Over the past year, I have become somewhat obsessed with the notion of travelling lightly. It all started when I read Tynan's 2016 Gear Post. The idea that someone could travel the world with nothing more than a 20L backpack was shocking to me. As someone who just brought multiple suitcases worth of stuff to study in Germany, the notion of only having to carry a single small backpack on my future travels seemed quite appealing.
A year later, I am finally doing just that. In a few hours, I will be on a plane headed to Amsterdam, where we will rent a car and drive back to my home in Hamburg. On the entirety of this 10 day trip, I will be living with only the items pictured above.
Here is my packing list:
Last year I had the honor of starting off my November at an international youth affairs conference in Strasbourg, France. The conference, From Trenches to Bridges brought together over 200 students of 43 nationalities to draft a Peace Charter for the European Parliament. The words of the charter are below:
We, the more than 200 students from 43 nationalities participating in the “From Trenches to Bridges” 2015 Youth Forum in Alsace, have been working together for a week on the history of World War I and the story of AFS, on learning to live together through intercultural learning, and on active citizenship. In intensive workshops, we have discussed the biggest challenges that we face in living together peacefully today, and what we, as active citizens and future leaders, can do to tackle these challenges. We are presenting our answers to you, the European Parliament, in the form of this multimedia Peace Charter.
The biggest challenge that we feel is keeping us from living together peacefully is the lack of understanding for others. Different understandings of the world can lead to disagreements and misunderstandings. However, the biggest factor for conflict lies in the lack of understanding of cultural and religious differences, giving way to stereotypes and racism. We experience a lack of empathy, which prevents us from seeing each other as fellow human beings.
Another big challenge that we see in the world is the ignorance about current events and global issues, and the lack of education regarding these topics. We are especially concerned about the lack of education regarding culture, religion, poverty, gender, racial and sexual inequality, as well as socioeconomic and environmental issues.
Last year in Hamburg, I didn't blog as consistently as I had hoped too. As a result, I still have many experiences to share. To inaugurate this series of recounted stories, I wanted to talk about my first Sunday in Deutschland.
After sleeping in till 10:00, I got up for breakfast. We had bread, fruit, cucumbers, tomatoes, and all sorts of vegan spreads or Aufstrich. Then, I finished unpacking. Next, I biked with my host mom to the train station to purchase my public transport card. After finding the booth closed, we walked around Altona and ordered Currywurst (a German sausage covered in spicy curry ketchup and sprinkled with yellow curry powder) and Pommes (french fries) at a vegan food truck called Vincent vegan.
Later, I walked on the beach with my family. I saw an old cigarette machine that had been repurposed to dispense art. Sadly, it was sold out of the vegan keychain I wanted (my host sister was kind enough to call the artist and order it for me after months of my attempts to arrive after restocking but before it sold out once again). Finally, I had spaghetti and salad before getting ready for bed.
Although this might not sound all that exciting at first, I fondly remember this day. I think it is a thorough example of the most unique part of exchange: living the daily life of another culture, exploring a new area of the world, and most importantly, becoming part of a new family.
The first day of school at my high school was this past Wednesday, and with it came Masaki's first day of school in the US. To help him reflect on his first impressions and to share with us what school is like in Japan, I asked him some questions about the differences between our school systems.
1. What are some of the most notable differences between school in the U.S.A. and Japan?
We have 11 periods in the U.S. but in Japan, we have only 6 periods.
This Friday my family and I met the AFS student from Japan we will be hosting for the next 10 months. We have hosted before, for shorter periods, or last year when I was on exchange, but never for this long as a family of four.
We are all very excited and we hope we can provide Masaki a memorable experience here in the US. If you see him around, feel free to stop him in the halls and introduce yourself. I think he is very excited to learn about the US.
Some people talk about how beneficial an experience it is for a student to go abroad, but I think it can be easy to forget how much the student benefits his/her host community. With the modern news, it can be easy to only think of the political side of a country without remembering all the normal people living there. It might not always be easy to remember, but every single person in this world wants a safe place for their family, enough food to live and a sense of happiness.
Last summer in Russia, some of the other exchange students and I asked our friends there what they thought of Putin. Some liked him, some disliked him, but the most common response, was that they have enough food on their plates, a roof over their head, and they are living happily with their family. My host family in Russia was incredibly kind, and after only minutes of being there I had countless examples to dispel any doubts some people in the US had about going on exchange to Russia after Putin annexed Crimea.
