Saturday morning everyone in our group was up before eight in the morning which is early for the average teenager. This was for good reason though, we were driving from Berlin to Prague. I was excited because I hadn’t been to the Czechia (or Czech Republic if you prefer) before.
I won’t lie, Eastern Europe sort of has a running reputation among the rest of Europe that doesn’t make it seem like too much of a place for tourists. However it was also extremely unique. The first thing that was seen out the windows of our cramped bus was gorgeous and giant bridges and a castle that stood at the top of a hill.
The language is very different than anything I’m used to. In languages such as Danish, German, or Spanish I’m still able to guess what some words may mean based on how much of each language I do know. With Czech I can’t guess what almost anything means since it’s so different from anything I know. The language is difficult for any native English speaker from what I’ve heard and the people who are native Czech speakers have a very distinct accent when speaking English so if you are exposed enough to it you can very easily tell who may be from that area out of a crowd.
Czechia is well known especially for being inexpensive. You can get a decent meal at a restaurant for at most ten euro. Since Denmark is so expensive, all the exchange students did a lot of shopping there. Ironically enough we did go to one of the most expensive streets in Prague to do it so the prices actually weren’t too much lower than in Denmark in that area, though that didn’t stop many of us from buying new shoes, pants, shirts, dresses, etc.
We did have a chance to visit the castle in Prague and Karls’ Bridge which are definitely must sees in the area. The bridge was filled with small venders selling little knick-knacks and pieces of artwork. Things from paintings to hair clips carved from wood to small pieces of jewelry. There were a few street performers playing classic string instruments like violins and cellos. The castle had the beauty that you couldn’t understand unless you had been there yourself and that no picture can do it justice. It was so big that I don’t even believe I saw the entire property after being there for close to two hours.
All around I liked Prague. I would definitely like to visit it once again in another trip around Europe. Nothing is like it and it’s one of the cities in this world that has a feeling to it like no other and I can understand why people enjoy it they way some do.
This Thursday, my Euro Tour started. Euro Tour is an option provided by Rotary for exchange students in some European countries. What happens is that they take around forty or more exchange students and stick them all on a single bus and drive them to several places in Europe for up to three weeks. What could possibly go wrong?
Our first destination was Berlin. I’ve been to a few places around Germany before such as Hamburg and Cologne, but this was my first time in the country’s capital. The drive was long but gave me time to socialize with all the people I would be spending my time with for the next couple of weeks. I have a few friends on my bus that I had already met before, as well as making new friends which is always beneficial.
We spent a lot of time talking about and looking at the history within Berlin. I had never actually thought about how life changing the Berlin Wall could have been to people until now. Hearing all the stories of people escaping from the East side and how often people struggled brought me back to the feeling I had when visiting the JSA in South Korea. People put up these walls everywhere, they block people out and separate them from their families. Certain people in power still want to do the same thing today and the idea of world peace becomes more and more of just a fantasy every day. Politicians become corrupt and people mindlessly follow them more and more every day not realizing where that path takes them.
After visiting the historical sites, we had the opportunity to wander around the rest of the city. Germany is pretty well known for many large companies including Ritter Sport, which is very iconic in Europe and some parts of the world, so of course we had to take a visit to the store in Berlin. The rest of our time was spent enjoying the atmosphere and a bit of shopping since things in Germany are somewhat cheaper than in Denmark. I did not do much shopping myself since I knew well that our next destination was going to be even cheaper.
This was the only the first stop of many exciting destinations. I certainly cannot wait for the majority of the places we are to go. I’m with a good group of people to keep me company and I’m making sure to take pictures for everyone back home as well.
Writing has become sort of harder for me lately. The more I adjust to daily life here the harder it is to come up with anything new to write about. My mother told me about a blog she was working on about reasons why children should experience travel without their parents. She was hoping I could give my own opinions on it. So here are a few reasons to travel on your own at a young age.
You become more independent but also learn there are always situations when it’s okay to depend on others. I’ve always hated looking for help with just about anything. My time spent on exchange has taught me how independent I can be, but also how much I still sometimes need help and has given me opportunities to change how I think about reaching out, and what I should be doing myself. Most of the time I like to think I know just about everything but I still need a lot of advice or someone to help translate a word or sentence in Danish that I don’t understand.
You learn more about yourself. You’re forced into new and different situations every day you’re away from home and you come out of it learning more about your likes, dislikes, and beliefs. I have changed very much from this alone. My political opinions, priorities, and goals have all changed as a result of my exchange. I no longer value money over experiences and believe that helping a fellow human being can be more rewarding than being selfish and heartless.
There’s no influence from family to determine how you think or act. In my family, this hasn’t been much of an issue. My brother and I are very fortunate that we can safely be the people we would like to be around our family without worrying about how they may feel. However, parents still have a huge influence on their children with beliefs that kids tend to mindlessly follow until they have some other influence that points them elsewhere. Throughout the time I’ve spent away form my family I have been able to determine what things I do agree with and what things I am unable to see eye to eye with them on.
