High School Student, OFLA Scholarship Winner (photos submitted by the author have parental permission)
My trip to Heidenheim, Germany was the experience of a lifetime. I was so fascinated by the workings of another culture. If there’s one thing I learned that was most surprising and that was how friendly German people are. Not the fallacy filled friendship experienced in America, but a different kind. They are fabulous entertainers and the best of friends with the ones they truly care for. I went to house parties and events during my stay with my host family. It was quite eye-opening to see life outside of my simple world. It’s hard to portray what atypical day was because it was always different. Week days I got up early, had morning coffee with my host family, and hiked uphill to school. In Germany the equivalent of a high school is, “gymnasium” with grades 5-12. After school it was still mid-day so lunch was with the whole family and so was dinner. Every meal was around the table and formal. Outside of family life people are very active most students play sports. They make time to rest though. Every day at 4 or 5pm it was “Kaffe und Kuchen zeit,” coffee and cake time where almost everyone stops and sits at a café to relax. Something quite different from America, is that most businesses even restaurants are closed on Sundays. Also I noticed right away German people find any excuse to throw festivals. Any historical day got celebrated. While I was there there was a festival every weekend within in a 20 mile radius. And there are castles everywhere and historic buildings, just so much history that Germans hold on to it was riveting.
I spoke German pretty well and I thought I understood it, but upon arrival I realized just how fast Germans spoke and how difficult it was to understand them. I was able to pick up a lot by observing and using a lot of facial expressions, after about a week. I did tire myself out translating in my head to English then my response to German. My exchange student was always there to help and as the time progressed I knew a lot of lingo and common sayings to carry on a conversation. The language barrier became easier and I did quite well on my own, but what’s a trip without a hiccup. After school on a Wednesday three of my American friends, on the trip as well, and I went down to the main street to get some lunch. The food place was a little stand called “the pizza corner” that sells hamburgers, bratwursts, pizza, and crepes. At that specific time the corner was very busy with lunch rush. We all had some trouble ordering because it was so busy the women behind the counter was actually Italian and knew little German and we were Americans with less than adequate German. Nonetheless, we got our food and sat down outside and enjoyed our lunch. When we went to leave the lady was talking to us with some eagerness but we didn’t know why and didn’t understand. She sent another customer after us on our way out to tell us we didn’t pay for something. Specifically for a water bottle my friend had. The argument got quite heated to where my friend looked like he was actually going to get physical and he was getting angry because he had bought the water bottle the day before at the same stand and still had it. He proceeded to argue with the other customer and his voice began to rise. I offered to just go pay the two euros but that made him madder. He approached the lady at the counter and used one word… “gestern,” yesterday, to explain that he bought the drink the day before. I was so scared a fight would break out and we were stranded in a foreign country without our instructor or our exchange students. The woman, thank goodness, understood and was apologetic and very nice. We left dodging a bullet and I left dodging a metal break down.
My time in Germany has left a lasting impression. I made life long relationships and friendships with people in another country I may have never got to meet. I broadened my horizons experiencing a new culture and language that shaped me into the person I am, and may become.