As I walked outside of the airport, I thought to myself, “It’s not as cold as I thought it would be.” My first two weeks at Birklehof have been very smooth. The first day was probably the hardest one. My luggage came on a different flight and arrived the next day, meaning I had to wear whatever I was wearing on the plane. Once my luggage came, I was able to set myself up in my dorm room and finally relax in fresh clean clothes.
When I arrived in Germany, I had to get used to the language barrier since the main language everyone speaks is German. Most, if not everyone, can communicate in English but only speak in English when needed. Sometimes some of my friends start talking to me in German and I have to remind them that I can only speak English. Settling into the school was comfortable and I did not have any other challenges adjusting to my new life in Germany. The curriculum is similar to Athenian, as well as the campus itself (very outdoorsy). One thing I noticed is that they split your grade up into 2 groups (10A and 10B). Each group has their own different schedule, but everyone in the same group follows the same schedule. Finding my classes wasn’t too hard since I would follow my friends. That made me realize that there isn’t as much freedom to make your own schedule and pick what classes you get to take as Athenian.One of the biggest challenges I had throughout the school day was the time and schedule. Every single day was a different class with different teachers all at different times. What made it more confusing was that my schedule was given to me in German. Sometimes school ended at 7:00 pm and sometimes at 2:00 pm, which was super difficult for me to figure out. After the first week of finding out where all my classes were and time my classes were, I finally was able to settle into Birklehof.
My first experience outside of school was visiting a city near my school called Freiburg. The first thing my friends and I did was visit a massive Catholic church. This was the biggest church I have ever been in. After walking around the city for a while, I realized that almost every single street had a McDonalds. I was super confused because why would you need so many McDonalds in one area? Later in the day, I got to try a Turkish sandwich called a Döner (which tasted amazing). My time in Freiburg was really fun. I certainly will be going there often in my free time or during the weekends.
Being able to experience Germany inside and outside of school with my friends is amazing. Hopefully I can explore more of this beautiful country with the time I have left.
Evan Rios reflects on his time in Germany
My exchange at Birklehof School in Germany was an exciting one. I got to meet new people, experience a new culture, and visit a new country. When I first left for exchange I thought of it as a once in a lifetime opportunity to study abroad in another country and I will remember this experience for the rest of my life.
One of my highlights from exchange was meeting all the fantastic people. When I got there, everyone was super friendly and nice to me. I was able to make a lot of friends. I still keep in touch with them even after my time on exchange. Meeting all of the wonderful people made my exchange a lot better, and I hope that I will be able to see them again. Another highlight would be all of the amazing food I got to eat. There was a variety of food that I have either had or hadn’t tried before. The food in Germany was very delicious.
I didn’t have many challenges on the trip except perhaps some classes that were in German. For the first week I had no idea what was going on in the classes, so I asked my friends about what they were learning and asked the teacher to summarize the lesson for me after class. I also had difficulty with the weather because it kept changing from super cold to hot. I also did not bring many shorts believing it would stay a little cooler, but I was definitely wrong.
From what I have learned about the school, it was very similar to Athenian, having fun events and student-led meetings. The campus also reminded me of Athenian, so I felt right at home. The only things that I would say were different would be the students’ schedules and that they mainly spoke German. I was definitely nervous living in another country for several weeks, but I learned that I adapt quickly and was able to fit right in with everyone else. I never felt out of place or as confused as I thought I would be because it felt like I was still in California.
For any 9th graders thinking about going on exchange, remember to pack for everything. I did not have an enough clothes to keep me cool or warm. Always prepare for the worst because you are in a different country and have no idea what to expect–don’t be too worried because it probably won’t happen–but always think about the wonderful things that can happen to you.
I am so glad I had the opportunity to go on exchange and I would be glad to do it again.