By Tshegofatso Masenya
On the 16th of January, I flew to Germany. The thought of spending 6 months in a foreign country was not at all intimidating, in fact, it sounded like a dream. Almost too good to be true. At first I did not know what to expect, what the people would be like, how hard the language would be to learn, if I would eventually make friends and most importantly to me, what the food would taste like!
Everyone had told me how advanced Germany is. One thing I am at the airport, the next thing I am being ushered onto a train that literally hangs in the sky hence the name ‘skyline’. Maybe I am exaggerating, but I was only used trains that are underground.
Then I realized how funny Germans are. I mean, with cars like Mercedes Benz coming from them, one would automatically assume that those are the type of cars they use to get around but no! No way, they choose to use bicycles instead. I must say it was easier to get around without the traffic and we all need the little bit of exercise. Who drives the latest models of Mercedes Benz’s you ask? Taxi drivers! In fact, my first taxi ride was in a Mercedes Benz ML. Germans are probably the most punctual people in the world! If a bus or train has to leave at 8, it WILL leave at 8. Not a minute earlier and not a minute later. Whether you have a ticket or not, it will leave with or without you. That took a lot of getting used to. I am used to African time so at first I arrived 30 minutes later thinking it would be there still or would run late. I lost a great deal of money, but it was a lesson learned.
Maybe the reason I was always late was because I liked to stay in my warm bed. Trust me when I say -10 degrees is not a child’s play. It is so cold that every room in the house has a built in heater or floor heating.
The weather is cold, but in most cases, so are the Germans, they tend to keep to themselves. They are very reserved and are not as friendly at first, but once you get to know them, they are great people! I always say they are like cabbages. You have to take each layer off to get to the good stuff.
I did mention that the food was very important because I had no intentions of hurting their feelings by not eating. Worst case scenario would be living on fruits and water just because I did not like the food. Luckily that was not the case.
Every household has a certain rule, and that is, every time you step into the house, you have to take off your shoes and leave them at the door. This rule not only applies to the people in that household, but to visitors as well. But that is not even all. Germany is incredibly safe. So safe that I could ride my bicycle alone or with friends at night. So safe that they do not need a garage, the cars and bicycles just stand outside and yet nothing would happen. Also there is also not a big difference between the rich people and the poor people. Most of them are on the same level. The school was awesome and free! No school fees and no uniform.
I will miss my beautiful red bicycle, my family, friends and everyone else that contributed in making my exchange a success. I smiled, I laughed, shed a tear here and there, played, learned, grew and found myself. I would do it all over again in the blink of an eye.
One year in Denmark
by Nabeel Petersen
My exchange year took me to Denmark. As most exchange students will agree, it was probably one of the best years of my life. I cannot isolate anything specific about my exchange experience that made it as memorable as it is; it was reather the entire package: traveling alone at such an early age, living with a completely new family, new siblings, new school, a completely different country and meeting other exchange students, etc.
I lived on the Danish island called Fyn with the family Anderson. So my exchange year presented me with another mother, father, an older sister and brother and two dogs. I attended a school called Vestfyns Gymnasium which was completely different to my South African schooling in terms of the way it was run, school attire and regulations, etc. Upon arrival in Denmark alone I encountered my first experience of culture shock. For one, there were infinite numbers of bicycles, and secondly, I felt like I was the only “black” person around which took some getting used to. The first three months of my life in Denmark, at times, were very challenging because of language, cultural and racial barriers. However, as I grew more accustomed to this foreign way of life and learnt the Danish language, these barriers appeared to disintegrate. Thinking about my Danish life it is obvious that it was not only me being affected by my experiences; my being there, as a South African, deconstructed Danish peoples’ notions and stereotypes of South Africa.
Lastly I want to say: I would do it all again if possible.
“Het regent , het regent de pannetjes worden nat. Er kommen twee soldaatjes aan en vallen op hun gat”. My year in Holland was the most amazing year of my life. During the year I learnt that this small but wonderful country has much more to offer than just cheese and tulips. It is in fact an incredibly interesting culture, filled with all kinds of weird but fun people and traditions.
