October

Alright a couple things to start this off- I’m cold and it’s going to get colder but I only have 72 more days until I’ll be getting on my flight back to Australia and that feels like only a few weeks. I’ve been here now for over 280 days (9 months or so) and it’s gone so fast. This month I’ve been able to have a few days in Berlin and a few days also in Amsterdam and they were both absolutely beautiful. They were also a great opportunity to get more pins and things for my blazer.

 

Berlin: I went to Berlin for about four days this month. I went down on a Friday after school and spent time with some of the exchange students who live in Berlin and also saw a lot of the important sites and museums Berlin has to offer including Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburger Tor, and the East Side Gallery where 1.6km of the original Berlin wall still stands.

During a few of the nights I was there, Berlin had a light show on many of the old buildings much like Vivid in Sydney. I met up with some exchange students at the Brandenburger Tor and we watched that for a while. I think the theme must have been on freedom as there were many animations and quotes projected onto the structure such as “Freiheit ist, wenn ich Sonntags im Mauerpark alle Sprachen dieser Welt höre” (Freedom is when I hear all the languages of the world in the Mauerpark on Sundays) or “Freiheit ist, dass egal was ich brauche, ich es hier finde, denn Berlin hat für jeden was” (Freedom is that no matter what I need, I can find it here because Berlin has something for everyone).

During the time I was there, I realised just how much I love public transport. I’ve always appreciated busses and the occasional train, but Berlin is amazing with public transport and I think we should get a subway in Maitland. Just a little idea but also talk to your government representatives. Make it happen. They even have free wifi on all the subway stations- it’s magical.

The most interesting place for me was the Berlin Hohenschönhausen. It was used by the Stasi in former East Germany as a political prison which over 20,000 people passed through. The conditions were inhumane, and they used torture, disorientation, and psychological intimidation to interrogate people who attempted or planned to leave East Germany as well as political prisoners. Much of the time, the prisoners didn’t know why they were there or what they were being accused of, but they were always assumed guilty and were forced to stay up during the night being interrogated to find the extent of their actions. I took a two-hour guided tour through the cells and interrogation rooms- some of which were set up as they were back then and if you’re ever in Berlin, I would really recommend taking a tour.

Amsterdam: This month I had the opportunity to see Amsterdam for a few days with Lauren from the USA, her host mum, and her host cousin. It was so beautiful, and we got to see a lot in the few days we were there. We went on a few of those Hop on-Hop off bus and boat tours through the city and the canals, we had a look at the Van Gogh museum, and inside the permanent exhibition in Body Works where real bodies are used to show how the body functions. There was also a small fair which we went to after dinner both nights where we could see over most of the city. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get inside the Anne Frank House as the line was a few hours long and tickets sell out well in advance.

I loved that instead of not understanding German, I could have a go at not understanding Dutch for the weekend.

 

Paris: On the first of November, I’ll be going Paris for a few days with Rotary and the exchange students from 1880, 1940, and 1950 (the same districts as Eurotour so once again probably around one hundred exchange students). We’ll be going by bus overnight and seeing a lot during our three days in Paris. Unfortunately, most of the exchange students from our Eurotour have already gone home because of the different school year in the Northern Hemisphere but it’ll be good to see the others from Australia and New Zealand as well as the newbies who arrived only a few months ago.

I know from my oldies that it’s an exciting week away so I’m really looking forward to it and I guess I’ll explain a bit more about it next month.

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July

July, seventh month of the year. It’s been over 200 days but it feels like it’s been much less.

 

Right now, I’m on school holidays for six weeks. My host family and I aren’t doing any big holidays but so far we’ve been out and about a lot. We’ve still got three weeks left for the holidays and once I go back to school I’ll be in the 11th grade in a new class. I’ll also be switching from the Geography to the language profile.

 

Some of the things I’ve done or seen this month;

