So, I met up with all of the other exchange students on Friday morning at the train station. It was great to see everyone—Italy and Norway, Flo and Poland. It was funny to see that almost everyone’s cheeks are a little bit pudgier (including mine) and those from the southern hemisphere seem to of become significantly paler. At this point I was pretty sick and pretty sure that going to camp was going to be a bad idea.
I was pretty much right. We rode the train for a while and then piled into a couple of giant-people carrier Volkswagen car/busses, which drove us up to where we were staying. it’s a big, proper old-fashioned german house, with the wooden beams and stone work in between and oh my lord, it was so cold. we had to start a fire when we first got there and turn on the water and the only reason I didn’t freeze to death was because I spent most of the weekend in the kitchen. we could barely get the girl’s room above freezing, even with the heaters on and the door closed.
So, there weren’t enough beds for everyone, so in the big girl’s room we slept 5 in three beds times two and 3 in two beds. I spent the first night in the crack between two beds, which wasn’t terribly comfortable. it was however, warm, since I was sleeping under a girl from a chile and a girl from Thailand.
when we first got there, it was past time for lunch. chile made the fire while Italy and I started making Hawaiian toast, which is white American bread with pineapple, ham and cheese on it, baked in the oven. then we made a salad and tomatoes with mozzarella and started feeding the troops.
girl. make. fire.
girls. make. lunch.
(yes, it was the most american meal i'd had in the while. the next day we had hotdogs. not wurst, hotdogs)
we played ‘Spiels’ for a while (note: spiels are not actually spiels. they are times when you write about things and then talk about your feelings) and then had a break. one of the volunteers made hot chocolate and one of the girls from Thailand (I’m terribly sorry, but I’ve forgotten her name—she’s amazingly sweet, though--) got so excited. “We’re having chocolate soup?” she asked, with the most adorable look on her face. It turned out she had never had hot chocolate!
And by the way, all the hot chocolate that I’ve had here has been about a million times better than the run-of-the-mill American hot chocolate. Even the quicky stuff is made with milk and is so, amazingly good.
This is also the first time that I can remember meeting people who haven’t seen any snow. So, tell me about how sometimes you don’t go to school because there is so much snow on the ground… (they say). and it’s like, you mean, snowdays? and they’re like… ja! zomg! so cool! etc. I think it’s lovely.
So, as I previously mentioned, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen. I made tea a lot. I made warm milk (something I now drink—be still, the beating hearts of those who wish to prevent osteoporosis everywhere!). I made lunch twice. Feeding that many people is a pain, especially when everyone wants to eat now and consequently stand in the admittedly small kitchen and take up space. (I finally understand the frustration of this. Sorry, mom.)
I sucked up not feeling well on Friday and most of Saturday. I finally learned how to play the cup game, a process in the making since my days of 4-H Camp every summer. I was productive and smiled and showed leadership and initiative and tried to keep conversations in German (but failed). I learned how to roll a cigarette. I learned that Turkish people are pretty cuddly. At some point in the afternoon we went for a walk in the drizzling rain, an I learned how to say your hair is pretty in Thai. (phonetically: pommes tu soja!). When we came back, the volunteers had set up a Christmas tea, with cookies and cakes and you guessed it, more hot chocolate.
The acronym for AFS? Another Fat Student. Not kidding.
Italy making pizza dough.
But by Saturday night I was having trouble breathing and had a constant, pounding headache. One of the volunteers told me I could go to bed, so I went. I had just managed to get warm and fall asleep when another volunteer came and woke me up. What? We had to play another game. In a premise of being touching, we all sat in a dark room and blew out candles to symbolize bad experiences and lit them to symbolize good ones. there were silly moments and touching moments and moments that would have greatly benefited from a cricket soundtrack.
I suppose this is when I in turn becoming touching: (disclaimer, melty thoughts ahead).
I’m worried that I won’t recognize the tremendous gift of this year until it’s over. It’s so easy to be caught up in the mundane nature of the day to day, to become displeased by the build up of tiny little unhappy things and forget the amazingness of what I’m doing.
And everyday when I dread a little bit, school or the afternoon or what-have-ye, it’s hard for me to understand. In the US, I was always busy: I was tremendously involved in everything. I had a job, a car, friends that I could call when hungry or bored or tired or all of the above. And here, despite the fact that I’m making friends, I am tremendously nervous sometimes even to speak to the people in my class. I am so exhausted most of the time and my idea of a big day involves going to both the library and my german class. I feel a little bit hopeless and a little bit as if I should be having my Very Meaningful Experience now, but… eh. I don’t know. In the long run, I suppose.
This camp was a bit different than our first because we were mixed in with the kids who are heading home in February. The entire camp was tinged with a bit of sadness, the recognition that the next time we are together in a camp, we will be the ones heading for home, the ones who are experienced, the ones with the crazy stories to tell. There was also a lot of Spanish speaking.
