Monday, January 31, 2011

Eine Reise ist ein Trunk aus der Quelle des Lebens.

I tried to make a video blog for you all but that didn't end too well. Seeing as you ended up reading this blog, you probably guessed that I didn't end up posting it. I guess I won't be making any "vlogs" and Amikinder will have to suffice. 

On a more celebratory note, the results from the blog competition came in. I didn't think they were coming out until February but they came out a few days ago. My blog took 14th out of 220 blogs and it was the number one blog in English. Thanks to everyone who voted! To everyone who didn't vote, you just missed out on getting thanked by a semi-famous person. 

Ok here comes the part where I explain what I have been up to this week. 

Friday, I went into Stuttgart with another exchange student from Italy. We just hung out and walked around. Of course I had a döner. We went around and drank hot chocolate and visited the Fasching store. Fasching is their hybrid of Halloween and Mardi Gras. 

Saturday, I got a haircut (cutting edge stuff, I know). My hair was down below my eyes so I figured it was time to get it cut. The last time I had it cut was the end of June. Between her lack of English and me getting confused trying to explain how I wanted it cut in German, the end result was really something else. I walked out of the store with a brush cut.

Sunday was a pretty normal Sunday and by normal Sunday, I mean that my host family was trying to get me outside to do something in the nice weather but I just made it one of those lazy days. You know, those days where you pop some corn, stay in your pajamas and watch movies all day?

Today was a pretty good day. We played "rugby" in Gym class. It's in quotes because real rugby has actual rules. This was more of a classic game of "kill the man with the ball". The point is to get the ball from one end to the other. The point for the other team is to do whatever you can to stop them (and yes, I do mean everything). I was lucky I wasn't one of the smaller people in my class. They were at risk of being picked up and thrown across the gym. Unfortunately no one told me that making the other team bleed internally is an automatic win. 

I almost forgot about German class. Today we split up into groups to analyze newspapers and the differences between them. As you probably guessed, not very many people actually looked at the newspapers. Unfortunately, she caught on that no one was doing the work and revoked the privilege to work in groups. It's always something in German school. 

I found a quote on facebook that perfectly sums up what being an exchange student.

"I am more confused than a cow on synthetic grass". 

Basically, this sums up my life in German school. 

Ok so who remembers when I said I wanted to try and learn Swabian? Well this actually isn't turning out too bad. I say bissle (bisschen) without thinking and no (noch) pretty often. Not gonna lie though, I only say no because I am too lazy to say the whole word. It's kind of like nein, I could say nein but it's so much easier to just say ne. 

To all the prospective exchange students reading this, pay attention to this next paragraph. That goes for the potential host families too. How many of you know the exchange student nod (thank you Margaret for the name)? There are going to times when you either have no idea what's going on (if your the student) or see the student with the nod (if your the host family). So the exchange student nod goes like this

1.) raise your eyebrows.
2.) one eye opens more than the other.
3.) you nod slowly.

Other than those 3 things, they are just probably nodding and actually do understand what's going on.

Back to the Amikinder thing. Amikinder is a group of exchange students who post video blogs on youtube. Theyre pretty interesting. I will put a few here but the rest you can find by searching Amikinder in youtube.

Lydia, the other CBYXer from Buffalo.

Here is Margaret, she also hails from New York.

I know how boring and short this blog was and I'm sorry. Maybe I'll do a little better next time but I am running out of things to talk about (hence the highlight of this blog was me getting a haircut).

Thursday, January 27, 2011

“Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.”

I have been kind of slacking on writing these blogs lately. I haven't been doing anything really groundbreaking so there is not much to write about. Let's see what I have been up to over the past week.

On Sunday I went over to Dajana's house. She is an exchange student in Germany from Bosnia. Here's a pretty cool fact, her host sister spent a year in Hamburg, New York. Unfortunately she is vegetarian so we couldn't really discuss chicken wings but it was still nice to talk about Buffalo with someone who has been there. Sunday was Dajana's mom's birthday so of course we skyped with her. It makes the birthday call way more personal when some random American is in on it too. I got to speak a little Serbian with her mother. It was just normal "hi, how are you?" but I think they were still impressed because no one expects foreigners to be able to speak Serbian. 

