When you study abroad in Germany with AFS, you are placed into a region and each region has a team of AFS employees and volunteers who coodinate events for the students in each region. My region, the — region, includes basically all of the exchange students from the very nothern part of Germany. September 21st-23rd was my Late Orientation Camp, which is meant to formally welcome exchange students to Germany. During this weekend, you can express any concerns you might already have about your host school, host family, or anything about your exchange.
I will be honest, at first I didn’t want to go. I was having such a fantastic time in Husum with my host family and new friends, and I didn’t want to miss anything. I started having fun immediately, however, when I met with other students from Husum, plus one from a nearby town, at the train station. We had four train changes along the way to Bad Oldesloe, the meeting spot. It was a little complicated at times, but during the ride we talked about our respective countries and had a lot of fun.
Although I am the only American in Husum, once I got to the orientation I was greeted by many familiar faces from my initial orientation in New York. I’m not gonna lie, it was nice to talk to them about their experiences and compare them with mine. Throughout the weekend, I met people from all over the world, including Denmark, Russia, Mexico, Czech Republic, Poland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Turkey, Japan, India, Brazil, and Iceland. This experience was extremely enlightening as I was introduced to many various opinions, ideas, and accents. We mostly spoke in English, as very few students could speak German and almost everyone was fluent in English. One of my roommates, a girl from Japan, spoke little English so I got to practice my German with her while learning about her country (which I know want to visit). She told me about New Year’s traditions in Japan and about the traditional cuisine that she was missing. I also met a boy from Russia, and although I never got to have a discussion with him, he demonstrated a traditional Russian dance at our talent show (at which the other Americans and I held our up our flag and recited The Pledge of Allegiance while I played the national anthem on the piano). I am very interested in Russian history and culture, so seeing that was very fun for me.
I was astounded at the open mindedness of the students and their willingness to communicate even through a language barrier. I never thought that people from so many counties could be in the same room together peacefully, but to my knowledge there were no quarrels the entire weekend. As we had workshops and discussions about how to deal with the challenges of an exchange year, we all bonded over our common yearning for intercultural understanding. I can now say that I have friends from all over the world, and for that I have AFS and the Speedwell Scholarship to thank.