- WELTBÜRGER-Stifter: MAP
- Programm: Schüleraustausch
- Land: USA
- Dauer: 10 Monate
- Name: Simon
My first months
I decided to go to the USA for one year because my cousins and neighbors who already made an exchange year told me it is a great experience and a lot of fun. And until now it really is. I had a lot of different wishes and expectations about my host family. It started with the hope that I would not be forced to go to church three times a week and ended with the hope that they would live in the south of America. Most of my hopes became true. My family is a non-religious family that lives in Arkansas and I have three little brothers like in my real family. They already hosted 3 other students and they are really nice and do not want to control everything. Prior to my exchange year many people from MAP and CCI told me that my host family would want to know where I want to go, with whom and would want me to come home early.
My host family is completely different. They want me to hang out with other people and make friends and although I asked I never got a limit when I should be home. The only thing was that when I was out in the evening I had to get a ride home. It is also pretty nice that we go on short trips very often and with the nice weather is it like vacation.
The exchange year was one of the hardest things to organize in my whole life but it is so nice that it is okay to invest so much time in it. For the adventure of an exchange year we had to drive to different cities in Germany for the interview and the pre-departure orientation session, we had to spent days in front of the computer to complete the application, had to get certifications from a lot of different people and had to come home from vacation one day earlier because my flight changed from August 5th to August 1st. We had a whole week full with buying the last things I need, saying goodbye to friends and neighbors and packing my suitcase. It was very stressful because of the flight change, but we got everything and went on our last vacation before the exchange year. We got back on Sunday in the early afternoon and in the evening my cousins arrived, who were the main factor for my decision to make an exchange year, because they made one, too. They told me it is a really great experience and I totally agree with them.
On August 1st my adventure exchange year finally started. I got up at 5 am and arrived at Frankfurt airport at 8 am. At 10 am the plane took off to the USA. I flew with 6 other exchange students and the flight was without any special happenings. After 12 hours we landed in Chicago O’Hare international airport where we met two members of CCI Greenheart, who helped us to get to our connecting flights to our host families. I had to wait 5 hours at Terminal 1, but luckily the plane of one other exchange student started right before mine at the same gate, so we were able to wait together. The flight to Little Rock took over 2 hours, so I arrived there at 10 pm in the evening after a 24 hours awake-day. At the Hillary and Bill Clinton airport I finally met my host family and my local coordinator for the first time. When I left the airport I was really impressed about the heat, because it was after 10 pm and in Germany it is much colder. When we got home I went to bed right away and the only things I did before that were cleaning my teeth and loading my cellphone. 🙂
On the next morning my host mother showed me the house and the neighborhood. The next thing for me to do was to text MAP that I arrived and put all my stuff out of my suitcase. After that I gave my presents to my host parents and host siblings. The rest of the day I played with the kids. On the next day we went to Clinton´s presidential library and walked a little bit through Little Rock. In the next few days I played a lot with my host brothers, although the oldest one was still visiting his grandparents. I also went to the gym for the first time in America and went to my school to choose my subjects. I was pretty impressed about the many different possibilities and the counselor was very polite and friendly. 5 days later I went to school again to have the pictures taken for the ID-badges and get my schedule. I also heard a presentation about the dress code in the auditorium. In the last week of the vacation we went to a hotel in Missouri, where we met my host brother Easton and his grandparents and we went hiking and swimming.
One day later my school started. I got up at 6.45 am and had a little breakfast. After that I made myself lunch and went to the bus at 7:35am. I arrived at school at 8:15 and already got a few friends via the people driving with my bus. The first day in school was exciting because it is a great experience if you get new, friendlier teachers and the teachers speaks English. In my math class I met the guy who is now one of my best friends and who helped me to get into the soccer team of the city because the school soccer team only plays in spring. After one week I knew a lot of people in the school and it felt like I had never been at a different school. I knew the best ways to get to my classes and to the cafeteria, the office and the bus. It also became much easier to understand the teachers. On Friday of my second week at school I talked to the coach of the football team and joined it as a Kicker. On the next Monday I got my necessary schedule change and started to practice. Because of this I have much less free time during the week. I have football practice every day and in the evenings I go to soccer practice and when there is no soccer practice I go to the gym. Because of the combination of exchange student and football player I became very popular and know almost everyone in my school.