It was my last Tuesday in Germany, and the time for my going away party in school had finally come. I was so excited to finally bake some vegan cake/pie for my entire class, that my friend from Japan and I had gone as far as to make a Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cherry Cake) and an apple crumble pie. The morning of our party came, and as the two of us were leaving for school (a bit late) I realized that neither dessert would fit into the basket of my bicycle. I had imagined this idyllic situation with both goods perfectly situated in the basket, but instead, we had to place the apple pie on an angle, and I carried the Torte on my left hand.
For some reason, I thought it would be a great idea to listen to music and carry my friend's bicycle lock in addition to what I was already transporting. As you can imagine, this didn't end well for anyone. About half way to school, I tried to switch the song I was listening to and in doing so, I momentarily had no hands on the handle bars. In this moment, the cake threw off my balance a bit, and I swerved into a brick wall next to me. I flew over the handlebars along with the cake and pie with everything ending up smashed onto someone's lawn.
The pie was completely in pieces, and I will always remember how my friend futilely tried to pick up all of the crumbled pieces and reassemble it in the pan. Thankfully, the carrying case for the cake held it together, even though it got completely smashed to one side.
Not only was it smashed, but we realized that someone had somehow added 2 cups of vinegar instead of one tablespoon to the cake batter, so it didn't even taste as delicious as I had hoped.
This apple pie recipe comes from the neighbors of my friend in Bern, Switzerland. Vielen dank nochmal, es ist immer noch ein mega Hit :)
Prep time: 15 min.
As you read this, I have just said goodbye to my host family, and an entire life of mine, and gotten into the ICE Train 579 to Frankfurt. This train will bring me away from all my new friends, and back to a series of plane and car connections resulting in a return journey to Pittsburgh.
I am happy to have the chance to see my fellow exchange students again, but on the other hand I just want to go straight home. I feel so at home here in Hamburg and it will be hard enough to leave, and then seeing and saying goodbye to even more people will just make things harder.
Thankfully though, I have gotten to say these goodbyes in German. That means instead of saying goodbye, I've said auf wiedersehen, which literally translates as until we see each other again. Thus, I haven't really said farewell, but rather see you soon.
On the upside, these moments provide lots of opportunities for testing out the limits of positivity. I am usually described as a positive person, but I do also somehow enjoy or at least feel it's acceptable to be sad when the situation warrants the emotion. There are however, some people who would say that you have complete control over your emotions, and that the only thing making me sad is myself. This is an interesting theory, and I am testing is as much as I can. I think however that there is a thin line and it is important to realize the significance of crying. I am not by any means against crying, or being sad I just think there are some times it is a fitting reaction, such as when saying goodbye, and some times where it is not worth getting worked up over, like when you are stuck in traffic. I still am not exactly sure how to word this correctly, so if you are interested in the topic, check out tynan's blog as he has wrote a lot to the topic recently.
This last week was definitely one of if not the absolute best week of my exchange. I was on a school trip the whole week in Schloss Noer on the Baltic Sea. It was a band trip, so the 95 students from my school (from Grades 5-11) were split into bands, and spent the entire week playing music instead of normal school classes. This led to us preparing two songs to play on Saturday at a concert in the School's Cafeteria/Auditorium.
The most special part of the trip however, was having the opportunity to spend a week living in a youth hostel with some of my best friends. Ever since reading about a French Class Ski Trip in the Aps back in 4th grade, I have wanted to go on a school trip, and I finally got the chance.
While some educators might try to write off such a trip as being a waste of precious school time, I don't think the educational value of such a trip could ever be matched in a classroom setting. First of all, the intensity is much higher, and thus, one can accomplish much more in a shorter time span. Secondly, the social time with friends which lead to good memories later on in life can help to inspire a lifelong love of music and the arts, or more importantly, learning in general. An everlasting passion for such things is invaluable and one of if not the single most significant contribution to an education.
Even after being here for almost 10 months now, I got to know so many new students from my school and made, or solidified some of my closest friendships of the year. This just goes to show how much a single shared interest can breed a friendship.
One of the most common questions I receive is "What is school like in Germany?". This post will attempt to answer that question in as much detail as possible. Because this will be a longer post, here is a table of contents so you can find the section that most interests you first:
1. First, let's start with my schedule:
To understand the schedule, it is helpful to know that in between two periods there is a five minute break, and after two periods, a twenty minute break. On days when we have lunch, I have an hour break. The second name in a block is always the German name.