Monday, December 13, 2010

"Life is like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt to you represents determinism; the way you play it is free will."

It's been over three days since my last blog post so I figured it's about time for another one.

So in an effort to be more of a world citizen (clearly something I need to work on) I joined a website called Postcrossing. I talked about it before but it's the website where you sign up and it gives you 5 random addresses to send postcards to. Each time you send one, you receive one from another random place. I sent out my five a few weeks ago and this past week I have gotten so many postcards back. I got one from Tokyo, one from Sardegna (Italy), one from Riga (Latvia) and one from Köln (good ol' Deutschland). Admittedly only two of them were from Postcrossing, the ones from Germany and Latvia were from other exchange students. Not only is it always interesting to get mail from complete strangers in other countries but it's even better to get postcards written in complete German and Italian and not need to use a translator because you understand it fine without one.

Also, I found this website with a map of the world and you can show where you have been, have lived and where you want to go. Mine is shown below, the blue countries are the places I have been, the red are places I have lived and the green are places that I plan on going. What better way to tell your (tad bit over-protective) parents that you plan on going to Indonesia, Kenya and Peru. Ok, they are not that over-protective; hence the fact that I am in Germany right now.

This past weekend was very interesting but honestly when are they not? Friday I went into Reutlingen with some friends to go to the Weihnachtsmarkt. We walked around a little bit and then hit the Glühwein stand. So we go up and we order our wine and the lady says "id please". I had mine and the other 16 year old had his but the 15 year olds couldn't buy any wine. I still don't understand the whole id checking system here. They order a litre of beer at a bar and they don't bother checking id but they do for a glass of spiced wine? The joke was on us though because the wine was the foulest drink I have ever had. It was boiled wine, a shot of rum and a tablespoon of cinnamon. I drank like a third of the tiny mug and gave the rest to the other people. Also let me just point out that in the entire three months I have been here, that was the first time that someone asked for my id.

Then of course we went to a bar. They all ordered the same thing and I was like "whatever I'll have the same thing". That was my first mistake. She walks over with 4 huge mugs of beer. Of course it was Pils (this type of beer made with a ton of herbs) and I hate Pils. So great I have a giant mug of beer that I don't even like. Of course I was only one surprised by how much beer she just brought us. Everyone else was just like "eh, Prost!". So we just sat in the bar for like 2 1/2 hours. So we all finished the beer and then everyone was like "eh waitress, another round please!". I didn't drink a second one. The first one was enough. Way to be the killjoy foreigner Michael; story of my life. Don't get me wrong, being sober definitely has it's advantages. You can incite a snowball fight with 3 tipsy friends then watch them stumble around and slip on the ice.

Everyone teases one of the kids about being a farmer (which he's not) and about how much Swabian he speaks. It's just like joking around but it's still funny. Everyone calls him Junior but they pronounce it like an angry Swabian and make it sound like YUN-YUH! It's just like joking between friends. So he threw a snowball and hit something and I was like "eh pass auf YUN-YUH!" and everyone got the biggest kick out of the fact that I called him Junior. It's good to be in on all of the inside jokes.

One of the girls from my class had a party on Saturday. It was her 16th birthday (the age where they can legally drink. Apparently it's some sort of tradition to bring just alcoholic gifts for someone's sixteenth birthday. Unfortunately, I was not let in on that rule. So we all took the same bus and everyone had a bottle of champagne in their pocket; everyone except me. I was boring and just brought money (back to that whole killjoy foreigner thing). She received more alcohol and various drinking games than I can even imagine owning. I still can't used to the fact that parents buy (a lot of) alcohol for their child's party. I can't imagine asking my parents to fill our cooler full of beer for me and friends and then asking them to leave while we drank it. I mean I guess it would be no different than a twenty one year old doing it in the USA. All in all though, it was a really fun party and relatively low on the sketch-ometer.

I don't know what else to write about here but last week was the three month mark of my exchange. It seems like I just wrote about the 2 month mark. This year is seriously flying by. Let me see if I can summarize these past three months. It's not like I have had any major changes in the past 3 months. I have however almost completely changed how I act, think and react to situations. Also my opinion on just about every major controversial debate topic has changed from what it was when I left. I think it is safe to say that all of these changes came from exchange or from listening and learning from the people that it has put me in contact with.