  • Went to see Travemünde Sailing Week in Lübeck. It’s a big yearly festival at Travemünde beach and the second biggest sailing event in the world (beaten by Keil Week also in Germany only two hours from me).
  • Got to see Hamburg both as a school trip with my class and when going to get my phone fixed.
  • Picked raspberries with my host parents at a local farm.
  • I made a pavlova for my host family. They weren’t the biggest fans because it was too sweet so I made them some more ANZAC biscuits.
  • Spent the day with twenty teens from all over the world who were participating in a Rotary summer trip. We had a tour of Mölln and learnt about Till Eulenspiegel, a trickster that travelled Europe and particularly Northern Germany in the 1300s. He died in Mölln and a gravestone was erected once the people of Mölln realised how important he was to everyone. We walked around the town and I found out there was a massive park just behind the main street that I had somehow never seen. The main part of the day was when we did the Drei Musekel Tour in Ratzeburg. First with a hand car on a train track, then on a six-person conference bike, and the last stretch was on a dragon boat that fit up to twenty people. It was a really good day.
  • I saw the Roncalli Circus in Lübeck with my Rotary host counsellor, Silke.
  • I spent the day with my host parents and Pauline my host sister in Hansa park. It’s a theme park near Lübeck and it’s really pretty with buildings and rides based off things and places like Lübeck and other Hansa cities.
  • Yesterday I was at the Seal Station in Friedrichskoog near the North Sea. They do a lot of work with pups abandoned by their mums.
  • Harry and I said goodbye to our oldies, Paloma and Brianna from Mexico and the USA. That was sad but we still talk a bit and we’ve got our newbie coming in around two weeks.

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June

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Copenhagen! We had our goodbye weekend for the oldies of the district this month in Rostock with a day trip to Copenhagen, Denmark. Not everyone from the district was able to come but it was nice to be with most of them again.

Saturday was an early start because we took our bus onto the ferry, spent four hours or so there, and then a few more hours drive to Copenhagen. After the long trek, we only had about four hours in Copenhagen until we had to go back but during that time we walked around the city and then had a some of free time to buy souvenirs.

On Sunday, after Kerstin, the head of YEP in D1940, and the Rotex left, we stayed outside the hostel for a few more hours signing flags, writing in books, swapping business cards, giving out pins, and recording voice messages for each other on their phones.

We spent a lot of time at Warnemünde beach in Rostock on Friday, and then again Saturday night and Sunday before Harry, Paloma, and I went back. (Although on Sunday we almost didn’t make it back because we misjudged how long it would take us to get from the beach to the train station and ran the whole way). It was a really good weekend with not many tears because we were going to see each other at the district conference.
In Berlin this month, District 1940 had our annual conference. All the exchange students from the district are expected to attend and help the Youth Exchange Program continue by showing we’re not a complete waste of time and money and giving the leaders of the district an idea of who we are. Some of us performed in small groups or alone doing songs, skits, poetry, or dances that are either from our countries or to do with being an exchange student in Germany. We also as a group sang “Wir Sind Alle Wie Eins” (We Are All Like One). It’s a song about people speaking different languages and being from different countries and coming together as one so it was pretty fitting for our group.

We didn’t have enough people performing for the time slot we had so I volunteered to play and sing Land Down Under on guitar. It was the first time I had properly played a guitar in almost 150 days so it was a bit challenging. Adding to that, I only knew I would be performing an hour or two beforehand and two other groups needed the guitar too. But, with a little advice from my friends such as, “You’ve gotta sound more bogan”- Peter from Melbourne, it sounded pretty good.

At the end of our section of the conference, we sang Wir Sind Alle Wie Eins and by the time we finished more than a few teary eyes could be found so it was time for group hugs and more crying. Then we realised we should probably get off the stage so they can finish the conference.
In the past couple weeks, the exchange students from the Northern Hemisphere where the school is different have started going home and that’s been really sad. Especially saying goodbye to people who live really far from Australia and aren’t as easy to visit- so basically everyone except for Kiwis.

Brianna (US) and Paloma (Mexico), the oldies from Harry and I’s town, will be going back soon and neither of us are looking forward to that, but last week I learnt that we’ll be having a newbie arrive at the end of August from the US called Lauren. I’ve already talked to her a couple times over the phone so that’s exciting.

May

!!!!!

Ok, so Eurotour was a thing this month! 19 days with 105 other exchange students spread out on only two busses. We left on the 30th of April and got back on the 19th of May after visiting six different countries, ten cities, and a lot of servos.

We started in Dresden, and visited Prague, Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Venice, Pisa, Rome, Innsbruck (Austria), Bamberg (Germany), and finished in Berlin. It was insane.

I’m writing a bit of a report on what I did each day but that’s not quite finished yet. But I do have a couple of days ready so I’ll put them at the end.

 

Last weekend I changed families for the first time and it’s been really cool. There are two daughters in my new family; Paulina and Friederike. Friederike was in Taiwan from 2014-2015 with Rotary as an exchange student.

The town I’m in now is Sterley. It has only a thousand people but has a shop open every day including Saturday and Sundays. In Germany, everything (other than restaurants) is closed on Sundays. This is the same in big cities like Berlin and my last host town which was much bigger.

