Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Surviving everyday life & school in Deutschland

So let me ask you a question, what do you picture when you think of Germany?  The electrifying nightlife of Berlin?  The cavernous beer halls of Munich during Oktoberfest?  Or enormous industrial cities?  Well I bet you wouldn’t of guessed farmland, farmland and wait for it..more farmland!  Yes ladies and gentlemen, Germany is full of crops and barren fields, in fact over 50% of German soil is used for agricultural purposes and my city, Flintbek, is smack dab in the middle of that.  Now my town is far from small compared to German standards.  With a population of just over 7000, it is quite large compared to the villages or ‘Dorfs’ some of my other exchange student friends live in where the livestock outnumber the people.

I’ve been placed in what I consider to be the perfect in-between. I can unwind in peace and quiet of a rural town, have vast open fields for my daily runs and occasionally I grab a long board, pop in some good tunes and the cruise through winding forest roads and barren fields.  Another perk of living in Flintbek is that it is one of the few towns to have a train track pass through it, which means I have a train every hour on the hour taking me to and from Kiel; a ride of maybe 7 minutes.  Kiel is the capital of the state of Schleswig-Holstein with a population of about 250k.  Kiel is a big harbor city, which runs right along the Baltic Sea.  Some of the German Navy’s Baltic fleet is situated here and the city is well known for producing the most luxurious & expensive Yachts in the world.  If you’re into sailing then you should already know what I’m talking about when I say Kiel can also be called the Sailing City.  It hosts the biggest sailing competition in the world every summer during Kiel Week, as well as being the host for the sailing events from the 1932 & 1972 Summer Olympics.  Currently, Hamburg is one of the cities in the running for hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics & if they get it, the sailing events will take place in Kiel again!  That’s music to my ears because I’ve always wanted to see the Olympic games and if they’re hosted here I have a place to stay with my host family  :D 

So aside from all the enticing facts about Kiel, which I’m sure many of you found oh so captivating, what does Kiel have to offer an exchange student that’s living here?  Well to be honest, not too much.  During WWII much of Kiel was destroyed, leaving only a few old buildings or monuments still standing so the city is pretty modern with not many historical sights. (Which sucks because I’m kind of a nerd about that stuff..oh well)  Anyways, what Kiel lacks in breathtaking sights, it makes up for with numerous surrounding beaches on the Baltic, beautiful Christmas markets and the infamous Bergstraße where the nightlife lives.  Kiel’s also situated perfectly in between Lübeck and Hamburg, being only 1 hour away by train from both cities, which are complete opposites with Lübeck being historical and cozy and the Hamburg more modern with a taste of crazy(Sankt Pauli) but I’ll talk more about these two in my future posts. 

Now I couldn’t tell you how many countless hours I’ve spent, whether on school breaks or waiting for my train, exploring aimlessly around Kiel.  I swear you could blindfold me and I could still probably take you for a tour around this place.  Another thing is, mainly for Americans visiting Germany or most places around the globe, you’re going to have to bid farewell to the comfortable, vehicle ownership days of the past and learn to use the public transportation system whether you like it or not.  When mastered however, public transportation can actually be much more convenient such as, during bad weather when driving can be scary, after a long night out on the town (the Deutsch Ban will gladly be your designated driver J) or those times when your feeling too dang lazy to even drive yourself wherever you need to go. 

I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve had to pull a Usain Bolt to catch my train/bus.  One night I was heading home around midnight from Niklas’s house and prior he told me that my bus would arrive around 12:15 and being quite far away from the bus stop I decided I would take the next bus, which runs every 15 minutes.  However, what he forgot to mention and my absent mind forgot to look up was that this was the last bus of the night until 4a.m…sheisse. When I finally looked up online and saw this, my bus had already passed and in one hour the last train would also leave for Flintbek.  I had no other choice than to start my midnight 5km run for the Hauptbahnhof in the hopes of catching the last train and not being homeless for the night.  Thankfully I made it home and the next morning told my host parents all about my little escapade only to find out that the bus stop was closer to my house in Flintbek that the train station… needless to say this was a learning experience and one of many!  Take a lesson and whatever country you visit, always remember to download the app for your country’s train & bus system.  THIS IS CRITICAL!  Why be stuck carrying around a 2-inch thick paper pamphlet when you can have public transportation at your fingertips??  In Germany you will need the Deutsch Bahn app, but be weary that contrary to the stereotype that Germans are ALWAYS on time, the DB, however is not.  So double check your train/bus times are correct before you show up and end up having to wait in the -1C weather for your late bus/train or find out they are on strike and not running at all. 