One time I was sitting at the table and listening to someone. I got really excited because I thought maybe I understood a little bit of Spanish, but then I realized that he was just speaking German. But the speaking patterns and the rise and fall of his voice really made his words sound Spanish. It’s interesting to hear the end-of-year german speakers, and even with the new exchange students, and how our mother tongues really influence the way we speak. Italy enunciates the ends of words, where I sort of trail off on them. Norway speaks ploddingly, as if each word were a somewhat temporary life-partner and the boy from Hong-Kong struggles to make r sounds.
In these camps, it’s always interesting because you are your country. For some countries that’s not such a big deal—but for someone for the US, who deals with the most amazing stereotypes every single day, it’s a really amazing opportunity to show that America is not one giant entity that is evil in its existence. But it’s also really neat because well, every time I think of Brasil I’ll think of Franko, who keeps a journal, of Columbia, a boy who rolls his own cigarettes and easily explained the differences in derivation between Spanish and Portuguese—in English! Norway will be Norway and Bilen will be Turkey and it’s just… it’s really powerful. The chance to share life with people from everywhere is not a chance that frequently crops up.
It’s also lovely to have a chance to talk with other exchange students. What we’re going through is quite an experience that is really difficult for non-exchange students to understand. so the chance to communally laugh at our mistakes is quite a lovely one. but it’s not always fun and games. it’s also interesting to compare how much german we’ve learned—I’ve almost caught up with the kids with high school german, but there are kids that spoke the same amount of german or more when they got here that I’ve surpassed. there are, of course, also folks who are better than me. not many. and more still—there are kids who have barely learned any german in the past three months. which I find really impressive.
Back to Saturday night. Anyways, so we played the candle game. Eventually, the leaders found their right answer and we started a talent show. About fifteen minutes in, I begged off and I finally got to go to bed. As I curled up in my bed for the second time, cold and exhausted and so amazingly sick, I started crying. I was just so… eh. In the US, if I was that sick, I would have been in control. I would have called home, I would have gone to bed—I would have been able to communicate how the world was pleasantly blurred around the edges. I would have had real medicine. I felt like… I’m okay with this being the low point in my exchange. So we’re calling it that. Hopefully it sticks.
But anyways. I was pretty sick. I came home and I was just… I felt disgusting. And my hostmum was amazingly sweet. She made me noodle soup and warmed up a hot water bottle and gave me a wide variety of homeopathic remedies and sent me to bed at like six o clock.
of course, I couldn’t sleep so I tried to answer emails. when that failed, I turned to youtube and caught up on some quality entertainment. Eventually, I fell asleep—but I kept waking up and just feeling more and more miserable. I was hot and cold, I was drowning in mucus. Etc. When I woke up this morning I still wasn’t feeling great. But as of now, I’m feeling a lot better. Which means I’ve avoided my first brush with the doctor.
Funny note: your nose runs in German, too!
Today was a really bad understanding day. Some days I have them—things that I know that I know don’t want to work and I can’t even seem to force my tongue around simple sentences. Other days, though—there’s no stopping me. And when I try to speak in English, I carry over the German word orders and switch back into German when I stop focusing. It’s really… odd. Exciting, though. Today was a not good day, but it was also a really weird school day (three hours in the library, two in ‘real’ class—religion and german.)
I’m actually starting to understand religion, and it’s quite interesting. I signed up for religion because I thought it would be interesting and because I didn’t understand what the other class was. (It’s ethics, apparently). It turns out there’s sort of two sorts of people in my class—those that are fanatically religious and those who are adamantly against religion, almost Marxist in their opinions.
I’d also like to introduce the concept of the English hangover. When I speak a lot of English, the next day my brain sort of… hurts. And the German is really stumbly and interesting and involves a lot of swearing in English. Which I seem to do a lot of these days, even though I very rarely swore when I was in the states. But here swearing is a lot more culturally acceptable, and after hearing our math teacher call us little shits, it seems somewhat natural to throw a bit of excitement into my vocabulary.
Also, today is the first day of advent! yesterday when I came home from camp, my family had started decorating and I got to help hanging up things and the like. When I went into my room, I found an advent calendar! I don’t ever remember having an advent calendar, so I’m calling it my first. I can’t wait to open the little box tonight!
the advent wreath!
decorating with Willi!
Actually, I sort of can, since I’ve been eating Christmas cookies all afternoon. Apparently we make 15-20 varieties for the holiday seasons, so today I rolled out two and am baking some right now that seem to be muesli and fruit rolled into little balls. They don’t look terribly appealing, but they taste quite good.
these are not them.
Oh yeah. Reading back through this blog, it seems as if a lot of my experiences are highly negative. It’s not really that—it’s just that when I’m having a fabulous time, I’m not documenting it so much—I’m out there living it. This blog has taken over as a bit of a journal, since for some reason composing at the computer makes me feel much more productive than filling line with ink. So when it seems like things are negative, it’s because that’s what’s keeping me up at night: that’s what I need to ‘get off of my chest’, corny metaphors etc.
That’s all for now
PS—I’m slowly switching the picture formats over to blogger ones, so bear with me.