In my town, there’s also a dairy farm where you can walk in whenever you want and say hi to all the cows and the calves. School finished early Wednesday so Friederike and I went to have a look at them and there were about five or so little calves that you can give a bit of a scratch as well as heaps of older ones. They also have one of those automatic milking things and that was cool. This morning I had their milk in my coffee.

I’m still going to my school in Mölln and Friederike is in the year above me. School is going well and recently I went out with one of my friends to get ice cream which was the first time I’ve been out with one of my German friends. That was really nice.

 

I’ve recently been going much better with my German. I’ve spoken basically only German with my new family except for a few times when we needed to make sure we were all on the same page. They say that usually you’re able to understand a lot by the four to sixth month mark and I’m half way through my fourth month and I know a lot more.

Can’t say the same for my English. In English class, we’re starting a new topic- South Africa. We all had to brainstorm things that come to mind when we think of South Africa. I wrote down a lot of things including giraffe and elephant and had a bit of a crisis when I forgot how to spell elephant- with an “f” or with a “ph”. So, I tried writing down both. The “f” looked most correct and I thought- wow Jess how could you have thought it was with a “ph”? I didn’t realise until I was typing this and the little red line showed up that, elephant is spelt like elephant. Not my finest moment. So sorry if there’s any spelling mistakes or anything else like that in report. My English is having some problems right now. Good luck trying to understand me in December.

 

What’s happening soon? Well, next weekend, there’s a Rotex weekend in Copenhagen to say goodbye to the oldies who are leaving soon. I’m really excited to see them all again but it’ll only be a bit over half of everyone from Eurotour (the other half are from the other districts who came with us). I’m not sure what we’ll be doing in Denmark but I’ll be able to put all that in my next report.

 

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March Report

There’s been a lot of things happening this month- I’ve joined a badminton team, I’ve been to a Rotary weekend, the sun’s come out, and there’s been a lot of ice cream with friends.

With the promise of a new packet of Tim-Tams, I thought it was about time to try the packet in my suitcase. My host family tried one and they really liked them but of course you can’t properly eat Tim-Tams without a cup of coffee. Luckily, I could make this experience truly Australian with some Blend 43 Nescafé Coffee (yes, I chose to bring instant coffee sachets in my suitcase instead of the important things and no, I don’t regret it). We each had a cup of coffee in one hand and a Tim-Tam in the other. It was time. I showed them which corners to bite and we all had very successful Tim-Tam Slams with no one dropping the Tim-Tams into their drink.

Something that I knew I wanted to make for them was a pavlova and last weekend I could. It was a lot harder to make it in Germany with trying to find the right white vinegar, getting the eggs, and translating things like cornflour. But we got there in end after three trips to the shops, a new electric beater, and sending frantic messages from the aisles of German Aldi to my Mum and Dad in Australia about what fruits should I put on top (we had kiwi fruit, passion fruit, and a berry mix with strawberries, raspberries, a few others).

Luckily, they loved it. They had never had a pavlova before and it was their first time eating passion fruit, but I was asked for the recipe by Silke so it must have gone well.

Recently the weather has had a very sunny change. While it’s still a bit too cold to go out without a jumper, there’s been lots of sun and last weekend I went with my host parents and their dog on a bike ride around one of the lakes near our house. Today I went with Lilia and her friend on a paddle boat on another of the lakes. It was hot enough that we didn’t really have to wear our jackets and while the sun was lovely, the water is still too cold for swimming.

Daylight savings have come and now I’m only 9 hours behind Australia because Spring is here! (edit: ok so I was told that actually you’ve moved an hour behind last night or a few nights ago and so it’s now 8 hrs difference) The flowers are all coming out- especially the Osterglocken (Easter bells) that are planted all around the garden. I’m excited because in the next couple of weeks, the trees are going to start getting their leaves again. Spring also means the ice cream cafés are opening again and there’s a lot of ice cream cafes in Germany with three in Ratzeburg alone. Also- because Germany is cold to begin with, ice cream weather is much cooler than in Australia. I can eat an ice cream without it melting everywhere!

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February

I’ve spent almost 40 days in Germany but doesn’t feel that long. It’s been going terrifically- I have seen a bit more of Ratzeburg, Mölln, and Lübeck and I’ve been understanding more German.

Being only a 20-minute train ride away, it’s pretty easy to go to Lübeck so two weekends or so ago I went with Lilia- my host sister, Paloma, the exchange student from Mexico, and her host sister. We walked around a bit, went in some stores, and I accidentally paid a street performer almost $5 AUD for a few photos -pay attention to currency conversion rates.