The thing I loved most about my year was all the cool people I had met. The fact that I had much more freedom gave me the opportunity to expand my horizons. The Dutch take there social life very seriously and love to party . They’re extremely liberal and will say exactly what they think. They really love there food and with the most amazing “kroketen” and “patat” I hade no reason not to join them. Speaking Dutch was loads of fun although you do encounter that embarrassing moment every now and then. “Sinterklaas kapoentje gooi wat in my schoentje …”; between all the “ swarte piete ” and “kruidenote ” Sinterklaas was one of the best days of my year in Holland. And then, before I knew it, someone shouted Happy New Year!
I made real friends during this year and will never forget them. A letter to all my exchange friends and to show that my year was irreplaceable: So much is said about being an exchange student, but you only realize it when you experience it. Then things make sense. It is definitely not easy and whether you want it or not, you´ll end up changing and growing. Once your exchange is done you finally realize that you can handle things way better than you could and would ever imagine. You need to appreciate things you have because they might be gone sooner than you think. Life is not easy. True friendships are really forever. The best part about being an exchange student is not about the parties or places you get to go. Not the independence and life experience, but the friendships. I´m not only talking about the friends you made in your host country but also about the other exchange-student friends. For most of us, they were the very first “friends” we had in this new experience. We met them at orientation meetings or trips organized by YFU Netherlands. They were the first people we actually talked to without having the fear of speaking a different language. There´s a difference between “host country friends” and “exchange student friends”. Exchange students have a special bond. Despite language and cultural differences, you´ll understand oneanother because you experience similar situations. The hardest part of facing the end of your exchange year is to accept the fact that it´s gonna take a while until you have the chance to travel the world to see your exchange year friends again. Because once you leave your host country, deep down inside, you know that sooner or later you´ll be back, but when are you going to have enough money and time to travel the world again???
Some of us became friends because we were placed in the same schools, lived in the town nearby each other. Others we met along the year, during trips and meetings… The trips… first day nobody knows eachother, everyone is shy… By the end of the trip everybody knows everybody and says good bye in the last day is as sad as when we left our friends and family in our home countries… How many lifetime friendships and romances started with. “How can I say this in your language?” It´s hard to believe that so much can start from such a simple sentence! Does this story sound familiar to you??? The very first trip, when it is time to leave is not so terrible because you have the whole year ahead of you, so the chances of meeting everyone again are very big. Time goes by and your year is slowly getting to an end. You have your last trip… Probably it will be the very last time you´ll see most of your exchange friends for “God-knows-how-many-years”… this feeling is just horrible!!! It´s when you wish things would never end. When you wish you could turn back time and do everything again, and maybe do what you want but never had the guts to, like kissing that girl/boy or spending more time with A, B and C… And there you are, saying good-bye, fighting the tears and making promises to people that you could never imagine you would meet in your life… Unfortunately, things don´t always work as we want and not that everything is possible…
Once your year is done, it is when you realize who you will ALWAYS miss the most. Your exchange friends spread all over the world. And one day you´re gonna be at a Geography or history class and as some countries are mentioned, you´ll think about your friends that are half way around the world away from you, and you´ll have to fight the tears again… Their occasional letters, phone calls and emails are going to be of unbelievable value and will bring joy to your bad day/week. And this is what this email is about. Most of us never thanked these friends and never said how much they mean to us. So here it is ‘THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU. You are all wonderful, special and unique, and I´ve been made a better person just by knowing you. You´ve made my year unforgettable. And I don´t think I´ll ever forget the time we spent together! Hopefully we will meet again someday! Doesn’t matter how many miles keep us apart. I’ll always be here for you.
The ends of our exchange year doesn´t mean the end of friendships. As said before true friendships are forever. As we go on, we remember all the times we had together. And as our lives change, come whatever. We will still be friends forever. Send this to all your exchange friends and exchange students you know! My year in Holland didn’t only teach me a whole new culture but taught me to survive in a world culture. I learnt that even though we all are so different, we still have something in common, and if we just learn more about each other we will also realize that.
“Its not right its not wrong its just different.”