Ok, so who remembers the story of how I became known as "Andreas". Long story short, my German teacher used to repeatedly call me Andreas. Well now my Religion teacher thinks my name is Steve. She used to know my name so I am not entirely sure how I became Steve but whatever. So far my teacher's have called me Steve, Andreas, you Ami and my personal favorite "American in the back of class". To be completely honest though, I still don't know the names of about half of my teachers. Hopefully by the time I leave we will all know our real names. There is my new exchange goal.

Let me just say, the weather here has been amazing. Except for today, it has been warm and sunny. It is almost spring weather. I went out a couple times in just a tshirt. Today it started to snow again but nothing like what I hear is going on at home. I hear that they still have a lot of snow. I'd welcome the snow here, except Germans don't believe in snowdays and unlike Buffalo, we haven't had 5 snowdays already this year. Althought I can't really complain. Yesterday I got to sleep in and then went to school for one class. All of my classes were canceled except Religion. Today I had a random 4 hour lunch break. I got to go home, take a nap and then go back to school for my last class. 

I know how much you all enjoy reading about me embarrassing myself and of course, I did it again today. My GMK teacher told me to go and ask the Hausmeister what we had to do for some work day thing next week. So I walk in and ask but he just cracks up laughing and then gives me a weird look. So then another kid steps in and asks him the same thing. Of course, he answers. Apparently, he couldn't understand what I was saying. That brings me to a good point; my accent. 

You know how everyone finds foreign accents attractive on other people? In the US, people love when foreigners speak with accents. The American accent in German is unfortunately not such a chick-magnet. They compare it to someone stuffing their mouth full of oatmeal and then trying to talk, which as you guessed, is not attractive. Apparently it is just fun to laugh at. I wanted to hear what my accent sounded like so I recorded myself speaking German. It really does sound different when I hear myself talk from when I hear how others hear it.

Thanks to a group of about 4 people who alert me almost everyday, I know exactly how many days there are until I go back to the USA. I also know that February 7th is my half-way mark. With this big milestone comes the next "phase" of my exchange. Let me just tell you, it is not that great of a phase. It's just that everything here is becoming normal. That is not a bad thing, it's actually a good thing. I have friends, a family, a daily routine and all of that. Now that everything feels normal, the hype of being in Germany is kind of gone. I don't want you guys to misinterpret that. I still love being here and am still enjoying it but it just feels like normal life again. 

That is why I do not write so often anymore. Now that everything is routine, you have heard it all before. I don't have that much new to write about. 

On to one of the best things about foreign cultures; the food. German food is not just beer, sausages and pretzels. Those make up a good portion but there are a few others. On to what I consider the best part of "German" food; the Turkish food. Three things brought in from Turkey but are borderline German are döner, yufka and döner box.

Döner is a special meat that is thinly sliced and then put on a pita with vegetables and sauce. It looks like this. 

Yufka is a bigger version of döner and it is rolled up like a taco. It looks like this.

Döner box is just döner meat and sauce on top of french fries. It just looks like the meat on top of french fries. There is probably a picture on google.

On to some more traditional German food. Things like Maultaschen, käsespatzle, schnitzel and sausages and kuchen. 

Käsespatzle are little pasta-like things. Just make sure not to ever call them pasta in front of Germans because THEY ARE NOT PASTA, THEY ARE SPÄTZLE! They can be made with tomatoes, spinach but normally are just made with cheese. They are typical of the region where I live. They look like this.
Nick\'s Lamb Schnitzel & Spatzle noodels! Pictures, Images and Photos

In the picture of the käsespatzle is the infamous Schnitzel. Schnitzel is a thin cut of pork, veal or chicken (called Escalope in English) that is breaded and then fried on the stove. It's pretty amazing. 

