- WELTBÜRGER-Stifter: MAP
- Programm: Schüleraustausch
- Land: USA
- Dauer: 5 Monate
- Name: Britt
I’m in the United States for two months now and when I look back I can’t believe how long I’m here now and how many things have happened. Everything started with big excitement and uncertainty when I entered the plane to go on this adventure, but now I finally found a home in the small town Brookfield. I have orientated myself at school and the environment, found friends, joined clubs and got to know my host family.
When I decided to join the Crosscountry Running Team, I didn’t really know what to expect. But right after the first practice with the team I knew that it was the best decision I could have made. Because the best thing you can do after a day of sitting in school is going for a run and a hard workout with your teammates!
The daily practices pay off and I was able to enjoy getting in shape and see how I can improve myself by working hard. The highlight of every week of running and effort is the meet on the following weekend. On one side it is a great opportunity to see that the effort is worth it when you reach your goals and get faster every time, but the most important thing is the social aspect!
There is nothing more fun than going on a ride in the school bus with the whole team, getting your “motivation letter” from your “running sister” and experiencing the support from the whole team. At least after a lot of warm ups, races and cool downs, the varsity crosscountry girls were able to qualify for the state meet in Wisconsin!
Furthermore, my team likes to spend time together outside the practices so we meet for a weekly team dinner, which always promises a fun time! We also organized a carwash to raise money and made sandwiches and lunch bags to support an organization for homeless people.
Finally, we also had a joint sleepover as a great conclusion of the Crosscountry Season 2018! For me, it was an amazing opportunity to meet people, make friends and experience real American team spirit!
The school is decorated, the theme week is organized, tickets are sold, dresses are bought and the anticipation grows and grows – Homecoming is just around the corner!
Like most of you, I have heard of homecoming before, but it’s a completely different thing to be able to experience this tradition yourself. For me the most impressive part was that the whole school was excited even a week before the actual Homecoming event.
It was a time of fun in which everyone dressed up like crazy for the theme days, a lot of activities are going on during and after school, bonfires are lighted and the homecoming court is voted. After a lot of preparation the Friday night and the desired football game was approached.
Everybody came to the game, cheered for our football players and was part of the famous American “high school spirit”. On Saturday night I finally went to the dance. Every single student dresses up nicely for this evening and usually the homecoming groups meet for taking pictures first and afterwards the students go out for dinner.
Strengthened with food everybody danced in the gym and finally my Homecoming ended with an afterparty at a friend’s house. In summary for me it was an exciting time and I was able to make some really good memories!
Music – the only universal language
Taking Band as a class and having the opportunity to include music in my daily schedule was amazing and I learned as much as in other academic classes! My school’s band has about 150 members and is the biggest ensemble I have ever played in.
Furthermore, I learned more about different types of music, but the most exciting part was the marching! Once a week the band meets for a rehearsal on the football field and to practice the new drill.
So finally, after a few practices, my uniform was fitted and I was ready to perform at the most important football game of the year! Playing at games became a routine and I don’t want to miss these Friday nights I spend together with my friends playing to cheer for the football team.
Besides these performances we also made a short trip to a school for disabled children. Playing for these children and their families was an honor and I was glad that I was a part of this and that I had the opportunity to bring joy into their lifes! Activities like this or the “chili feed” we organized to raise money made this class my favorite!
There’s something bigger than Brookfield…
After living a month in a small suburb I was so used to the unvaried environment with the typical American family houses with flowers in the yard and little kids playing outside that I sometimes forgot that I am in America: “The land of endless possibilities” and “world famous attractions”.
But this has changed after my trip to Chicago. I had never been to such a big city before and I am very glad that my host family was able to provide the opportunity to spend a weekend in this fascinating place!
I liked walking down the streets, through the never-ending rows of skyscrapers and watching the business life of Chicago. Of course, we also used our time to experience as much as possible so that we finally ran from one attraction to another! So I was able to see Millennium Park and “the Bean” and its fascinating how big the parks are, even though they are in the center of such a big city.
