The adventure continues…

31 08 2011

Enjoyed Viet Girl Goes German? I’m continuing blogging as I proceed through college and beyond! Click the image below for my new blog:





Back to reality (Viet Girl’s finale)

10 08 2011

Want to read this blog from the beginning? Start from the first post!

At 6:51 PM my plane pulled into Philadelphia. After a long, 20-hour period of travel, I had finally made it home.

My sister and mom, unexpectedly, were waiting at the gate for me! However, I was so totally dead-tired that I didn’t even realize it.

A quick phone call cleared this up, however, and soon I was reunited with my family!

And then my family promptly took me to Philly Chinatown for Asian food as though it was urgent.

Finally, my dad drove us home, where I unpacked my suitcase to show my family my souvenirs:

So now, after 6 weeks, I’m back home. It feels a little strange. Germany was like a break from reality. Now that I’m home, I need to

And now that I’m home, I’ve had the chance to reflect. Specifically on two points that YFU told us:

1. You will get reverse culture shock.

Yeah. Six weeks is not a long time. A lot of kids experience “reverse culture shock,” where suddenly their home country is the strange one and their foreign exchange country is normal. I was only in Germany for six weeks. It didn’t happen to me.

2. Your foreign exchange experience will change you. You will change. You will come home a completely different person.

It’s the truth. I don’t feel much different. I don’t feel any more mature, or responsible, or capable, or aware. I just feel like… myself. Should I have changed? Should I suddenly be a better, greater, more magnanimous person? Well, it is what it is, and I am what I am. Whatever that happens to be.

However, I did learn a few things when I went to Germany. One of them being….

I tried my best not to think of my exchange as a vacation, but in many ways it felt like one. I didn’t have much time to really live in Germany, make friends, integrate myself into the culture. Six weeks is way too short to truly get to experience German life! Perhaps that’s why I haven’t changed. But going for a semester or year definitely takes guts, that’s for sure.

One thing that I really loved was how many different people I met– from different places, different backgrounds, different views. But every time I met someone new, it always looked like this:

Everything seems normal when you see it every day. Hills of vineyards that I found fascinating my host family did not. It really put things in perspective for me. The Philadelphia suburbs might seem boring to me, but someone else may find it amazing. Then again, maybe not.

Americans are painfully, painfully uneducated in geography. Even all the Germans I talked to knew where Philadelphia was.

And finally:

I never thought I would go abroad. It seemed like a distant dream, one that other people achieved– not me. I’m too average. An average kid in a sub-average school in an average suburb. Germany was a complete surprise (especially for me, who applied for Japan) and even after I was accepted, I couldn’t believe I was going. But it happened. I went abroad. Maybe the biggest thing I realized in Germany is that people are free to do whatever they want– it just takes a little drive, a little work, and a lot of luck.

So I’m finally home. Settled. Germany was an incredible, amazing experience that I wouldn’t give up for the world– but my Germany journey is over. Life goes on, however– now I’m preparing to go to college in the fall. I’ve determined that I’m studying abroad at any cost. I’m going to bust my butt studying biology in the hopes of traveling and getting into med school. For now, I’m back in America, but even here, there’s more to come!

Thus ends the trip of a Viet girl in Germany. As this is the end, I have to thank everyone who’s ever read, liked, or commented on this blog. I started this blog for myself– but ended up writing it for the dozens of people who kept up with it. (At least, I think dozens, based on the pageview counter.) To be able to inform and entertain people with my misadventures in Deutschland– it really means a lot to me. Writing this blog was really fun, but you are the ones who made it truly worth it! I’m really grateful!

So, lastly:

And:

Thank you, everyone! I hope you enjoyed this blog as much as I did!

—Vy





Getting a gun through customs

10 08 2011

It’s much easier to get out of the US than in it. When I went from Philadelphia to Germany, my luggage shipped straight to the Berlin-Tegel Airport. But getting back into the US? Not so easy.

Our problems started at the Berlin airport. This isn’t a US-specific rule, but all checked luggage must be under 50 pounds, or 23 kilograms. Kids had different strategies to fit within this limit:

Luckily, my luggage was

Though the German airlines seems rather lenient with this limit: I saw kids with up to 23.6 kilos get through.

American security also started in Berlin. Every passenger in the airport had to answer security questions. If we passed, we got a special sticker on our passport indicating that, well, we’re not crazy.

All the students passed security just fine and boarded the first plane to Frankfurt. We were to travel together from Berlin to Frankfurt, then Frankfurt to Washington DC where we would finally part ways.The flights weren’t nearly as bad as the first time. Probably because the 8-hour Frankfurt–DC flight wasn’t overnight.

