Culture shock #1

29 06 2011

I’ve been in Monzelfeld for about three days. I’m in a different country, so many things have surprised me. However, I didn’t really get a taste of culture shock until today.

Because today, I went to the gym. Or, as my host mom and dad call it, the “fitness studio.” (I suppose calling it the “gym” would be weird, since high schools are called “Gymnasiums” here.) Like the gym I go to at home, it has showers and a sauna in the locker room. Except in these locker rooms, people go around….

Wait. It keeps going.

Wait. It keeps going.

I mean, the old Asian ladies at my gym often walk around naked. But everyone? Even the young ones? THAT’S SO AWKWARD!!! Today, though, was a special day where it was ladies-only at the sauna. Still awkward.

In other news, Monzelfeld! I arrived at the train station in Idar-Oberstein on Sunday evening. My first impression of the German countryside? This place is super-gorgeous!

Idar-Oberstein qualifies as a "city," but in my head, it's definitely some small quaint town nestled in the mountains.

Germany, already, is so different from where I live. So many mountains and fields, and the towns are spaced so far apart! A typical drive for my host family is a beautiful scenic tour for me.

And my host parents are incredibly nice. They both speak English, albeit rather broken English, but they express themselves really well! I have to slow down and simplify my speech (which is, as anyone who knows me knows, tough for me to do) but I’ve talked to my host parents a great deal and I’m always amazed at how good their English is. I think my grammar’s been degrading though. Once I almost said “I have unluck” instead of “I am unlucky.”

Since my host sister is currently on a “practicum” in Berlin, I’ve mainly been chillin’ with my host parents for the past days. Basically I follow them everywhere, on errands, to the doctor, etc. Here’s a couple of the cooler places they’ve taken me:

The broken castle over Bernkastel-Kues, the nearest city to Monzelfeld. The broken castle is so iconic to Bernkastel, apparently, that the city decided not to fix it.

Old houses are old in Bernkastel-Kues. And I mean, like, 600 years old on average.

HECK YEAH SUPERMARKET MEAT SECTION. Even in the smallest markets, they manage to fit a huge meat and cheese section.

So Germany, so far, is awesome! My host mom has clearly expressed that she thinks too much time on the internet is bad, though, so I’ve made an effort not to go on during the day. So it’s 12:22 AM right now. I should probably go to sleep. Especially because my jet lag hasn’t gone away yet:

So, auf wiedersehen for now! More to come!


Trains and traveling

27 06 2011

Just a few notes:

1. The Berlin subway has several levels, which means tons of stairs. This is not something you want to be dragging your 37 pound suitcase up and down.

2. However, if you befriend a gentlemanly exchange student from Texas, he can make that journey a lot easier.

He really is awesome. We ended up geeking out together for much of orientation. Anime lovers unite!

3. Bullet trains here travel about 300 km/hr and have compartments—Harry Potter style! Well, I think American trains have those too, but this is a novel experience for me.

Me and a Californian exchange student!

4. I’m sitting in a compartment with a fellow American exchange student, Finnish and French exchange students, and a mom and child who are native Germans. The little girl was fascinated by my Bamboo pen tablet.


Alt/neu Berlin

27 06 2011

A picture of the TV tower I took from the plane.

When I stepped out onto the streets of Berlin, I thought, “This is not happening. I am not in a different continent. This is definitely, like Philadelphia or Toronto or something.”

Berlin quickly reminded me that this was not true.

What’s so different about Berlin? First of all, Germans are very eco-conscious. Bicycles are everywhere.

Bicycle parking lot outside of the Berlin Central Station.

Not to mention motorcycles and mopeds…

Motorcycle gangs: You can find them everywhere.

My choice of transport would have to be the bierbikes, though. Basically, drunk guys rent out these huge, multi-pedal cart-bikes that have an open bar and a bartender in the middle. They bike around the city and drink beer.

That's gotta be a hazard.

Berlin is a strange mix between the old and new. Much of the city was destroyed during World War II. It’s not uncommon to see war-ravaged buildings under renovation, and old buildings next to slick, glass-paned buildings.

Even better, Berlin has a lot of new buildings that are designed to be old-style. Give it a couple thousand years and they’ll count as old again….

This is only natural, though, as 90% of Berlin was destroyed during WWII.