A new thing for me was that everyone was proud to be at his school and that people support their school and especially their football team in public. I enjoy watching football games with friends (not from my team, for example the 9th graders). A very strange thing for me is the student-teacher relationship. In Germany most students do not like or hate the teacher and here the teachers are good friends of the students and nobody blames you for having a longer talk with a teacher. In the lessons I now understand almost everything and got 100% in my AR-reading test in English. I did a special test for exchange students and I got the result “advanced English speaker”.
On September 10th we went to the zoo and after that I had my first soccer match in America. We won 5:1 and it was really nice because I got a great team. It’s one of the best teams in whole Arkansas and my teammates are great. In school I got my chrome book on Friday 9th and it is really nice because it makes everything much easier. For example you do not have to carry that much stuff. It is really strange how much more difficult speaking English is after you listened to German music or skyped with your family. Until now I do not miss my real family, which might be because my host family is very similar to my real family and I got really good friends. One of the biggest differences is that I do much more work in school and have less homework than in Germany, where the school is much shorter but I had to do more at home. In the next week I got the result of my stars reading test, which said my reading level would be the level of a 6th grader. My English teacher said that was very good for an exchange student and she had native US-Americans who only scored 2nd graders.
On Wednesday we had picture day. I was at a taco bell for the first time in my life and it is really interesting that American fast food restaurants are selling what we in Germany would call even bad for fast food and in a normal restaurant you get what we in Germany would call fast food. I also teach some of my friends German words and it is really fun to see one of my friends telling a funny German word to everyone in the cafeteria. I already got a date for homecoming and I will go there with some good friends.
Football, finals and Christmas in Little Rock
My school decided to make the homecoming dance from 9 – 12 pm after the homecoming football game. I think that this was a pretty bad idea because the football game lasted until 10:30 pm and after that all the football players had to shower and change clothes and then drive to the location where the dance was. Because of this the homecoming was a short event for many people but still very enjoyable. I met a lot of people and a few of them are now very good friends. In school my math teacher changed me from Algebra II to Calculus, which is a big difference, but it is what I would do in Germany this year and because I already did a quick-course of this themes last year it is easy for me even in English.
I really started to enjoy playing and watching football. We had a few great games this season for example against Pulaski Academy, a top private school, where Bleacher Report streamed the game live, so more than 500,000 people watched it, although we lost with a close result. We made it in the playoffs this season but lost our first playoff game 35: 36 after we were up by 7 points with 2 seconds left. Up to this moment I never understood how important this was for our senior football players. I will never forget how our Captain and RB sat on the field and cried while our QB and I were comforting him and at the same time a few of his friends were praying over us.
But all in all I think it was a great season where we learned a lot and I finished it with 6 games I played in and 15 points in 13 kicks for our JV team and 3 points in 3 kicks for Varsity. In the next week we started the off-season program and it is very hard. As soon as my muscles stop hurting I already have to lift again. My soccer season is also over but the High School soccer try-outs are shortly thereafter and I’m going to play with many of my team members again.
On my first report card I got all A’s and this quarter my percentages are even better than in the last one. School started to feel like I am thinking in my native language and sometimes it is even easier to explain things in English than in German, for example I was not able to explain the American voting system to my parents in German and I had to do it in English. The American view on other countries is a little bit funny to me, for example in my history class everything sounds different from the German view because the US history program only teaches about the things the USA participated in. When we did World War One the spectator from America was positive to Britain and France and against Germany. It also only focused on the parts where US troops participated.
The next thing was Thanksgiving. We had the whole week off and we went to Nebraska because my host parents are both from there. It was a 10 hour drive and I was surprised that this is the closest they have ever lived to there since they have to move around because my host father works for the air-force. We did a few things together but most of the time we were watching football or other sports. On Thursday we went to the retirement home of my host father’s grandparents and had the Thanksgiving lunch.
After that we went to the house of my host mother’s parents where we had Thanksgiving dinner, which consisted of leftovers from their lunch and watched football. We continued to eat leftovers for the next few days and on Saturday we went to an ALDI store and bought some German Christmas treats. On Sunday we drove back home. I had to explain my Thanksgiving experience to many of my friends and to my family in Germany.