View of the Kiel Harbor

Old-timey German house with a thatched roof
Abandoned windmill in the country
Bridge in the Germany countryside
Olympic Rings from the 1932 & 1972 Summer Olympics

Now that you know a bit more about the area I live in, heres a rundown of the German school system, my school and the friend making process as an exchange student!  So I began school 3 days after arriving in Germany.  Since my placement in Kiel was so sudden, AFS had no time to prepare a school for me so we chose the one that first accepted me.  I attend Käthe-Kollwitz-Schule, one of 15 different Gymnasiums in the city of Kiel.  Fist of all, let me explain a bit Germany’s school system because  its structured quite differently than in the U.S.  They begin primary school in the 1st grade until they reach 4th grade.  Then there exist several possibilities for schooling, depending on if you plan to attend a university following your general schooling or go straight into learning a trade such as a mechanic, nurse, etc.  For the students planning to further their studies at a university they attend the Gymnasiums, in which students can pick a focus, such as language, science, arts, music, theatre, etc.  The others who want to start practicing a certain trade after school go to either the Hauptschule or the Realschule where they still learn the basic curriculum as those in a Gymnasium, but with some trade classes.

            It’s been a bit weird and amusing going to class and having to wait behind a herd of 5th graders trying to cram into their classroom.  Another very different aspect from U.S schools is that in Germany one gets placed in a certain class in the 5th grade and keeps with that class all 7 years at the Gymnasium.  Starting in 11th grade, students have the possibility of choosing a different art, science, sport and language class apart from their regular class, but the core subjects always are done in the original class.  I was a bit taken by surprise when I found out that I was going to be placed in a class with ALL girls and one other boy!  I thought to myself, “Oh god I’m going to become a chick by the end of this year”. Thankfully my class turned out to be very laid back and everyone had been so nice to me these past 2 months, showing me which buses I had to take in the beginning and inviting me to go grab a snack with them on our breaks.  Also, in Germany ever class period is 1 hour and 20 minutes, but following that is a 20-minute break along with another 45-minute break at noon, which is so much better that the 5 minutes we had in between classes in the U.S.

Going back to the snack spots, they have their own version of Chipotle here in Germany!! It’s called Döner & I can summarize it in two simple words, cheap and delicious!  It’s originally a Turkish food, where you can either get a sandwich or burrito in which they stuff almost every vegetable you can think of and then you have your choice of beef or chicken, followed by 4 different sauces all mixed together mmmmm.  When you find yourself wandering the streets, hungry after a long night in in bars and clubs, Döner is your savior!  They are the only food places open until 3 or 4 in the morning. So if you’re ever hungry and have 4 euros to spare, find the nearest Döner shop (which shouldn’t be hard) and enjoy being full for the rest of the day.

So enough about delicious food and back to school life (yay right?)  On my first day, Jannik, the one boy in my class, came up to me & we began to have a conversation.  By the next period we were friends and I could tell he was excited not to be the only guy in his class anymore.  We have a group chat for our class and when I was added to it I found the name to be pretty funny, “Las Chicas y Jannik” poor old Jannik haha.  I was kind of expecting to come into school and have my teachers treat me as part of the class, but that hasn’t really been the case.  Most of the time they apologize before they begin their lectures and tell me to either relax, take a break or I’ve even been told that I could leave if I wanted too while the other students worked on longer assignments.  My favorite class so far has got to be English because I actually have an idea of what is going on around me and I feel like an assistant teacher sometimes.  

Surprisingly, when it comes to friends, I really do not have much of a connection with anyone in my class, or my school for that matter, other than one kid, Jasper.  Coming here I thought that my class would become my go-to friend group, but it’s turned out to be quite the opposite.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re very nice people and in class I enjoy talking with them, but outside of school I couldn’t see myself wanting to spend time with most of them.  It might sound mean, but when I first arrived I did what any exchange student should do and talk my mouth off!  I tried to speak to each and every one of the kids I met and slowly I began to realize that while everyone was friendly, we didn’t have much in common.  It sounds a bit anti-social, but sometimes id rather take a walk alone or study German on my breaks than force myself to socialize, which I felt guilty of.  If you don’t want to do something, why should you HAVE to?  Thankfully my friend, Jasper brought me into his friend group, which consisted of other guys from different schools or some even attending University and they immediately made me feel like part of the group.  There I met my buddy & training partner, Niklas, which I can now say has been my best friend so far here. 

Also, for those of you who are a bit nervous about making friends in your local neighborhood or school or are having a bit of trouble connecting with the natives, don’t forget about your other AFS friends in the area!  They’re in the same position as you so they’re always down to have fun and hangout whenever you’re feeling lonely.  Plus, you’ll want to become good friends with them because you can utilize that in the future by having people you can visit all over the globe, like my girlfriend, Jacqueline, who’s stayed with multiple AFS friends throughout her journey across the world!  Check out her blog in the link at the bottom of the page!


Me & Jasper wakeboarding!

The illuminating moon over the Baltic

AFS late orientation camp!

Eckerförde, a small seaside town in Northern Germany

AFS peeps

more AFS peeps

The Kiel Canal
The cloudy Baltic Sea

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