YFU gave us, as part of our Berlin experience, worksheets to fill out as we see the sights of Berlin. Usually these are really boring and pointless; papers to be ignored. Except much of this paper were actually questions about the local culture. We could only obtain the answers by going up to people and asking them.

Luckily for us, Germans are really good at English. Every person we talked to claimed not to know much English but then spoke to us incredibly well. And luckily for me, we had a fearless Texan boy in our group who accosted several policemen as we made our way around Berlin.

This is a true story, bro.

Best part: Our advisors decided to prank us and gave us this question:

Other cool sights? There was a HUGE gay rights parade down on Christopher Street. My group walked down the whole street, watching the gays, lesbians, and transgenders dance by in Lady Gaga-esque outfits. The entire road was filled with buses filled with partying, half-naked Germans blasting techno music. Empty beer bottles were everywhere.


Yeah baby!

We didn’t have much time, so we only saw the main tourist districts. In fact, though our hostel was in central Berlin, there weren’t many people walking around there. My advisor tried to explain this to me:

There are in fact a ton of hipsters in Berlin. Fashionably dressed, tall, extremely attractive hipsters. It’s true: Europeans are beautiful people. Also, they all have awesome accents. I’m kind of jealous. Though I suppose cities like Boston or NYC are comparable in terms of dressing up. But the attractive people ratio is definitely not as high.

We asked this hipster for directions. Her English was PERFECT.

In sum, Berlin is awesome! I have since left, though, and I am writing this on a bullet train to Frankfurt. At the end of my trip, though, I will return for a two-day pre-arrival orientation (let’s talk about our feelings of returning to America! Oh please no….) and hopefully, I’ll have more time to explore. For now, I’ll be reaching my host family in a couple of hours. I can’t wait to see Monzelfeld….

—this was written on June 26th, Sunday, at 2:18 PM.–

Orientation is déjà vu

27 06 2011

Remember the YFU pre-departure orientation back in New York?

Imagine that. But again.

As completely exhausted sleep-deprived world-hopping exchange students, we (and the Indian exchange students who arrived after us) were all praying for some time to rest when we finally reached the youth hostel. No such thing, baby! YFU decided to get us started right away. As soon as we arrived we ate lunch and began our “workshops.”

First meal in Germany. GERMAN FOOD IS DELICIOUS.

And what were these workshops? Why, the exact same thing as in America. Not that the information was any less useful or irrelevant, it’s just that I’ve already heard it before.

Though it was no fault of the people who ran the programs. We were met at the airport by five young late teen/twenty-something YFU alumni, all of whom knew English and several who have traveled to multiple countries. They tried their best to make the presentations interactive and engaging. Their favorite thing was “energizers,” better known in my place as icebreakers, which basically consisted of making the kids do ridiculous dances and sing songs together.

Just one of the many "engergizers" we had to do.

So those, at least, were mildly entertaining. Still, it doesn’t take an hour to discuss the fact that you’re moving to a different culture and then another hour to discuss that you should be a good exchange student. All of the kids were essentially passed out for most of the workshops. Even worse, on the last full day of orientation (Saturday) the workshops ran until 12. At night. As in midnight. Yeah. I don’t think anyone was fully conscious at that point.

But there’s always gotta be some good with the bad, right? Out of our 48 hours here, YFU decided that at least 4 hours didn’t have to go to waste. On Saturday afternoon, after a lengthy debriefing on how to use Berlin subways and the distribution of maps, the exchange kids were allowed to roam free for 4 hours. And that was awesome. More to come later.

But tomorrow (well, today, since it’s about 2 in the morning) is the day! I travel to my host family on a lengthy train ride (from one side of Germany to the other!) but I am soooo stoked to meet them. Hopefully I don’t miss my train! Until next time!

—written Sunday, June 26th, at 2:15 AM at the Berlin youth hostel—

Flight (literally, not the comic anthology)

27 06 2011

–written June 24th, 2011, the day of arrival—(Release of posts is delayed due to lack of internet, es tut mir leid…)

How does one get from Philadelphia to Berlin?

Well, you could do it the easy way and take a direct flight from Philadelphia to Berlin.

Or, you could do it the YFU way and go from Philadelphia to Washington DC, then from DC to Frankfurt, and then Frankfurt to Berlin.

