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.


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!

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!