I also enjoyed walking along the river and eating typical“deep-dish pizza”, which is a big deal in Chicago. In the evening we watched “Charlie and the Chocolate factory” in a big theatre, which was fun and on the next day we visited Navy Pier. The pier at the border of Lake Michigan was beautiful because the lake is so big that you can’t see the end of it, which gives you a feeling of looking out on the sea!
But my favorite one was the John Hancock 360 Degree Observation Deck! It’s the second tallest building in the city after Willis Tower and when I arrived at the 100th level, I was able to look around the whole city and to see it from a different perspective!
I had been looking forward to this trip for a long time, but like always the time went by so fast and I felt like I blinked and suddenly my things were packed and I stood at the Chicago airport ready to go on my flight to ARIZONA!
We stayed at one of my host mom’s relative’s house in Scottsdale and even on the way there I wasn’t able to stop looking out of the window! It’s insane how different each state of the United States is, but I think Arizona is definitely an extreme.
The people there literally live in the desert, in the yards and on the side of the roads grow cacti and palm trees and the air is dry. This makes it one of my most special experiences.
After one day of just relaxing, swimming in the pool and spending time with the family, we went on a bigger trip on the second day – a visit to the beauty of Sedona! I was able to get a wonderful view at the red rocks, which surround the city, and go on a pretty hike through a nearby national park!
We also went to one of the most famous and rarest lakes to go on a walk on its border. The scenery was amazing and finally I was even able to see some wild horses! All in all the nature was incredible with its fascinating and peaceful appearance, which touches everyone and made me feel free!
We also visited the city of Fontaine and needless to say everybody tried real southwestern tacos! But like everything this trip came to an end and I had to leave sunny Arizona and got back into rainy Brookfield!
My Hostfamily is moving house
I knew about my host family’s plans of moving since maybe the second month of my stay here but that they are actually going to move during the time I am here was definitely not what everyone thought would happen.
However, everything went really fast and I just blinked and suddenly they had bought a new house. The more inconvenient thing was that they were trying to sell their own house.
So finally, after some stressful weeks of keeping the house incredibly clean for taking pictures and for being ready to have showings through the house by interested clients, the house was sold. But I had still more than a month left of my exchange.
Because I didn’t want to move with my host family in a new area where I would have had to go to a new school and lose all my friends, I stayed in Brookfield because one of my friends offered to host me for the last couple weeks. So I moved into their household right after Christmas and I am now excited to experience another American family with children my age and learn more by living in a family with a different lifestyle.
In November, I was able to experience probably the oldest and most important American tradition: Thanksgiving! But what exactly is Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is a holiday during which the Americans celebrate the arrival of the pilgrims in the US who celebrated the first Thanksgiving in order to thank God for all the land and food and life they had discovered.
Nowadays it’s a big harvest feast, which the Americans take as a chance to come together as a family and spend time with their relatives. Furthermore, people are supposed to think about what they are thankful for in life so thank-you cards and texts are send out to friends and family and joy is spread out!
But the most important part is probably the traditional food! My host family hosted 20 people for the feast so everybody brought tons of food and the kitchen was always busy with people who were preparing the famous Thanksgiving-Turkey, soup, mashed potatoes, beans, cranberry sauce and a lot of other delicious things.
And of course like for every big meal the desert must not be missed, so even with already full stomachs everybody tried the homemade pumpkin and apple pies!
In November, my host family took me on a trip to Colorado, which I really enjoyed! We stayed at a little town called Breckenrigde located close to the Rocky Mountains. During the day, my host parents and I went skiing. The nearest ski peaks were about 5min away from our resort, so that we had a lot of time to enjoy the beautiful scenery and the great view on top of the mountains.
