May is possibly the worst month for students in the U.S., ask any of them. May is a time of studying, testing, anxiety, and spring-fever. My schedule mainly consisting of studying for the AP Chemistry test, the AP European history test, finals for the rest of my classes, and the SAT, I was burned out. I dreaded waking up at five AM, I was repulsed by the thought of going to school, and like many, I was sick of my classes and bored with my school. I knew that I needed something different, a change of scenery. I constantly felt like the walls of my school were getting smaller, trapping me inside. The only thing keeping my optimism in existence was the knowledge that in four months, I would be in Germany.
Moving to another country for a year is a challenging venture, but with the right tools, anyone can succeed. In an attempt to provide us with these skills, AFS hosts a pre-departure orientation for all students going abroad with any of their programs. These orientations are hosted by each region and vary with location, but here is my experience. I live in the Susquehanna Valley Area and my orientation was held on May 19th. This gave me something to look forward to as I sat in school for the last days of classes and prepared for my AP tests. My AP Euro test being the 18th, this orientation also gave me an incentive to push harder in study sessions with my class. The orientation was held at Penn State Harrisburg, about two hours from my house, and lasted from 9 AM to 3:30 PM. The orientation had several parts and activities and was centered around the goal of preparing us for our program. The orientation started with parents and students together, but later in the day we split for personalized discussions.
The schedule included:
Breakfast (catered by panera) and social time
Introductory games and challenges (Ex: writing with your non-dominant hand to demonstrate the challenge of not knowing your country’s language. Pictures below)
A boxed lunch (catered by Panera)
Group discussions about expectation vs reality, stereotypes, and safety
The Pre-Departure Orientation helped me to mentally prepare for the culture shock I will experience when I land in Germany. I think that during the lows I experience while on program (which are normal and expected), I will think back to the activities I did during orientation. It also gave me the oportunity to see scholarship recipients I met at the interview as well as meet others going abroad from my area. There are a wide variety of countries receiving students from my area, such as Chile, Panema, Switzerland, Russia, Italy, France, Denmark, Argentina, Japan, Paraguay, Spain, and Germany. I realized that being a part of AFS gives you a community, not just of people from your area or country, but from all over the world.
A huge thank you to the Susquehanna Valley Area Team for bringing opportunities with AFS into our area, you are helping to create a more understanding and peaceful existence for all of us.
(Group Picture: I am at the bottom left corner in the blue and white striped shirt)
Papers from the orientation: