Part of the reason that I am so excited to have the opportunity to go abroad is that I’ve already been to Germany twice, and I’m already in love with it. Although I think I will spend my summer abroad elsewhere, my long-term experience will definitely be in “Deutschland.” The experiences I had in that country were some of the best times of my life. Keep on reading for a little re-cap of my time at my home-away-from-home!
In the fall of 2012, I hosted a German student for three weeks as a part of my high school’s branch of the German American Partnership Program, GAPP for short. Her name was Jenny, and my family, friends, and I had such an amazing time showing her around Lancaster and teaching her all about American culture (she found froyo endlessly exciting). When her short stint in the states came to an end, it was time to plan the trip for American students to visit the German students’ home and school. As it was a direct exchange, I was able to stay with Jenny when I finally got to Germany for three weeks in July and August of 2013.
Jenny and the rest of the students went to school in a town about an hour away from Berlin called Lübben, located right in the middle of the beautiful Spreewald (Spree forest).
This is the Paul-Gerhardt-Gymnasium, which was the school with which mine had a partnership.
Many students also lived in town, but Jenny lived in a small village around twenty minutes away from the school called Groß Wasserburg. The cobblestone streets and gated yards were quaint and seemingly old-fashioned, but I found that the people and technology inside the homes were similar to what we have here in America. After a few days, I felt right at home.
Most days, the other American students and I attended school with our host students at the Paul-Gerhardt-Gymnasium, but we also had excursions to other cities. Just after arriving, we spent two days in Berlin, seeing all of the tourist-y sites and warming up our German-speaking skills.
Here’s the whole group in front of the Reichstag Building, which is where the German Parliament is housed.
This is my friend Sam and I in front of a part of the East Side Gallery. The East Side Gallery is a portion of the Berlin Wall that remained standing, and every few years new artists are invited to paint murals on it.
We spent one day visiting Sachenhausen, the concentration camp in Oranienburg. It was one of the most saddening, but at the same time informative, experiences of my life.
Translated directly, this sign in the gate into the camp reads “work makes free;” it could mean a couple of different things, but the guards typically thought of it as a message to prisoners, that the harder you work, the sooner you die.
“Neutral Zone: One will be shot immediately without warning.”
Additionally, we spent one day in Potsdam, where we visited many historical sites.
This palace is called The “Sanssouci” which translates to “without a care” in French. It was the summer home of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, located in Potsdam.
I was supposed to go on one additional excursion to Dresden with the group, but due to an accident, I was unable to go. Instead, I spent three days in the hospital after falling off of my bicycle.
Jenny and I were taking a nice bike ride through the forest on a Sunday afternoon. The day passed largely uneventfully, and we saw some really beautiful sights in the Spreewald and the lakes it contains.
We ended up going to the highest point in the area, which is a tall building on top of a small mountain in the forest.
Going down the mountain is when I started to have problems. The path was made from gravel and we were gathering a significant amount of speed. These factors made the hole in the path, which I didn’t see, particularly dangerous. When I hit said hole, I flew off of my bike. I don’t quite remember what happened, but I must have smacked my face on the handlebars because I had a large gash on my upper lip. What I do remember is feeling my knee hit the ground and sliding a few feet down the path on my face. Jenny called her mom, but I ended up being carted down the mountain in a “Krankenwagen” (ambulence).
I’m not sure how many stitches I had in my lip; the doctors decided to put me under general anesthesia while they cleaned me up, so I was not awake for the sewing.
Because I was only 17 at the time, I had to stay on the children’s ward. Imagine waking up from anesthesia to this. Most of the dermis on my knee was completely gone, but luckily I did not have any bone damage or rocks in the joint!
Over the three days in the hospital, I got the rest of my road burn cleaned (my hands were particularly bad) and had a few ultrasounds to make sure none of my internal organs were damaged, which they thankfully were not. It was a shame to have this part of my trip cut out, but now I have a great story to tell. I’m also quite fond of the various scars that resulted from the accident.
Despite the accident, I had the best time in Germany. So much so, that I was determined to go back.
The next July, I was fortunate enough to be able to go back to Germany. Again, I stayed three weeks with Jenny, but this time I went by myself. Catching an airplane to a foreign country was one of the most nerve-wracking things I’d ever done. But, I got there without incident and there were no accidents on this trip at all!
As this summer was more about seeing my friends and spending time with people than seeing tourist attractions, there are not as many things on which I can report. The coolest thing I did, however, was kind of a big deal. I went to Berlin on the day of the World Cup Final, and 600,000 other fans and I watched Germany take their 4th title. We stood on the street in front of the Brandenburg Gate, which had been specifically blocked off for the viewing of the event. The atmosphere in Berlin that night was indescribable. There was a palpable energy in the street, and I have never felt anything like it.
“Allee, Allee, Allee Allee Allee! Eine Straße, viele Baüme! Ja, das ist eine Allee!”
There is no doubt in my mind that these experiences halfway around the world have changed me as a person. I gained confidence in my abilities, both in German and in communicating in general. I learned about self-sufficiency, independence, and being open to new experiences. If six short weeks in my life can make such an impact, then I am so ready to see how my time abroad through OU shapes me and helps me to grow.