I have arrived here in Germany! From the time I arrived until now, time has flown by very quickly. It has already been three weeks since getting off the plane in Munich. It has been quite the experience so far. I have met so many new faces, gone to many places, and have adjusted to the boarding culture at Schule Schloss Salem, something drastically different than being a day student at Athenian.
The most difficult aspect of my trip so far has been the language barrier. There have been several occasions where it has been challenging to interact with the German students. If they are all together as a group, they often aren’t interested in speaking in English. It does make friendship more difficult, but usually one or two of them in the group will talk with me in English. Luckily, I have found a lot of students in the English system that I have become great friends with. I wish I had used Duolingo before I left for exchange.
The environment in the school is much stricter than Athenian. All devices must to be turned in each night at 9:30 pm until the next day after lessons are over. We usually get them back around 2:15 or 4:00 pm depending on the length of the school day. It is definitely something to get used to coming from the relaxed phone culture at Athenian. The phone policy feels nice after a while to simply interact without the distraction of phones and live in the moment. They have a silencium each day for two minutes during lunch, where students and teachers must be quiet while eating. Also, all students are woken up each morning at six-thirty for a morning run. It is a tradition where everyone must run for about five minutes outside before getting ready for school. It is such a rude awakening, but it does get the blood flowing and makes me less tired. In reality, it is probably not that strict, just coming from relaxed Athenian.
Students come mainly from all over Europe and Asia, and even the U.S, representing a broad range of nationalities. It’s unlike Athenian, where the majority of students are local except for the small number of boarders.
When I first arrived, the weather here contrasted to the sunny California climate. It was pouring rain and cold here for many days, which had me missing home. My spring tan had quickly faded. At the beginning of June, it luckily turned sunny and warm. Many of us swam in the local lake and ate ice cream to cool us down.
The food here in Baden-Württemberg, which is the German state I am in, I will definitely miss. Sausages and meat are the main cuisine. One of my favorites is “Currywurst mit pommes,” which is sausage covered in a delicious red sauce and French fries on the side. It’s so good and I have had it many times. All of the traditional food is quite heavy.
At my last day in Salem, there was a massive alumnus gathering of about 1,000 people. One of the school’s buildings was transformed into a dining hall to serve dinner to all of these people. It was the job of the students to serve dinner to those adults who used to attend Salem. I decided to help out as I had nothing else to do and since all of my friends would be participating. It ended up being one of the most memorable experiences of my time in Germany. It was chaos as about fifty students with their serving plates navigated through a jam-packed sea of alumni. When I was serving, I felt like a fish going against the current. It was overwhelming serving and cleaning up after them. However, it was incredibly interesting to me to watch all of these wealthy people going crazy and screaming German words I didn’t understand at each other. The vibe was like an over-the-top bachelor or bachelorette party. The dinner looked fantastic, and the students were able to eat the leftovers. All of these alumni were invited because they had donated a certain amount of money to the school.
After my time at the school ended, I found myself so grateful for the experience I had, yet a little disappointed. I wanted more of my exchange experience. I only went to school for three and a half weeks. That’s a short time for exchange. My time at Salem was amazing, yet I think if I was there for a few more weeks I could have gotten much closer with the friends and made a lot more memories with them. Other than that, this experience has been something I will never forget. I had so much fun with everyone there and it was a nice change from going to school at Athenian. It’s so cool to stay in touch with friends across the world. Another of my friends lives in New York City, which is much easier to get to than Germany.
After Salem, there was a two-week holiday. My exchange partner and I traveled to Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich. These are the three biggest cities in Germany. Since Olivia Ghorai was on also on exchange at the same time in Hamburg, I was actually able to meet up with her for an hour. We both talked about our exchange experiences and how it felt to be in a completely foreign place. It was a lot of fun to be with somebody that lives so close to you, yet see them across the world.
Now, as I write this, I am about an hour-and-a-half from landing in San Francisco. It makes me sad that this experience has come to an end. But I am excited to live my life in California in a different way, having grown from this exchange program and become more confident in myself. I hope to visit Germany next year and see Yannick again. We’ve become much closer friends and laughed a lot together. I will miss annoying each other and all of our inside jokes. His family was so amazing and kind to me. I will definitely stay in touch with them.