The next day I went up to Lübeck again with my host family and some of their family friends from Berlin that they spend Christmas with. While they looked at some shops and had a look inside the Holsten Gate, their daughter, Lilia, and I went ice skating in an outdoor ice skating rink. After a while we went with everyone else on a walk through the city.

Friday nights are now the nights where we speak mainly German and Jess cooks so last Friday night I made rissoles for my host family and they were so shocked when I pulled out a few of those Australian tomato sauce packets you have with pies and sausage rolls that you squeeze. I didn’t realise that they were a mostly Australian thing but my host mother really liked them and thought they were both tasty and practical. They haven’t seen anything yet- wait until I bring out the vegemite.

Yesterday, Paloma, Harry, Brianna from the USA, and I met up all together for the first in a little café in Ratzeburg. I have Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday off from school this week so tomorrow Harry and I are going to go up to Lübeck have a walk around.

I have finished my German lessons with the New Zealand exchange student Harry in Razteburg but we’ve been talking with my Rotary club on other ways I can do a language course and now I’m doing language lessons one on one with someone. Each Friday my school has a class for German as a foreign language. There’s only a few people in the class and the teacher is nice so that’s also been helping.

School has been really good. I’m still hanging out with people in my class and I’ve been talking to some people outside of my class too including one girl who invited me over to her house to have pizza. One of my classes is politics and I have asked my politics teacher if she would like me to give a presentation on how the Australian government works and how legislation is made as I think they are looking at how the German government makes laws. So on Monday I’m going to present the PowerPoint I made for the one of the Rotary orientation weekends in Australia.

I went to another Rotary meeting a few days ago, where I spoke about my family, where I live, and my school in Australia which went well and I was able to introduce myself properly to the president of my club.
On Friday Harry, Paloma, and I have a Rotary orientation meeting in Strausberg with all the other Rotary exchange students in our district (about 65-70). Paloma has been in Germany for 6 months so she’s already been to two other meetings but for Harry and I it will be our first time with everyone else. It’s only 30kms away from Berlin so Paloma, Harry, and I will spend the morning looking around. It’ll be my first time in Berlin so I’m really excited!

January

The first weeks in Ratzeburg, Germany have been amazing! Once we were out of Hamburg the fields all had so much snow covering them- it was beautiful! They showed me around Ratzeburg which is where I will live for the next 3-4 months.

The first weeks in Ratzeburg, Germany have been amazing! On the first day, my host sister, Lilia, and my host dad, Jan, met me at the airport and took me home. Once we were out of Hamburg the fields all had so much snow covering them- it was beautiful! They showed me around Ratzeburg which is where I will live for the next 3-4 months.

Ratzeburg is a town in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. It is about 20km from Lübeck and there are 14.5 thousand people living in Razteburg. It is surrounded by four lakes and so has a very popular canoeing club. This club has been to the Olympics three times earning them two gold and a silver medal during the 60s’.

A few weekends ago I went to Lübeck with my host mum and sister. We looked inside a museum that’s located inside the Holsten Gate. The Holsten Gate is the last of the three that were built around the city in the 13th century. We also had a walk along the river and saw some of the architecture that’s a very important part of Lübeck.

I have been attending German lessons twice a week with the other exchange student from my host club. We have nearly finished the original 4 weeks but are considering extending for a few more lessons. I am also going to start attending a German as a foreign language class at my school.

I have been into town most days since I arrived. It’s quite close so it’s easy to ride over to do something. It is only about 10 minutes to ride there and it is across the lake so it’s a nice ride. Last weekend I met up with two other exchange students- one rotary exchange student from Mexico called Paloma and another from the USA named Briana who is with another program. We spent a few hours chatting and we got along quite well.

I had my first Rotary Club meeting a few weeks ago and it went well. Harry- the exchange student from New Zealand who is also being hosted by my club- and I introduced ourselves and next week we’re going to do a presentation to tell them a bit about us and our countries.

There is going to be an orientation weekend in March that all the exchange students from my district will go to. I’m really excited about it because I’ll be able to meet them and because Paloma, Harry, and I are planning on spending a few hours in Berlin to look around.

!!! SNOW !!! My first experience with snow! When I arrived there was only a few remaining piles from the days and weeks before but ! it started actually snowing! There hasn’t been a lot but twice there has been a couple of centimetres which is just enough to make everything look absolutely magical.

On 26th, I went to school for the first time. I spent the first week in Year 8 but moved up to year 10 to be with kids who are closer to my age.

There are still a few things that I am getting used to and that may take a while to set in (the toothpaste and my host dad’s shaving cream look very similar) but so far it’s been absolutely amazing! There’s so many things to be excited about and I’m having a great time.