Besides the idyllic part, the adventurous part made the trip fun as well, so that my host dad and I were able to master the imperial pass! It’s the highest lift in North America in an elevation of 12.840 feet or 3.914 meters and on the way up you could literally feel how it was getting colder and colder and the vegetation changed.
Finally, on the top of the mountain, it was freezing, foggy and just icy and grey, because there were no plants growing. But the trails back were beautiful and it was fun to ski on the challenging ones back down into the valley, just looking forward for a big hot chocolate and a pot of warming chili!
In the evenings, we went to the town Breckinridge, which was decorated with lights all over the trees and the roofs of the houses for providing a great Christmassy feeling! Contradicting to the cold weather, thick coats, winter boots and gloves we tried a highly recommended and popular rolled ice cream store where they made the ice cream right in front of you.
It was fun to watch and of course the result was delicious to eat!
On the way back to Denver where our flight would leave, we visited some of my host family’s relatives, but after a few days of relaxing we finally flew back home!
After the fall-sport-season was over, I was actually planning to rest a little bit and recover from running in cross-country, but one of my friends persuaded me to join her cross-country skiing club!
I had never really cross-country skied before, but I enjoy downhill skiing, so I decided it would be fun. We went to get all the necessary gear and already on the following day, I was on skies! Or better I was on roller skies – short skies with rolls at the end but the boots are just attached on the ball of the foot – which are used to get a feeling for the movements and to get some practice before it would start snowing.
That’s actually harder than it sounds, especially because there are two different kinds of cross-country skiing: classic and skating. Together with seven other newcomers I learned the differences between the two types, learned how to ski and how my polling timing has to be and I improved myself with every practice.
After a few weeks of making the roads unsafe on roller skies, the entire team went on a camp! We left Friday right after school and went on a four-hour-drive up north to Michigan. We stayed at two really nice big cabins and after a first fun night with teambuilding games, everybody got their stuff ready to wake up early the next day and to be fit for the first time skiing on snow!
After skiing the whole Saturday morning and afternoon everybody spend some time with setting goals for the upcoming season and everybody who wasn’t exhausted enough from skiing tried their best on the climbing wall. On Sunday we skied again and we even participated in a little practice race!
Sooner as we would have liked, we were heading back home and the weekend was over. Just in those three days, everybody got to know each other and single little friend groups came back from the trip as a big team.
From this point on we have been training on snow and that’s even more fun. As a good conclusion for the ski season 2018 we had a Christmas party to which all the retired students from the last seasons came, so a lot of the older team members were reunited again and I was able to listen to funny insider stories and learn more about the cross-country skiing scene.
Furthermore, everybody had a lot of fun skiing the “Christmas relays”, receive and give a “White Elephant Gift” and tried different kinds of delicious pies!
For me personally, Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year, associated with making Christmas cookies, reading a book and things like that, but most importantly – spending time with family and friends.
Therefore, this year was kind of a weird Christmas because my family was in Germany and I was obviously in the United States, living with a host family who has different traditions and different ways to celebrate.
However, I finally got a christmassy feeling and then after some tough last weeks, I made it to the last school day on which everybody was in a good mood walking through the hallways with tons of candy, cupcakes and cookies on their way to the next Christmas party in class!
Besides eating a lot of food, Americans also love giving a “White Elephant” or a “Secret Santa” gift and doing a “Sock Exchange” in which you switch fancy socks with a partner. And then the holidays were there!
On the first weekend, my host family had both of their families over for lots of food and lots of presents and on Christmas Eve, December the 24th, I was invited to my friend’s house where we played cards and other fun games.
After those days we were prepared for the actual Christmas Day, which is December 25th for most American families. The stockings were hung up over the fireplace and my little host sisters had put out cookies and milk at night to make sure that when Santa and his reindeers would come, they would have something to strengthen themselves to be fit for a long night of delivering presents 😉
So the next morning we opened presents and went to church and as fast as Christmas was there, just as fast it was over again, but fortunately I had a couple of days left of my winter break. I spend my free time with going ice-skating, walking through the “German Christmas market” downtown Milwaukee, going to basketball games and celebrating New years with my friends.