After we came back from Nebraska the final three weeks of school started. A few teachers already started reviewing stuff while others were doing new stuff like “we still have enough time for this”. The Semester week was one of the easiest weeks in the whole school year because we only had two tests over 1 ½ hours in the morning and after this we were allowed to go home. On Monday we had the last preparations and on Tuesday was the test in 1st and 2nd period. After this I got checked out so I had the whole day to study for the other tests. On the next two days we started the day with testing in 3rd and 4th period on Wednesday and 5th and 6th on Thursday. After this I went to football practice because our coach said if we come to practice after testing on Wednesday and Thursday we can stay home on Friday, where we would have Semester test in 7th Period (Athletics), but because we already did the workout, we were allowed to stay home. After the football practice I got checked out again.
Soon after Thanksgiving was over we already started with the Christmas preparation. Every few days we received packets with Christmas presents from a lot of people like family, friends and neighbors. Here in the US Christmas is celebrated differently from the way it is celebrated in Germany. I mostly missed the Christmas feelings with only very few light and Christmas songs while we open presents on Christmas Eve. On the other side it was very nice to sit on the couch at noon to watch my little host brothers opening their presents and open my own ones of course. I got more presents than I expected, although the packet from my parents did not arrive in time even though they sent it at the beginning of December via plane.
The days after Christmas were very relaxing and we went out to eat a few times and watched a few movies together. I skyped with my family and my friends a few times but I was not homesick. A few days before Christmas we went to Fayetville to have a little vacation and see some Christmas lights in the downtown area. On the first day we watched Rogue 1 in a cinema but when we got out it had started to snow and so it was too cold to watch the lights. Because of that we drove home in the evening instead of the next morning.
On Christmas Eve we went to the trail of lights at my school where I met some of my friends from the baseball team that helped at the entrance and exit. The days after Christmas me and my host brothers stayed home, but my host parents had to work. The good thing was that my host brothers can look for themselves pretty well and that there were only about 2-3 hours every day with both host parents gone. A very surprising thing was that we did not celebrate New Year. My host mother told me that only very few Americans use fireworks and that what Germans do for New Year is mostly done during a special event in June. I still heard about some parties from my friends in school but we went to Dallas, Texas on January 2nd for 3 days where we met Benedikt, the last exchange student of my host family, who comes from Munich. There we visited the John F. Kennedy museum and I watched my first ever NBA game.
When we arrived in Texas there were 75º F and we stayed in an apartment within the Uptown area but it was an enclosed neighborhood so it was not loud. In the evening Benedikt and a friend of him arrived and we went out to eat at In ‘n Out. On the next day we visited the JFK museum and after that we met a family that are good friends with Benedikt and my host parents from when he stayed with them in Texas. We went out to eat again and in the evening we went to the Mavericks game. It was very nice to watch because the German Basketball player Dirk Nowitzki is like a living legend at this club.
On the next day we drove back home into cold 25º F and had to go back to school the next day. There the girls soccer had already started and they were practicing, but the boys soccer did not start, so me and about 7 other boys that will play for the high school practiced with them even though it was very cold. In the following night we had snow for my first time in the USA. It was about 1-2 inches of snow but this was already enough for school to be canceled, because the school does not want their 16 year old students to drive through such bad weather.
My last months in Little Rock
The second semester was only different from the first in a few aspects. I started to play soccer for my school and I only took part in the weight lifting of the football team. We started practicing for soccer in February and the matches started in March. We practiced every day except Wednesday for 4-5 hours because most people went to church on Wednesday afternoon. I went quite a few times but not every week. And this was additionally to the lifting for football during 7th period.
At the beginning we mainly practiced basics because my team consisted of a lot of inexperienced and new players. But we quickly started to practice harder and more advanced things. In the middle of March the games started. We played every Tuesday and Friday. On every home game we did not have to lift for football so me and a few others got out after 6th period and then we normally went to eat something and started warming up a little. Then we watched the girls’ game at 5 pm and got ready for our game during the second half. Our game then started at 7 pm and sometimes we had a JV game that started at 4 pm even before the girls’ game. I usually got home at around 9 pm.
On away games we got out of school after 6th period and traveled to our opposing school. Again we watched the girls play first and then played our game. On away games I usually got home at around 9:30 till 10:30 pm depending on the school we played. For the state tournament we got out of school at 9 in the morning and drove 3 hours to Valley view, the host school for the state tournament.
