We took the chance over the summer holidays to travel to and stay in Germany for two months on exchange.
It was definitely a big step for us, as all of the exchange students were placed in different cities and we stayed with host families that we had never met before. Despite having learnt German for several years, we were quite nervous before going, as we knew we would have to speak German for eight weeks, including going to school. However, the exchange was definitely a rewarding experience and totally worth it!
Both our host families were very welcoming, and although having three host sisters felt very busy for Kate, as she is an only child, she really enjoyed spending time with them and quickly felt like she had known them for much longer than a few weeks. But the highlight was their sweetest cat in the whole world Hanni (Kate’s exchange partner coerced her into writing that, but she has to agree)! In the holidays she was lucky enough to travel to Bavaria (in the south of Germany) with her host family, which involved sightseeing in Munich, skiing, tramping, and celebrating the New Year. Christmas, which was mainly celebrated on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day, was also very enjoyable, as Germans tend to get much more into the spirit of the Christmas season than in New Zealand!
Differences between school in Germany and New Zealand included having no uniform, being a co-ed school, and longer school days, although if the teacher was sick or away, lessons were cancelled. It was also interesting to experience having 12 subjects a week instead of five or six, and our exchange partners and their friends made us feel really welcome. At school Kate also got the opportunity to work on a robotics project with her exchange partner, and take part in work experience for a week, which involved learning some robotics in a polytechnic department. This meant that she got to experience not only how school in Germany is structured, but also in a workplace.
The week in Berlin with the 23 other exchange students was definitely a highlight for both of us, and included a number of incredible sight-seeing trips and experiences around the city. On the Monday morning of that week we all travelled to Dusseldorf to catch our bus bright and early. The 8 hour trip to Berlin was a great time to get to know the other students and figure out our rooms! On arrival at our Youth Hostel, we had a look around at the modern, smart accommodation and then headed off to explore our surroundings in the East of Berlin, the so called ‘young and hip’ part. We ended up at the stunning Brandenburg Gates, which were completely lit and shone so wonderfully in the pitch black sky, the history in Berlin is just so deep and we felt so lucky to be right there immersed in it all. Tuesday started our visits off with a three hour bus trip around central Berlin, passing by the famous historic sights and tourist spots. This included the East Side Gallery, Holocaust memorial, the Reichstag building, the Chancellor’s building, Universal Studios and many more. Our tour guide Tom was an absolute delight, and had been cheekily nicknamed ‘Tom Tom’, as his multitasking between German directions for our driver and English explanations for ourselves was quite remarkable! That afternoon we had free time once again and we and the rest of our room took this time to travel back to the centre city for a much awaited stop at the Mall of Berlin. We partook in far too much shopping and slipping down the resident slide from top floor to ground. The next day we were lucky enough to visit a Stasi prison and the Berlin Underworlds museum, which explored the hidden bunkers where people took refuge during bomb raids in WWII. Both were sobering and really, really worthwhile visits. On Thursday we visited the city of Potsdam on the outskirts of Berlin. This gorgeous wee town included summer palaces which were once home to Frederick the Great and housed single silk curtains with gold embroidery worth an astounding $300000 NZD. Along with these there was a cute main street and most importantly a Starbucks at which we refuelled during our afternoon free time, having spent the morning exploring those breathtaking places. On our final day we were lucky enough to choose between the Olympic stadium tour or Museum World. Both of us chose to go to the Egyptian and Prehistoric museum, with historic artefacts dating back over 3000 years and incredible artworks from this time period, a visit which left us both eager to discover more about prehistoric stages. We finished our trip with a viewing of the newly released Jumanji, in English and in an enormous theatre. This was a hilarious, light-hearted and perfect finish to what was probably the most fun we have ever had in one week. Not only did we get to visit world-renowned sights, but we were able to do this with a group of like minded others who we just had a blast with. The knowledge that we both gained in these six days was invaluable and we honestly cannot wait to get back the incredible city of Berlin.
The exchange really helped to improve our German, particularly listening, but also helped to increase our confidence, and realise that although there were times that we did not understand the German, or missed our families, the whole experience was completely worth it, and that although while every minute of life is not necessarily easy and fun, the good memories make it worthwhile. We want to thank Mr. Moore, Mrs. Riethmaier and Mrs. Hayes for encouraging us and making the opportunity possible!
We are now welcoming our exchange partners, Helena Heuermann and Jana Kiseyer, who are staying with us in Dunedin for two months, and we hope that they have just as much of a good time as we did!
By Jaime Preston and Kate Truman