Surprisingly, though, I had much less trouble getting through the airport than I expected. My father guided me to the first flight in Philly. And when I got off at DC, all pumped up and ready to carve my way through the airport jungle…

There’s a method to this madness, it seems! YFU intentionally had all the kids traveling to Germany meet at the same airport for the same flight so we could all travel together. What better way to have the kids get to know each other than being stuck on an 8-hour flight? Yeah, except

Still, the flight was alright. Every seat had a miniature television screen mounted on it! Where you could watch movies! And check the progress of the flight! I still can’t get over how cool it was.

So cool....

The real reason YFU put us all on the same flight was so they could round us up easily when we finally arrived in Berlin. After a monstrously short 30-minute flight, they had some YFU Germany “teamers” (?) meet-and-greet us. We subsequently boarded a bus to central Berlin and dragged our 40 pound+ suitcases through the sidewalks of Berlin. (Except for one girl, whose luggage got lost in Frankfurt.)

We got a lot of stares from the people around us.

So the flight was fine. It was okay. I made it. The only bad part of it was that the DC—Frankfurt flight was overnight, meaning we were expected to sleep on that plane. Hmm. That could be problematic.

At least I managed to catch a few hours of z’s. Other exchange students weren’t as lucky and have been up all day all night, baby. That plus jet lag equals

Yeah. Our YFU counselors have barely been able to get us to move.

But anyway, more on the Berlin orientation later! Time to sleep. Later, y’all!

It begins tomorrow

22 06 2011

Departure is tomorrow.

Which is weird. I’m still here, sitting at home. I can barely believe I’m actually going to Germany.

Meanwhile, I’m finishing up my packing. I’m taking a large suitcase, a backpack, and a laptop case. My biggest concern? Leaving enough wiggle room to take TONS AND TONS OF CHOCOLATE HOME.


Though of course, I had to take up some space packing clothes. I’m actually not that into shopping or fashion. In fact, I dress like a bum at almost all times. T-shirts and jeans? I live in them.Which resulted in this happening as I packed:

And then I felt like an idiot when I realized:

Regardless, I revised my suitcase to have more… stylish clothes. Luckily I have a sister who is into shopping and fashion who is also the same size as me.

I’ve also been e-mailing my host family! YFU sent me the wrong e-mail address, so I wasn’t able to e-mail them at first. Thankfully my host father had my e-mail and asked if I had any questions! Naturally I’ve barraged him with all sorts of random inquiries (Do you have any pets? What’s public transportation like? Do you have wireless?) and amazingly he reads and responds to these all in English! I wonder if he uses a translator? If it were me, I would need it!

One more thing I’m a little nervous about: airports. Both going and coming I have to transfer flights three times. I lack any sense of direction, so I’m a bit scared I’ll get lost. Especially when I have to transfer flights from Frankfurt to Berlin:

Ok, well, that’s a pretty stupid thing to be afraid of. Airport signs are often written in multiple languages. Germany, especially, seems like a country likely to have English translations in their airports. The greater concern is my tendency to get lost.

For now, I’m geared up and ready to go! Tomorrow I depart for Berlin for a three-day orientation with my fellow exchange students from America and India. We’re staying in a youth hostel (helloooo, college living) and on Sunday I take the train to my host family’s town. Expect tons of photos!

Sayounara, America! Wait, I should be speaking German...

By the way, as I travel to Germany, I’m not sure how often or how elaborately I’ll be able to update this blog. My family does have wi-fi, and I do plan on bringing my laptop, but I think my time is better spent out and about than sitting on a laptop. I’ll try my best!

Is it enough?!

19 06 2011

As common courtesy dictates, I bought gifts for my host family. I just hope it’s enough….

1. Eagles hat

2. Ceramic New York shooter (decorated with images of NYC)

3. Ceramic Philadelphia shotglass (decorated with images of Philly)

4. Small 50-image photo album with images of my American life, complete with poorly translated German captions (I tried my best with Google Translate…)

5. Gift bag barely large enough to fit all this stuff

6. The Korean equivalent of the Japanese snack Kiniko no Yama:

7. Two miniature footballs

8. A Phillies t-shirt and a PennState t-shirt

9. A bag of Flower’s Kiss candy:

10. A ceramic mug with an American flag on it and the word “Celebrate”

11. Two Yan-Yan snacks, flavored vanilla and strawberry:

Is it enough? Man, I hope so. I also hope these two books are enough German to get me through these next 6 weeks:

This is going to be an adventure.