Maultaschen are still kind of a mystery to me. They are kind of like dumplings but filled with spinach and meat. It's basically as Swabian as the food around here gets. They are sometimes boiled in broth but the real way to make them is to fry them with eggs. They might be my favorite German food. They look like this.
maultaschen Pictures, Images and Photos 

And what would German food be without the abundance of sausage. They have about as many different types of sausages as we do breakfast cereals. I can't even begin to list all the different types. Here is a pretty good picture of some German sausage.

Cakes in Germany are kind of like sausages, there are way to many to list. There are however, no normal cakes (you know, the ones we bake from the box?). That type of cake doesn't exist in Germany. They opt for the ones like this.


and maybe

One thing I still don't quite understand about Germany is that they eat a lot of raw meat. I don't know if it has chemicals to kill bacteria or if they just don't care but they eat raw meat. Ham, sausage, bacon; it's completely normal to eat it without cooking it. Another thing I don't understand is the milk in Europe. It doesn't need to be refrigerated and has a shelf life of about 6 months. In Germany, you can buy normal milk (and Gott sei dank we do) but you can also buy the weird shelf milk. In Spain, there was no normal milk, it was all that other milk.

I have been showing them our food as well. The other day we had German "goulash" which was really just stew. It was really good but it wasn't our goulash. I made our goulash for dinner and I gotta say, for being a 16 year old boy, the goulash turned out pretty good. Today I made breakfast for dinner. I made French toast, bacon, eggs, hash browns and eggs in a basket. It's hard to make new foods for them because Philipp spent a year in America so they know just about all of our foods. They didn't know about French toast or eggs in a basket so it was cool to show them. 

Here is a video that I found pretty interesting. 2010 was the 20th anniversary of the reunification of the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic (West and East Germany). This video gives some information about it.

Thank you to everyone who voted in the blog competition. I will let you know what the results turn out to be. They come out at the end of February. Do you guys still remember that poll that used to be on the side of my blog? The question was "What country would you like to visit most?". The results came out to be

Germany 17
Italy 6
Greece 12
Japan 5 
Costa Rica 5
Spain 4
France 4

Ok that's all for this one. Hopefully I will blog more often.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A single thread in a tapestry, though its color brightly shines, can never see its purpose in the pattern of the grand design

Before I start writing the actual portion of this post, I have a quick announcement. There is a competition for everyone who writes a blog about living in a foreign country. The point of the competition is to get the most votes. If you guys wanted to vote, here is a link to take you to the website.

You have to scroll down the list to the blog titled "Mikes Year in Germany". They are organized alphabetically so its about halfway down the page. 

On to the real part of this blog. I haven't done anything overly interesting lately. So this post is not going to be about what I have been up to but instead about the differences between Germany and the USA (and maybe a few other countries too). 

The way people get around in Germany is definitely a lot different than in the USA. Asides from the amazing public transportation (something that the USA is seriously lacking), the people walk and bike to get to their destination. Germans love biking and not just biking around the corner to pick up something from the store. They bike for miles and miles just because. My host brother biked to school everyday (even when we had like a foot of snow above a sheet of pure ice. I, on the other hand, took the bus everyday. For example, my family back home has 3 cars and my family here has 1. I think both of those are pretty normal in both countries. I know a lot of people back home with more than 2 cars. In Germany on the other hand, having two cars is the absolute most. I think that this system works well though. Things are much more spread out back home and we spend more time driving to and from the destination than they do. For the most part, everything in Germany is close enough to bike to. If it is not, then you just take the train/bus/tram and problem solved. In the USA, that is not the case. We have to drive about 45 minutes just to go to (and from) school everyday. My dad has to drive about an hour to get to work everyday. Clearly it wouldn't work with one car and all of us needing to get where we need to go. 