Now my time in the US is already over and I can’t believe how fast the time flew by. It feels like just a few days ago when I was full of excitement making my first step into a plane which would bring me to Brookfield: a new city, a new school, a new family, a new home.
I just didn’t know what would expect me in a country I have never been before, with people who speak a different language and have a different culture. But now when I look back I really don’t regret my decision to do the semester abroad! I have learned and seen so many things, which all helped me to grow up and become independent.
Family and Friends
Furthermore, I became more open by having to reach out to people and making the first step in order to build a friendship. And yes it was hard in the first week, but as soon as you see that you have started making relationships with people, you will see that the effort was worth it! Getting to live with two host families gave me the opportunity to have two new homes in America.
Because my first host family wasn’t able to host me anymore, I moved into one of my friends’ house. It probably sounds hard, but this was one of the best things that could have happened to me. I had the opportunity to see a different American lifestyle and built up a relationship with a new amazing family.
They all supported me in the best way, whether by cheering for me at races or just by helping me to enjoy my last weeks as best as possible and taking the most out of it. Together we went to Basketball games and to the movie theatre, explored typical American food no one should miss during a stay in America and played cards.
My new host sister and I worked out together, had some relaxing movie nights and a fun time listening and singing to music on our way to school. I still can’t believe the kindness of this host family, how my host parents worried about me like I was their own daughter, the boys made jokes on my account like I was their sister and finally how my host sister and I became really close in such a short time.
The day before I left I actually got to see my first family again to say goodbye, which I am very thankful for, because my first family accepted me as a part of their family from the moment I arrived in the U.S. And yes, there were hard times, especially with the little kids, but I will never forget moments like when the 5-year-old said to me that she loves me to the moon and back because I am her big sister and that’s what sisters do!
Or moments like my host mom and me relaxing on the couch and gossiping about my host dad’s cooking skills, talking about God and the world and she told me she had never had such a cool roommate like me 😉
I really enjoyed the trips we made to Arizona, Colorado and Chicago, but especially the little moments like these are the ones I will always remember!
Besides my host families I will miss my new friends the most! The times when we went to eat Tacos or drove around to get some snacks were so much fun! Especially during the last weeks we had some sleepovers, made cookies, went sledding and hung out in the mall and it was always nice spending time together!
One of my most favorite things was being part of two different sport teams and experiencing what it feels like to be part of such great friend groups and how to practice hard to get in shape and achieve your goals!
In particular during my last weeks in the US I got to enjoy more aspects of being part in my crosscountry skiing team! As we were further in the season the first races got set up. And because the weather was too warm, the team travelled for about 4-6 hours to be able to actually ski on snow.
Honestly at first I thought that it’s gonna be awful but it was actually the most fun time ever. Almost every Friday the team drove up north right after school. And not even the time we spent in the car together listening to music and telling jokes but also the stops for dinner at food places made the drive way more fun than expected.
And then on Saturdays we had races. The races always varied in length (between 5 and 11 kilometers), how hilly they were and what technique you were allowed to use, that made each race interesting and different.
Therefore, it was a lot of fun warming up with the team, actually race yourself, cheering for the boys, going on a cooldown and watching the awards! At night we came back to our dorms and had a lot of fun playing games, relaxing in our hammocks, going for a walk and preparing our skies for the next day.
On Sundays we usually had a second race after which we were heading back home, excited for a nice nap on the car ride to regenerate some energy from an exciting but also exhausting weekend 😉
And then in the middle of January we finally got tons of snow, so that our coaches were able to set up weekly Wednesday night races, which were just against your own teammates, but still really fun.
