As we quickly approach the one week mark – we’re in the single digits! – I have begun to reminisce about my past German adventures. Back when I was merely a 17-year-old high school German student on an exchange program.
I found my little box of memories from my GAPP (German American Partnership Program) trip. I had several maps of Hamburg, ticket stubs from public transport, a yearbook from the Friedrich-Ebert Gymnasium (which was our school), my welcome bag, notes and letters from my exchange partner, Lydia. I even found our original itinerary.
I remember some things quite clearly – like the very first day I spent in Germany.
I remember the coach bus we “Amies” were on for several long hours as we trudged along from Frankfurt to Hamburg. There was an interesting combination of pure exhaustion (we flew from St. Louis to Charlotte, had a several hour layover, then from Charlotte to Frankfurt. It was an extremely long day of travel) mixed with a slight unease and extreme excitement lingering in the air. We all made final preparations to make ourselves look as presentable as possible for our exchange partners and host families – up until the day we arrived, we only had email correspondence that consisted of a few family photographs, but that was it – and watched the German countryside pass by.
I remember the moment I stepped off that bus and met Lydia in person for the first time. We gave each other a rushed hug, and then she turned to me and said “I love you, but we have to run.”
I remember my first experience in a German grocery store, since we had to stock up on lunch items I would eat (the Helds insisted). I frantically tried my best to remember all the food vocab words I learned in my overwhelmed and under-rested mind. In the end, I think I settled on turkey, some kind of soft cheese, multigrain bread and some… I want to say granola bars? I don’t think I knew the German word for “granola bar”, so who really knows.
I remember the moment I passed through the threshold of Haus Held. Very neat and tidy home, filled with hospitality and kindness. It was renovated by Mr. Held himself – and the entire family was incredibly proud of that fact. “Father did this window, and this bathroom, ” ect. I loved how proud they were of him. I was shown my room – or Lydia’s room, which she vacated so I would have my own space – and unpacked what felt like too few clothes. The entire family was so welcoming – her parents (who were so incredibly adorable. I loved them), her older sister Olga and her fiancé, and her grandmother.
I remember the first meal I had with the Helds – they asked questions about life in America, what I liked to eat, what I did in my free time – complete with wine. We weren’t supposed to drink while we were in Germany, since we were underage in America. BUT, our host families were also told to not alter their way of life so we Americans could get an authentic experience. So, Mr. Held pulled out some wine and said, “I know you aren’t supposed to drink, but we drink on special occasions. So tonight, we will drink.”
I remember walking along a field of… I have no idea what, actually, but some kind of crop – chatting away with Lydia. I realized I made several mistakes in my word choices at dinner, and apparently told them I didn’t eat breakfast til 2 in the afternoon. We had a good laugh about it.
I remember lying in bed that night, peering out my window thinking, “What did I get myself into” while I attempted to mentally prepare myself for my first day of German high school.
There are some aspects of that trip, however, that I simply have no memory of – like going to Mainz or Oberammergau. I literally have no recollection of either of those towns at all. Berlin? Yes. Hamburg? Yes. Freiburg? You bet! Mainz and Oberammergau? Nope.
Apparently, we even flew home out of MUNICH. You know, the place Andrew and I are merely 9 days away from visiting. Who am I even.
I just can’t wrap my head around the fact that I seriously have NO memory of this. I remember exact phrases from the days I spent in Hamburg, but have no recollection of an entire city. My pictures on good ole Facebook even end at our Rhine River Cruise – which I would assume happened sometime around Mainz.
Perhaps it’s because I didn’t want to leave. I LOVED Germany with every fiber of my being. I had an amazing time with my host family, and was literally bawling when I had to say good-bye – even though we had about a week of traveling to other areas of Germany after we left them. I’m upset that I was so emotional about leaving Hamburg that I didn’t allow three other amazing places to imprint in my memory.
I can’t wait to make new (and hopefully super awesome) memories in Bavaria – or just memories in general would be more accurate, I suppose. And this time, they will be properly documented!