There is another big difference between our cultures; sex/nudity and violence (ok, that's two). In the USA, violence is not as big of a deal as it is here. On the other hand, we make a much bigger deal out of sex and nudity than they do. For example, think about how many of the games and movies that deal with war and violence. Most of the popular video games about shooting people or killing them in some other gruesome manner. They spare no details either. If things like that existed in Germany, there would probably be a riot. They do not display things of violent nature, they don't put so much graphic violence in the media etc. Sex/nudity on the other hand is pretty taboo in the USA. It is not talked about, our billboards are not plastered with naked women and the newspaper does not display naked women. The first day I got here, I walked out of the airport and was greeted by a billboard advertising shoes. There was no catchy jingle or slogan like in the USA, there was a just a naked woman in front of a white background with the caption "buy ?????? brand shoes". You would think they would have at least made her wear the shoes they were advertising. Not to mention the naked women in the newspaper a couple times a week or the fact that you go from the toddler movie section of the electronic store into the pornographic video section with absolutely no warning. Add the nude beaches/parks and I think it is safe to say that they view nudity very differently than we do. 

Germans are very blunt people. They tell it like it is. In the USA, when someone asks "does this look okay?", you automatically answer "yeah, you look fine". We say things more to avoid hurting their feelings. When someone here asks "does this look okay?" and it obviously doesn't, you would get more of a "No, you look like crap, go change" kind of answer. Don't misinterpret that though, they are not trying to be mean. They just want you to know how you really look and stop you from wearing it in public and embarrassing yourself. That's the thing about Germans, they want to help you and if that means telling it in a harsh way to open your eyes then so be it. 

On to probably one of the most common stereotypes we have of Germany; they are cold and ein bisschen unfriendly. I think for the most part, this stereotype is a little outdated. I think the older generation is a little cold and standoffish but the younger generation is just as friendly as anyone else. I think that that the older generations are more of the "I have lived my whole life without knowing you so clearly there is no need to get to know you." They still say hi and carry on small talk but it's nothing special. The younger generation is more welcoming and they are more likely to put in the effort to get to know you. You have to make the first move though. Once they know that you have at least some interest in getting to know them, then they start to get to know you. Before I left, all the returnees said this quote "Americans are like peaches. They are soft and easy to know but always have that hard-to-break pit deep inside them. Germans are like coconuts. They have that hard shell but once you get past that, they are soft and real friends. 

Another piece of returnee wisdom was about how much more freedom they got in Germany compared to the USA. Although it's true that Germany gives more freedom in regards to what we can do, I think overall I had more freedom back home. To my host family when you all read this, this is not me hinting that I need more freedom. I think in the USA, unless they need to drive you, parents are kind of kept in the dark about our plans. Not in the way that we are off doing sketchy things and not telling our parents. It's more like this.

*as we're putting on our shoes*

"see ya later mom, I am going out."
"with whom"
"when are you coming home"
"late, I'll text you when I know"
"well okay have fun"

Now here is how Germans let their parents know about their plans.

*about 3 days in advance*
"Can I go out on Saturday?"
"we will be here and here and then at 8 we are going here"
"with whom"
*list off everyone who may possibly be coming*
"when are you coming home"
" there are trains at 11:30 and 12:00. I think I am taking the earlier one. I will text you if it changes"
"okay, have fun"

Germans like to have things planned out and to follow these plans. We usually like to just see what happens and go from there. On a slightly related note, in Germany there is a specific way to do everything. Loading the dishwasher for example. The forks all go in the back right corner, spoons back right, knives in the front right and miscellaneous smaller silverware in the front left. That is only an example. Everything in Germany has structure. I am not saying it's a bad thing though. It makes things much easier once you get the hang of it.

 Another big cultural difference would be the way that the people look at drinking and smoking. For one thing, the drinking age is 16 but in all honesty, no one checks id. Another thing that took some getting used to is how nonchalant the parents are about their kids drinking. "The kids are all underage and drinking? 'ohh pff egal.' " In the USA, when you say "do you want to hang out", that could mean anything, video games, watching the game, playing a sport etc. In Germany, hanging out basically implies two things. Those two things would be either going to a bar and drinking or going to a shisha bar and smoking shisha. Smoking is something that is handled very differently here. A lot more people here smoke here, even the younger generation. The thing is that Marijuana is almost non-existent in Germany. It is illegal and the people leave it at that. More people here smoke normal cigarettes. Underage drinking and smoking back home are kind of treated very harshly. Parents usually take a very firm approach to it, that's not the case in Germany. 

