette: "Yeah I know. I find them really ugly"

But this is the thing, Germany has given me a tougher skin. You realize that they don't say it out of unkindness or because they are trying to upset you. Then again, I also wouldn't say they say these things out of the kindness of their heart either. Instead, I like to think that this country simply lacks a verbal filter. They aren't mean people, but it takes a lot to crack open the hard shell. On the same page I love my schoolmates and family, but sometimes I would kill for a good smile beamed at me here in Germany (or as another exchange student once called it "The Land of Frowns")

Oh right, and on a totally non-important level, my host sister got a baby turtle as a surprise 18th birthday present. Cool gift...I guess? I can't decided whether its cute or ugly, nor is that distinction high on my list of priorities. Just thought I'd mention that mind blowing event in my household. I also featured a picture in this entry (despite the fact it holds no significance and I took it a month ago and its not even from my city) in a vain hope that perhaps the AFS blog will actually feature me as they only seem to feature blogs with pictures. HAPPY NOW AFS?!!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Sisterhood and Friendship

As a little bit of background, in my life back home, I have three older brothers. My first host family I had an older brother, staying with the Neubauers I had 2 older brothers, and then BAM I got two sisters. I would have liked to have a picture of my face when I was told "Your new host family has two sisters". It must have been such a mix of confusion, surprise, and fear. " do...with...two sisters?". I don't know anything about being a sister, I thought. I'm used to older brothers. Protective, loving but not to the point they'd ever talk about it, calm. What would sisterhood bring after 16 years of brothers?

But the first day, we bonded instantly. We danced in the kitchen, we exchanged jokes, we put on our underpants over our clothes. I knew they were perfect. And it's been a couple months here with them, and I feel just as strongly. Although my sisters are similarly warm and inclusive, they both contribute two totally different things to the table. My older sister is mature, takes me to parties, lets me borrow her clothes and translate homework. My younger sister is silly, always up for a laugh and enjoys randomly turning to strangers and snorting like a pig in their face. Depending on my mood, I can hang out with a sister who fits it, if not both.

Moreover, I am gradually learning how to be a sister, which let me say, is quiet different and sometimes straining for me. It's a lot more emotional. I'm expected to sympathize as well as empathize and be a very good listener. It was strange at first to get used to my sisters showing up in my room at random times just to chat about boy problems or recent school drama (in which I have no clue who they're talking about but act like I do). Having my clothes and jewelry borrowed is now the norm, and hearing/getting into petty arguments at meals is also quite typical of this families sisterhood. Also changed is that I am now the middle child, a hard position which made me appreciate my brother Colin a lot more. It means I have to learn how to be an older sister, which is both difficult and rewarding all the same. I defend my younger sister when she's being picked on, and many times I've been her shoulder to cry on. I like it, its different, but in such a good way that I can't imagine ever not being placed in this family.

And now to school. Although I went through my schedule, I didn't get to share about the kids in my school. I have to start with this sentence---I LOVE MY SCHOOLMATES. Literally, they are the best and make me look forward to school. They are so real, and fun, and don't treat me like an exchange student. They realize I'm smart behind my sometimes crappy German (also known as: morning German), and correct my German in such a way that I know in my heart they just want to help me (as opposed to the jerks who correct your German only to make themselves feel smarter and give you a look like your the dirt of the earth). They realize by now that I do the same things they do, just in another country. Were all procrastinators, lazy, go on the computer, and hate school and French class. Now that I've been a few months in, I've started being invited out with school friends and am comfortable going up to any of them for questions. Its just...nice, and I wanted to share that. It's a very happy part of my life here, and I'm very lucky to have such a good school and home life (corny but I don't really give a...)

I'm hoping this entry slightly made up for my last one, in which I'm still not sure why I posted it. I figure perhaps I'll stop posting so often after this one. ALSO I've been thinking of how people who are on semester programs are going home this month, and I seriously can feel their sadness right now. I can't imagine going home now, or in the next month, its like everything's finally starting to click and it would devastate me to have to leave it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Is it raining in here?

Embarrassing Story of the Day:
Like any typical school day, I went home by bus. Unfortunately, what wasn't typical was the fact that my bus today was only one story as opposed to my usual double Decker. This caused a large amount of people to be squeezed into one small space, and for me to (of course) end up standing, as there were no seats left. Halfway through the ride, tired of smelling armpit being so close to strangers, I spotted an open seat. Yes! I thought. How totally inconspicuous that all these people are standing and they are leaving one seat open. Thereby I headed for the seat, sat down, and got a bulgy eyed look from the girl across from me. What? I thought. Until I felt the sensation of liquid on my pants. Then on my arms, then saw water on my book bag. I looked up just in time to see the heater on the top of the bus POUR water all over me to the amusement of the whole bus. Worst part was that I had no choice but to sit there for another 6 or so stops until my street. I performed the walk of shame getting off the bus, suffering the whole way from wet-ass-syndrome, worsened by the -4 degree weather. Happy Tuesday!

Well, hooray for the New Year! Mine was 6 hours before yours, which is particularly weird to think about. I celebrated in Koeln with two very good exchange student friends of mine as well as many other people at a house party. The night passed by fast, lots of drama and excitement, mistakes and things. A typical new years, which always seems to invite the unexpected. I have mixed feelings about the night, but wont give details. But I will be eternally grateful for Matt Knoth and Marios being there, who would make any night a very good one.

I don't have terribly much to say. Though I suppose I will admit that I feel like I didn't have a Christmas due to my lack of family. Although my Christmas with my host family was lovely, it makes one sad knowing your family back home is celebrating without you as you almost expect them to wait until you return. But the world doesn't stop while your away, one of life's hard realizations.

So I decided to just post pictures, as I put all my other ideas into another entry, in which I'm still pondering over, wondering if it came out right.