Because of the long drive our school had to pay a breakfast and dinner for us and on the way there at around 11 am we stopped at Wendy´s. Once we got there we watched the girls play and after that we played. At around 8 pm we started to drive home and stopped for dinner on the way, once at a Pizza buffet and once at Popeye´s. We got home at around 12 am.
We were able to reach the state tournament after reaching the third place in the district tournament where we beat the local private school for the first time in 15 years. For the state tournament we got out of school a lot. But we lost against another high school in the quarter final and the soccer season was over.
During spring break we did not make any vacation but I met up with a lot of my friends for cookouts and to hang out or play soccer / football. I also started going out on the weekends more and more and met with friends to hang out together. One of my main problems was that I lived in a neighborhood that was quite a bit away from the school, my friends’ houses, the most restaurants and the most places we hang out at.
My host parents often did not have the possibility to give me a ride anywhere but luckily almost always I was able to get a ride with a friend of mine. It was completely natural for them and they even offered to give me rides even if they would not plan to go there themselves or just pick me up and drop me off somewhere else. I often wanted to make my driver’s license there but I always realized very quickly that this was pretty expensive and I did not have the time to do it either.
In school we prepared for the AP exams which I took in AP Physics and AP Calculus AB. I got a 4 on my AP Physics I preparation exam and a 5 on my AP Calculus AB preparation exam which are the second best and best grades possible. My real exam scores matched these results and my final grades for the semester and the school year were all A´s. I learned quite a few things for my German school too, for example I realized the Computer Programming is not one of my favorite things to do so I exchanged it with Physics in my Abitur.
I started packing about 3 weeks before my flight home. At first I had to buy a second suitcase to be able to take everything home with me. I checked my flight information and passport and started to read some German books and skyped with my family a few times. On the last days of school I said most of my goodbyes but in my last week I met some people again.
4 days before my flight I moved to my local Coordinator because my host family had to move as my host father is in the Air Force. She brought me to the Airport and helped me check in. I had to pay a fee due to my second bag but nothing special happened. I boarded my first flight from Little Rock to Houston on Saturday morning and arrived after an hour of flight shortly before noon. In Houston I quickly found the gate for my second flight and waited there for about 4 hours.
On the 9 hour flight to Frankfurt I watched some movies but mainly in English. I arrived at about 8 am on Sunday morning due to the time difference and was welcomed by my family. I still spoke English because it felt easier and often did not remember a specific German word. My mother did not bother this, she just said it would help my little brothers learning English. In the afternoon a few friends of mine came over to barbecue and they often made fun of me when I used English words in a sentence, which happened quite a lot, so I tried to speak only German.
After one week I did not have to think about German words anymore and after about 2 weeks when I started going back to school in Germany I stopped thinking in English. I still continued watching movies in English though to keep it up and I am still afraid that I might lose some of my language skill. In my English lessons in school I observed that the spoken English of my teachers sounds very sharp and unpracticed and I can see big differences between the English of my classmates who made exchange years and the ones who did not. I only had to go to school for 2 more weeks in which I mainly took care of electing subjects for the next year and reintegrating into my grade.
One of the most interesting and different aspects was the way of teaching. I got very used to using my chrome book for all of my schoolwork which made it kind of difficult to get used to writing in pencil again. I also experienced the return of other students that made an exchange year and it was very interesting to share all the different experiences. One of my friends went to Florida for 10 months. He started wrestling for the high school team and learned a lot of useful stuff for his later career in his elective subjects.
Another friend of mine went to Texas for one school year and he also played football and soccer. The other exchange students were a boy and a girl who went to the USA for 10 months, a girl that went to Canada for 10 months, a girl that went to Ireland for 10 months and a girl that went to New Zealand for 1 Semester. After I got back I started playing for my soccer team in Germany almost immediately and was quickly able to get my position back and did not have to fear to loose playing time due to the exchange year. However, I did not start to play in a German football team because there is no team close enough for me to be able to go to practice.
In a few days I am going to visit my cousins, who both made an exchange year, in Berlin and we will probably talk a lot about their and my experience. They are both planning to go back to the United States, the younger one just for a few weeks and the older one for a year as an Au pair.
As I see now making an exchange year was one of the best decisions in my life and I highly recommend it to everyone else because it is an absolutely amazing lifetime experience and extremely helpful for your later life. Like my cousins convinced me of the idea of making an exchange year I convinced my brother to do it too, even though I did not really have to convince him. 🙂