Friendships in Germany work differently than they do in the USA. How many of you are still friends with your best friends from when you were 12? Well if you were German, there would be a large possibility that you would be. In German school, you are with the same 30 people from grade 4 through 12. Because of this constant bonding, they do not talk about each other when they are not around or break off into cliques. Talking about someone else when they are not around is big thing in Germany, it is not done.

Ok I thought I should wrap up this post with a bunch of other random little German cultural things. They do not eat with their hands. French fries, pizza etc are all eaten with utensils. I think that that is common all over Europe though. Another thing is that Germans wear the same outfits for days in a row. As far as they are concerned, clothes are not dirty after one day. They wear the same outfit until it is dirty. I like that system better. It makes it easier to get ready for school. 

Ok that's all for this one. I hope you learned something about Germany.

Remember to vote for my blog!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

"Never let school interfere with your education."

Well since my last post, school started again, I saw a very strange (but good) show and I received my Christmas presents from home. It was a pretty interesting week. We will start with the most interesting part of this post; Saturday.

For Christmas my host mom got tickets to some show in Stuttgart. The show was last Saturday and we all went. Before the show, we all went into Stuttgart to look
around. I bought two books. They were books to teach yourself Swabian. That would be the local dialect where I live in Germany. Swabian is proving to be a challenge but I have done the research and bought the books. I will learn Swabian before I leave. Here's some Swabian for you guys. The sentences are in normal German, English and Swabian.

Wie viel Uhr ist es, bitte?
What time is it please?
Wia schbääd h
êmmer's bidde?

Können Sie mir ein gutes Restaurant emfehlen?
Can you recommend a good restaurant?
ênnat Se mr a guade Wirdschafd saga?

Hier draußen auf der Terrasse geht ja ein schrecklicher Wind! Da weht es einem glatt die Nudeln von der Gabel.

There is a lot of wind outside. It is enough to blow the pasta right off my fork.

Dô hussa uff dr Terraß gôhd a Sauwênd. Dô wedelt's oim jô d'Nudla õm d'Gosch rõm.

Because it looks so easy to learn...

First I thought it was some sort of performance show, then they said something about a concert, then it was something about a comedy. I am not entirely sure what category it goes into. There were two men who sang songs and acted. They sang "classic rock" but modified it. By modified it, I mean they translated the songs into German and changed some stuff. Song number 1, the lead people drove out on motorcycles while playing bag pipes. They went on to sing Smoke on the water (in German) while dressed as motor homes. It was still funny though. They spoke English during the show a lot so that was a bonus. When they weren't speaking English, they were speaking Swabian. I either completely understood what they were saying or understood absolutely none of it.

Monday we went and picked up 2 packages from the customs office. One was the box that Verena sent home with Christmas gifts. The second was the box that my family sent over for Christmas. I now have my class ring (from CHS), a Bayern München (arguably the best soccer team in the world) polo shirt and enough candy to gain 10 more pounds. I said that Bayern is arguably the best soccer team because in all honestly they are, some people just choose not to accept that. My host family all got Northfaces so now we have a "familie Jacken" or "family jackets" because we all have one. They all also got fluffy pajamas and then a wide assortment of staple Buffalo food (Weber's mustard, which we immediately opened and tried, sponge candy, Buffalo Wing sauce etc). They also got this really nice blanket with a family picture on it (and by family picture I mean one with me in it too). Also, now that my parents opened their gifts that I sent I can say what they were. They got a boatload of German candy. All the really good kind (Ritter Sport, Nimm 2, Haribo, Schokobons, Lindt and Maoam). Aside from that they got Lebkuchen (German Gingerbread), Christmas ornaments and a wall hanging that my host mom made. I also managed to send home a bottle of local German wine complete with a Santa suit wine cozy that my host mom made. So basically if you are in the mood for German wine and chocolate (and who isn't), you know where to go.