Now for a little bit of honesty. The last few months before I left for Germany were split in half between being excited about going to Germany and regretting my choice to go to Germany. I don't really know why but I often thought "why didn't pick some place warm and friendly like Italy or South America". Obviously I couldn't say anything about regretting it because my parents were looking for any excuse to keep me home. It wasn't that I didn't want to go to Germany but I was thinking like "I don't know the language, the people are apparently cold and school is going to be impossible". Well alright that last one was true. The first thing I thought upon landing in Germany was not "this is amazing or this is finally happening" it was "what did I get myself into". "Did I really volunteer for a year away from home? Can I switch to a semester?" Yeah that was my first thought upon landing in Germany. As of the first three months, I do not now nor have I since regretted my decision to come to Germany. The people are not cold, the language is a work in progress but it's going pretty good and school, well it's school. Staying for a semester is not even in the back of my mind anymore. I had the opportunity to maybe stay for whole summer as well (instead of just until July 8th) and even though I am not, I definitely considered it. If it wasn't for the Thousand Islands I definitely would of stayed.

These three months have been strange. It seems like I have been in Germany for a year already but at the same time it feels like I just said goodbye to my parents yesterday. I remember being at the AFS drop off point saying goodbye to my parents and thinking "Oh for the love of God mother stop crying, it's just one year." Just one year. I knew it would be a year but it didn't sink in how long a year away from home really is. Don't get me wrong, I am glad that I am here and I may even come back here for college or something but I really had no idea what I was getting into. Oh Deutschland, ich hab dich so lieb.

So a couple of people asked me questions about Germany and here are the answers.

"What is the weirdest part of being an exchange student? Not necessarily about being in Germany but about being an exchange student in any country."

Well there is a comedic answer and a legit semi-mushy answer. The comedic answer is that basically for the first few months people carry on conversations without you and you just stand there like a lost puppy because you have no idea what's going on nor can you join in the conversation. That's always weird and never fails to be awkward. The legit answer is watching what's going on at home without you. You see friends going on with their lives and see them hanging out with new people and that is a weird feeling. You see your friends making mistakes and can't really say anything to them about it because you don't talk that often anymore. Also you start to not talk to friends at home as often and that's also a weird feeling.

"What's your favorite thing about Germany"
Well, there is way more than one. Maultaschen, the atmosphere, the people, how school is actually fun sometimes, the bread!, how much trust and freedom most teenagers have and lastly, I really like speaking something other than English in my everyday life.

"What's better Germany or the U.S.A?
I honestly hate this question. You can't even compare. It's like comparing kids, you can't pick a favorite. Well alright you can pick a favorite but you can't tell people which one of them is the favorite. There are things I much prefer in the States and there are things I much prefer in Germany. But I guess I have to answer all the questions you guys send so here's your answer. I would rather live in Germany. Sure I miss the people in the States but if they would come here I would definitely stay in Germany.

"How's the language going"
Es geht. I can for the most part say what I need to say and get my point across. I can't however speak with proper grammar. Vocabulary is not a problem. It is the grammar that I don't understand. The grammar gets easier all the time though. As far as understanding things though, I understand most of what's said to me. Sometimes I even think in German. I can't wait until the stage where you think completely in German and even dream in German.

"How can you not have a Christmas tree? That is so depressing?"
Actually we do have a Christmas tree now. We bought a real tree and decorated it last week. It is now standing in the living room. Christmas has been restored.

"Where is your favorite place you have been in Germany?"
Hands down, Schwarzwald. The Black Forest is amazing. To be more specific the town of Schiltach might be my favorite place. We were only there for a few hours but it was amazing. It was in a little valley and you could only see pine trees for miles. Also, it had that cozy, old German feeling to it.

"You seem to partying quite a bit over there?"
Not really a question but whatever. It's normal here though and it's not like we go out every weekend and get drunk and party. You go out with friends, see a movie, go out to eat. It's just like it is in the USA but just add a stop at the bar to the weekend. Getting drunk here is not normal, having a beer with friends is normal. I may be partying but it's responsible partying and I am not letting my responsibilities fall to the wayside. I see no problem with that.

I guess that's all for this one. Keep sending me questions, I really enjoyed answering them.

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