So at 3PM US time, we arrived in Washington DC. On the airplane, we had to fill out a customs declaration form, declaring what products we were bringing into the US. Despite going through security in Berlin, we had to go through it again in DC. And then we had to pick up our luggage and go through customs…

I, thankfully, was not detained. But one student took quite a long time getting through, namely because of the things in his suitcase:

Just to clarify, though, the gun was completely unusable. It was rusted through, a hunk of metal junk-- really just a piece of rusted steel in the vague shape of a gun. Real weapons obviously aren't allowed through customs.

But if you show respect to security, security will show respect back. The kid was allowed to take all of it! I was actually mad I didn’t take home any Mosel wine.

And as the same student lived on a farm and interacted with farm animals., he had to get sprayed for microbes.

Customs took, I’d estimate, about two hours. Not too bad. I checked my luggage back in, waited at my gate for a two-hour layover, and finally traveled the short half-hour flight from DC to Philadelphia. Germany is awesome, but after 19 hours in transit, I was glad to be home again.

Though when I later opened my suitcase, I discovered that the TSA had left me a little present.





Exchange students are exhibitionists

9 08 2011

The day after we arrived in Berlin, the YFU teamers did what we were all waiting for: take us around the city!

Though, of course, YFU felt the need to give us a little orientation first. In the morning, they had us reflect upon our experiences in Germany. This, apparently, helps us prepare for the shock of going back home. Thus we had two final hours of sitting around in a stuffy room and talking about our feelings.

But afterwards, we headed out into the city! By “we” I mean four teamers and 31 exchange students. Quite a crowd.

And as a crowd, we attracted a crowd. Why? Well, our teamers had us do some slightly ridiculous things. For example, when we visited the Brandenburger Tor, the teamers wanted to do a head count to make sure all the students were there. As we were scattered all over the place, this was hard for them to do. Their solution? This:

We did this about five times during our tour in Berlin, consistently attracting stares and points from the other tourists.

It got even better when we reached the Bundestag. As you can see, Germany’s Parliament building attracts many visitors:

So our teamers decided that this was the perfect place to do an “energizer.” In other words, all the students had to walk in a circle, sing “Singing in the Rain,” and do an outrageous dance. In public.

I think they thought we were some sort of flash mob or something. Albeit a rather reluctant flash mob.

Other places we visited? First, another section of the Berlin Wall: (the remains of the Berlin Wall are scattered around the city)

And then the “Story of Berlin,” a museum on Berlin’s history. Outside of the museum were the Berlin Bears representing every country in the world. Included in the museum admission was entry to a Cold War-era nuclear shelter designed to hold 3,000 people for two weeks.

The whole street was lined with these.

Beds in the nuclear bunker. Don't those look comfortable.

Acting dumb in the museum.

Afterwards, we were set free to explore Berlin by ourselves. My group went to Alexanderplatz and Unter den Linden, where we spent a good hour searching desperately for a Berliner. “Berliners,” in addition to being the demonym for people who live in Berlin, also refers to a type of German jelly doughnut. Native Berlin residents call them pfannkuchen, though.

The teamers ended our day with a “surprise”: taking us to a bar! It was a ton of fun, though some of the kids got a little tipsy and started singing soccer songs with the resident Germans.

LOL.

As a final show of exhibitionism that night, the teamers made all the boys get down and do pushups on the street. Thankfully, there were no tourists to film us this time.

So that was my final day in Germany. The next day, at the fun, fun hour of six in the morning, the USA kids were to depart. But it was a great conclusion to a fantastic trip! These days in Berlin, compared to the first time, YFU definitely got right.





Back where we started

7 08 2011

Number one: My camera died.

I left Monzelfeld at 7:04 Thursday morning. My camera was still operational. But when I reached Berlin in the afternoon, my camera had stopped working…

I have no idea how it happened. I kept my camera in my laptop bag, which I went through great pains not to bump around. And now, somehow, it is dead. My soul. The lifeblood of an Asian tourist. After serving me well for over 2,000 photos, it decided it had had enough.

But I digress. My train was to take me from Wittlich to Cologne, then from Cologne to Berlin– a somewhat indirect route of 8 hours total. I had a 45-minute layover in Cologne, so at my host sister’s recommendation, I stepped outside the train station to see the cathedral:

At this point my camera was still operational.

And after a couple hours, I was there: Berlin! The city where we started, and the city where we’ll end. In fact, YFU even put the exchange students in the same youth hostel as last time. Talk about déjà vu. Except this time, in addition to the American and Indian exchange students from the first orientation, we were joined by students from France, Finland, and Serbia! Talk about awesome.

The first night in Berlin was already way, way better than the first time. We only had one “icebreaker,” where everybody had to introduce themselves in German and their native languages. I tried for Japanese, but as my head was full of German, it turned out like this…

And finally, that first night, we discovered that our advisers (or “teamers,” as they called themselves) were much more chill than our previous ones. They let us go for two hours into the city– only stipulation was to return at 8:00. My group and I went to Alexanderplatz, where we happened upon some sort of strange street-performer festival. The Internationales Straßenfestival Festival? Does that sound familiar to anyone?