Here is a picture of the Christmas gifts I sent back home.

Unfortuantely school started on Monday so Christmas break is over. The good news is that I have like a week off in February to do some exchange student things and then another week off in March. I got invited to go to Poland for the March break with another exchange student. I don't know if I will actually go but it would be cool anyway. Then comes Easter break in April. A week off of every month for the next three months? Not bad Germany, not bad at all.
I got my English test back yesterday. I got an A+ which I don't understand because I thought I was getting points off for writing too much.

I made a fool out of myself in English class on Wednesday. I turned it around and made everyone laugh though so it wasn't too bad. The teacher asked me he difference between "might and may" and I replied with "ich weiß nicht" to which he replied "when I speak English to you, I expect you to reply in English.". It wasn't like I was trying to show off my German, it's just German came out before English did. So I said "I don't really know". He was like "why don't you know, why would you have two words that mean the same thing". To which I very cleverly replied "why do you have der, die and das?". Everyone cracked up so it wasn't a total loss.

I did school people on a religion quiz though. It was a "how well do you know the Bible" quiz. The questions were like "who were the three Kings of Israel?", "name the three bodies of water of in Israel", "name three cities in Israel", "name a Bible story that deals with exile, nomads, Evangelism, Paul and give five modern names that are in the Bible". I even got the one right about who first translated the Bible into German.

We had biology yesterday and we got back tests we took a few weeks ago. I didn't get the lowest grade in the class. I beat 4 or 5 actual German students. It was actually kind of funny; ton my test, the teacher wrote "much better than many Germans". That kind of made me laugh. After class, everyone split up into their little groups and I swear, I heard the same thing at least once from each group. Someone in every group said "are you kidding me, Michael did better than you." or "what, the American did better than you". Good thing people here don't think I'm dumb.

I got to say though, I get the same reaction on every single test I take. Every teacher writes something along the lines of "wait, you speak German?!". Which maybe they would know if they stopped insisting that I speak English with them.

Today I had NWT for the first time since I started school. The teacher was like "oh I see we have a new student" and one of the girls was like "yeah, he's from England". Let me just say, this was the ultimate face palm moment. I have been in their class for over 3 months now and she thinks I am from England. Then another girl was like "well at least she got the language right". It would be pretty hard to not get the language right, seeing as (as I mentioned above) the teachers insist that we speak English. It was actually pretty funny though.

I got 3 packages this week. I got the one from my parents that I talked about above and then one from my grandparents and one from my Uncle AJ and Aunt Sally. The two new ones contain everything that I could possibly think of in terms of snacks that I missed from home. Cake mixes (Germany doesn't have normal cake!), frosting (they don't have that either), brownies (dont have it here), fruit roll up (also no), granola bars (also not in Germany), enough Kraft and Mac and Cheese to survive a nuclear winter, and a wide variety of cookie mixes (they don't have normal cookies either). That would be probably the thing I miss most about the USA, the level of snackage that I consumed on a daily basis. Thank you guys!

Here is a picture of my American junk food cabinet!