All in all, being in this crosscountry skiing team was probably my favorite experience. The people I met in this club were all some of the smartest, nicest and funniest people I have ever met. Each single person on the team whether it were the coaches, the parents, the manager or my teammates gave their best to include me, so that I was able to gain this unique experience, which gave me so much more than just learning a new type of sport.
Going out there on the trails every day, exercising, getting some fresh air, meeting people and skiing in beautiful landscapes between snow-covered trees cleared my mind and made me feel alive, stronger, free and just happy. I can’t be thankful enough for this experience and the amazing people I met whom I can call my friends!
On the other hand, I even really liked watching sports and going to the football or basketball games and cheering for my school. Feeling this team spirit and showing my belonging by wearing the school spirit wear and playing with the school band during the halftimes was simply amazing.
Having sport this professional and serious at school is definitely a thing I will miss in Germany. It’s still unbelievable how important sport is for the whole country and how you can even get scholarships for playing for a specific college.
Talking about college, I really learned a lot about the school system in the USA. I finally made the decision that having the opportunity to choose your classes in school is amazing because the students get supported in the subjects they are good at and you can try more specific classes to find out what interests you have.
For example, I had the class Anatomy and Physiology in which we did several dissections among other things. We dissected a real cat, a brain and eyes of different animals, which made the class fun and interesting.
All in all, the students are all way more motivated, not only in sports, but also in school and they work hard because they know that they need to get access to a good college and try to receive scholarships because the costs for going to University in the US are incredibly high and not just a few families need to take loans to finance their children’s education.
Goodbye America and Welcome back home
Finally, flying back home and saying goodbye to everyone in the US was weird and tough and my feelings were totally mixed up, even though I did not fully realize then that I would leave Brookfield, my high school, my friends and host family. And then after an uneasy way back I suddenly took off the plane…
…und auf einmal war ich wieder auf deutschem Boden. Der Moment, als ich tränenüberströmt mit meinen drei Koffern zum ersten Mal nach so langer Zeit meine Familie wieder gesehen habe, war einfach unglaublich schön. Trotz Gefühlschaos gab es nichts Schöneres als meinen Bruder, Vater und meine Mutter wieder in den Arm zu nehmen!
Schließlich wieder durch die Gegend zu laufen und überall deutsche Straßenschilder zu sehen und sein gewohntes Umfeld und seine Schule wieder zu sehen, war auf jeden Fall komisch, aber nichts ist besser, als sein einzig wahres und altes Zuhause wieder zu haben.
Doch auch Wochen später kommt mir mein Auslandssemester noch vor wie ein Traum, da sich die beiden Länder und ihre Bewohner so sehr unterscheiden. Vor allem wieder in den Schulalltag zurückzukehren, war anfangs schwer, da sowohl Schüler als auch Lehrer in Deutschland verschlossener sind, als ich es aus Amerika gewohnt war und mir das Fehlen des regen Treibens und die aufgeweckte Atmosphäre einer High School, die nie schläft, doch stark aufgefallen sind.
Durch meinen Auslandsaufenthalt habe ich das Gefühl, die Welt mit anderen Augen zu sehen. Man weiß frühere Selbstverständlichkeiten mehr zu schätzen und nimmt sich Zeit, schöne Momente mehr zu genießen.
Auf einmal wird einem bewusst, wie groß die Welt ist, wie viele Möglichkeiten jedem einzelnen von uns offen stehen und, dass für jeden Menschen, egal wie unterschiedlich man ist, irgendwo einen Platz in dieser Gesellschaft ist! Außerdem habe ich gelernt, dass man alles schaffen kann, wenn man es wirklich will und einem Neugier und Offenheit mehr Türen öffnen als alles Andere!
Das Abenteuer meines High School Semesters ist jetzt zwar zu Ende, doch es gibt so viel mehr in dieser Welt und ich kann es kaum erwarten alles zu entdecken und so viel aufzusaugen und mitzunehmen wie ich kann, denn meine Reise hat gerade erst begonnen!