With a street performer in Alexanderplatz.

Later that night we went to see the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This memorial, designed by architect Peter Eisenman, is a grid of huge, square concrete pillars arranged on a sloping hill. The intention was to mimic the uneasy disorientation that Jews experienced during the war. And at night? Alone? It works.

Though the pillars are aligned perfectly straight, the slanted floor gives the illusion that they are not.

Finally, we saw the Brandenburger Tor at night and the Sony Dome.

The Brandenburger Tor at night.

The Sony Dome at night. Note that these pictures were not taken by me-- some other students were kind enough to let me copy their photos to my laptop!

And that was merely the first night in Berlin. The next day we were to tour around the city! I, of course, sans camera. Coming next!





Country girl’s final hour

3 08 2011

This is my last night in Monzelfeld.

It’s tragic.

I feel as though I just got here, that I just got adjusted to living in Germany. The novelty has barely worn off and now I have to leave.

It’s true. Foreign exchanges fly by. Especially one that is merely six weeks, a short, short month and a half. I’ve had a melancholy taste in the back of my mouth all day.

The last evening here I spent with my host family, eating, laughing, and joking. For example, I taught my host sister the lyrics to the Star-Spangled Banner, as she’s been wanting to learn the whole time. My host family also finally tried the Asian snacks I brought from America.

We also compared, for some reason, passports and driving licenses. American passports, by the way, are way prettier than German passports. We have fancy images and patriotic quotes on the inside, while the Germans just have… a bird.

American passport pages.

German passport pages.

Until recently, a person’s driver’s license and identification card were two different things here. (Unlike the USA, where your license is also your ID.) Thus on my host parents’ licenses they’ve had the same photo for over 30 years. They showed me these photos, where I had a “moment…”

 

 

I had to finish packing, too. It turns out that my luggage gained 6 pounds! And I can probably say the same for myself.

 

 

And, as a final thank-you, I drew a picture for my host family. Small thanks for everything they’ve done for me!

Bright and early tomorrow morning I leave the countryside for Berlin! The exchange students are meeting there in the same youth hostel where we started. Apparently we’re having a “re-entry and reflection” seminar and then– hopefully, this time!– YFU said we’ll be able to tour Berlin! I’m terribly, terribly sad to leave Monzelfeld– I’ll miss my host family, that’s for sure– but at least I’ll see Berlin once again! The four hours we had before were obviously not enough.

Finally, since I’ll be in Berlin, I won’t have access to internet! Most likely I won’t be able to post again until I reach America, which will be Saturday night. I’ll keep blogging faithfully, though, so expect a string of posts as soon as I have internet again!

For now: Tschüss! Next post coming as soon as I can!





You gain some, you gain some more

2 08 2011

YFU says that exchange students typically gain weight on their exchange.

And they are right. Totally, completely, 100% correct.

It seems as though this happens across the board. Kids going to the U.S., as you’d expect, gain weight. But even those who go to places of healthier lifestyles– South America, Asia, Europe– have reported putting on some pounds. I’ve talked to exchange students in Japan who’ve put on weight walking, biking, and eating fish and vegetables every day. Of course, there are always those who lose weight during their exchange– but that seems to be the exception, not the rule. Typical weight gain for year-long exchange students is about 15-20 pounds.

I’ve only been here for 6 weeks, but I’ve gained my fair share of fat. That’s for sure.

There could be a number of reasons for this. Maybe the change in climate put undue stress on my body. Maybe I’m exercising less.

Or, most likely, the change in diet.

Sometimes exchange students gain weight for unknown reasons, even as they enter a healthier, more active lifestyle. But I’ve probably gained weight because I’m presented with things like these:

"Hawaiian toast" with ham, cheese, and pineapple.

Wood-oven pizza, complete with toppings grown locally.

Bread for breakfast. Every day. This is typical for Germany.

Which, combined with this mentality, does not make for a slimming diet.

My host family actually eats healthy, though. My host mom always makes a conscious effort to cook plenty of vegetables. She’s always careful to cut down on the amount of fat in the dishes. We don’t eat meat nearly as often as one would expect from a German family. (Maybe about once a week.)

And it’s not as though I’ve been sitting around all day. I actually signed up for a one-month gym membership, where I take fitness classes. My favorite? “Body Pump,” an interesting cardio-weight-lifting class.

Yet, regardless, German food is delicious. I love it. Thus I put on a few pounds. However, many students that reported rapid weight gain also reported losing it all when they returned home. Perhaps that’s my saving grace? Considering that I’m going to college in a month, though, I’m not sure how easily I can do the same. The freshmen fifteen is notorious, after all. Well, if I work at it, I’m sure I can!








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