Now for some fun facts about Germany.
  • After Irish, Germans are the second biggest consumers of beer in the world. The average beer consumption of the country is 119 liters per person per year.
  • Angela Merkel, elected in the 2005 elections, is first woman chancellor of Germany.
  • Berlin became home to the biggest train station in Europe in the year 2006.
  • Berlin is the capital of Germany. Other major cities of the country are Hamburg, Colonge, Munich, Dusseldorf, Stuttgart, Hanover and Bremen.
  • Football is the most popular sport in Germany and ‘The German Football Association’ is the largest association of its kind in the world. They mean soccer here.
  • German Autobahn is the oldest, and one of the densest, motorway networks in the world.
  • Germany became world’s first country to adopt Daylight Saving Time (DST), in the year 1916.
  • Germany is a member of NATO, G8, G4 Nations and the European Union (EU).
  • Germany claims the distinction of being the fifth biggest economy in the world.
  • Germany is one of the few countries of the world where Holocaust Denial has been declared as a crime.
  • Germany is situated in West Central Europe and its official name is ‘The Federal Republic of Germany’.
  • Germany is the homeland of numerous renowned scientists and theorists. They include Albert Einstein, Max Plank and Werner Heisenberg.
  • Germany is the largest economy, and the second most populous nation, of Europe.
  • In case of iron, steel, coal, cement, chemicals, machinery, vehicles, machine tools, electronics, food and beverages; shipbuilding and textiles, Germany is the largest producer in the world.
  • Many great philosophers of the world, like Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Heidegger, were German.
  • The tallest church in the world, Ulm Cathedral, is in Germany. It is 161.53 meters (530 feet) high. I climbed to the top of this church.
  • The Wurzburg Residence of Germany boasts of housing the largest fresco ceiling in the world, measuring 7287 square feet and done by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, a Venetian painter.
  • World's most colorful caves (as per Guinness Book of Records), Fairy Grottoes, are in Germany.

Here is a video with some useful German phrases. It is around 4 minutes but it covers some of the basics.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

“Education is when you read the fine print. Experience is what you get if you don’t.”

I know I promised a blog sometime over the past few days but I have been busy lately. In my defense, I still update more than most people do. So here I am eating my bag of Schokobons (thanks Anke) and writing my overdue blog post.

So since my last blog post, we went back up to the NRW (or more commonly known as Nordrhein-Westphalen). It's a state up north where most of my host mom's family lives. Last time we visited Geseke and this time we went to Meiswinkel. Meiswinkel is a little town where my host mom's cousin and her husband live. It's apparently a Silvester (New Year's) tradition. They switch years with who visits whom. I knew two things about this trip beforehand, one being that we would be eating Raclette (more on that in a minute) and the second was that there was no "ja"; I had to say " 'n jo". Raclette is a special Swiss device on which you place a cheese wheel and it melts it for you. You then tip the Raclette and melted cheese drips down onto a wide assortment of things that you choose from. I hate cheese but this was actually very good. There are 16 "states" in Germany and each state has at least 2 (but probably many more) dialects. 'n jo is the Platt (that particular dialect) version of yes (Ja).

Speaking of Plattdeutsch; there are many different versions of it. Most of the time it is only spoken up north though. I think I talked about this in my first blog post but my (real) grandparents speak Plattdeutsch. It is not exactly the same as the Platt in NRW but it was close enough. Seeing as my grandma speaks it too, I thought it would be a good idea to set up a skype call between my grandma and some NRWers. I gotta say it was really cool to hear another dialect.

This Silvester (New Year's Eve) was pretty different than the past few. To start off, this would Germany's Fourth of July. Not in the sense of gaining their independence but in the sense that they set off enough fireworks to last a month. Silvester is the one day German teenagers buy all of the explosives they possibly can and light them off in the streets. I don't mind the real ones that shoot up and explode in the sky but the ones that lay on the ground and just make an obnoxious noise I could live without. First we went out to eat and I had a Schnitzel (yeah I know, big surprise).Then we went into the city to watch the big firework show that they put on but there were just as many fireworks coming from random teenagers in the street. Then we somehow got a bottle of Champagne (I don't really know where it came from, I didn't see anyone carrying it beforehand) and toasted in 2011 with a million "Gutes Neues" and "Frohliches Neues Jahr". After the show, a few people came back to the house we were staying at and just hung out. I skyped with my parents and then re-joined the party upstairs. The people stayed there until almost 3:30. At around four we went to bed and then woke back up at like one the next day.

Sometime during the week we went into Köln/Cologne. Cologne is home to the most famous church in Germany; Der Kölner Dom. It is this old, ornately decorated, incredibly tall church. I mention that it is incredibly tall because the main attraction of this church is that you can climb to the top and look out around the Rhine river. It is over 500 narrow, stone, spiral steps high but the view along the Rhine is amazing.

I recently found my list of things that I wanted to do while in Germany. I was surprised by how much of it I have already done. The goes like this (in no particular order)

1.) Climb Der Kolner Dom

2.) See the Alps
3.) Go to the top of the Alps
4.) Go to Munich for Oktoberfest
5.) See the Weihnachtsmarkt in Nuremberg
6.) ??????????
7.) Go to Berlin
8.) ??????????
9.) Buy a Lederhosen

10.) Eat my weight in German chocolate

You are probably wondering why numbers 6 and 8 are just question marks. That would be because I haven't done them yet. You'll just have to wait to see them. You may also be wondering why number 10 has so many check marks. That would be because I have done that one many time. I even have the 10 pounds of exchange weight to prove it.

I want to quote another thing from Andrea's blog. If you guys don't remember, I quoted her blog a few posts back.

Adjusting to a new family is hard, no matter how many times you do it. In my first family, Simone and I were very similar, and had a lot of the same habits and did a lot of the same things, so I found it very easy to fit in right away there. With the other two families, more work on my part had to be done. After 16 and a half years it can be hard to change. In Canada I slept in the basement, which was underground, and my window was this tiny little slit that didn’t really let much light in. And it was cold. So that’s what I like my room to be like now, dark and cold. I never pull my blinds up, my heat is always on low, and every day my hosties come home to find me under the covers asleep, or watching a movie, in the cold and dark. And I’m perfectly content like that, but I think that they don’t like it so much. After spending all day at school with an ‘I’m soo happy’ smile plastered on my face, I want to come home and spend some time in my cave where I can make whatever pouty scowely faces I want. But anyways, this is something that was an issue in my both my second and current family, and my counsellor and I talked about it, and I am working to find the balance of cave time and social activity. Anyways, I don’t know why I wrote that whole novel, but I guess I just want to admit that as much as I like to believe that I am, I know that I’m not perfect. I’m close, but not quite there yet. Exchange students like to believe that they are God's gifts to their host families, but really we know that we are not. We have our flaws too. And it just so happens that sleeping is mine..."

All you future exchange students reading this, pay attention to that paragraph. It is really important. That is one of the trickiest parts of exchange. You can't do everything how you would do it at home. I'm used to watching tv, doing homework or being on the computer 24/7 at home. Here I don't bother watching tv because it takes effort to understand the shows and homework is nonexistent. That leaves me with my computer and I'll be the first to admit, I spend way too much time on this thing.

I have however found something new to fill up my time. I have been practicing writing with a Füller. Normal pens are basically nonexistent in German schools. Everyone writes with a special fountain pen, everyone except the foreigner. Well not anymore. I got a really nice one for Christmas so now I have been practicing writing with it. I have also been reading books. Yeah that's right, novels in German. Reading is weird though. I always turn the page only to be disappointed that there is yet another page of German. Don't get me wrong, I would rather speak German than English, rather hear German than English, rather almost everything in German than English. Reading is the one thing that I would rather do in English.

On a good note, my family is coming to visit me for Easter. The tickets are now finalized so I am pretty stoked about that. They are coming for like a week and a half over Easter vacation. I don't know who is exactly coming but so far my Mom and my Grandma are definitely coming. My Dad and my Aunt Anita are still thinking whether or not they want to come (I hope they do). My host family is just as excited about their trip as I am. We have a lot of good stuff planned for them and plenty of good German food to try out.

On another good note, I did laundry today. That in and of itself is not exciting or great. I did however forget to dry my clothes. They stayed in the washing machine all day. About an hour ago (for the record, it is one in the morning) I was sitting here watching a movie and suddenly it hit me "scheiße, my clothes are still in the wash machine". So I go downstairs to check but it was to late to dry them anyway. So I walk into the laundry room and find all my laundry not only dry but also folded and separated by sort. Greatest.Host.Mom.Ever.

I don't have much more to write about in this particular post but I will hopefully post again soon.