Your priorities in friends change. Whether it’s the group you just want to have around or the one friend who sticks with you through everything, your priorities evolve when it comes to other peoples’ personalities. You learn what you want from them and you begin to see exactly which people are toxic and which are nothing but good to you. I personally am very quiet at times but have an ability to make friends easily and can’t walk down the halls of my current school without saying “what’s up” to a couple of people that I know. I have a large group of friends. I like it that way. I always have someone to do something with if other people have plans at the time which is good because I can also get bored easily.
I think that all in all your family does care about you regardless of how far away you may be. Sometimes that’s part of the reason they can’t handle you leaving because they want to protect you and care for you always. They want you to grow and experience different things so that’s why they let you leave in the first place. Even if it scares the shit out them they know that it’s one of the best things they can do to raise you.
Not long ago I was talking to a few other exchange students from many different places. A popular topic among us is how much we’ve all changed since coming here. A lot of them believe I have changed the most from the beginning of of the year. I’ve thought about it and I suppose I have changed pretty dramatically.
I care a lot more about my appearance now. Before doing anything else in the mornings I need to take a shower, get dressed, make sure I have all the accessories I normally wear (watch, earrings, etc.), and make sure my hair has been done and will stay in the same shape the whole day. After eating breakfast, I check the weather online to see which jacket would be most appropriate for what I have planned for the day. I get frustrated when the clothing I want to wear is dirty or I can’t find it.
I also surprisingly keep my room clean and bed made which was not exactly the same at home. This may be a result of living in someone else’s home. I’ve also realized that chores aren’t such a terrible thing. Something small like doing the dishes actually makes me feel a lot more at home. It surprises me quite a bit because in the United States my mother would yell at me for a solid 15 minutes just to do the dishes.
My peers have told me that I have changed a lot as well. They say I’m more patient, aware, and open to more things. this is reasonable considering my first two or three months I was on edge almost all the time. I think I believe it as well. It could be that I have gone through a period in which I learned to stop caring about the fact that I can’t control everything and have come to realize there are some things I just won’t understand, especially conversations in a language that isn’t English or even Danish (which tends to happen among exchange students if there is more than one form the same region of the world).
I suppose not all of these changes are for the better. I think I am lazier or at least no longer used to working the same way I did before coming here. I don’t do much in school becuase I don’t understand a lot of the the Danish used in class. Although I think most people can admit that subjects like politics and psychology can be pretty difficult to understand in a language other than your first. My laziness shows as well in other ways such as not posting on my blog as much as I used to. It bothers me a bit and I should find ways to fix it.
I still have the coming months here so things are most likely not done changing. I’m happy with the person I’m becoming for the most part. I think my head is in the right place.
My time in Denmark is about halfway over now, and I think it’s a good time to reflect on my experience here. It’s been almost six months since I arrived but it’s felt like so much longer than that to me. I have created a new amazing life here and that’s something no one will ever be able to take away from me.
I definitely think I have changed both mentally and physically. I’ve been gaining a lot more weight than expected but so far that hasn’t stopped me from eating.
In one of my earlier blogs I talked about how my wardrobe has changed to how Danish people dress, which remains to be true even if it means my skinny jeans are a little skinnier because of the few kilos I’ve put on, and frankly I believe I’ll keep dressing this way since it suits me and definitely looks better than what I wore before. Even if that means wearing a leather jacket that I spent way too much money on.
There are things I’ve learned about myself too, such as how difficult it can be for me to start a conversation with someone I don’t know well but when I do, people are delighted to talk to me and end up becoming a new friend.
When it comes to all the friends I have who are Danish I have heard the words “I will visit you in America” about a thousand times. I make sure to let people know that I still live more than 800 miles away from Los Angeles but that doesn’t seem to change their minds. I think it would be awesome for them to visit but my city isn’t exactly a tourist destination and doesn’t have the shopping like New York or the beaches of California. I do make sure to know all the same that if they are willing to make the trip then they have a bed/couch/area of the floor to sleep on at my place.
I thought I would be a lot further along in language by now sadly. I have learned a lot and can speak some Danish although I have been pretty lazy when it comes to learning it. It’s both a blessing and a curse that everyone speaks English because the second you say you’re not Danish the they only speak English to you. I’m happy I’ve been able to learn a decent amount of Danish but at the same time I just wish I knew way more than I do. A new language for anyone takes a lot of patience and dedication for someone to learn. Most of the time it takes years for anyone to even get a hang of a new language. I am learning the best way that is possible to learn which is to put yourself in the country that speaks that language so I’m bound to learn more if I choose to.
It blows my mind that I’ve only been here for almost six months because to me it feels like it’s been so much longer. I have so many memories of things I’ve done and so many stories I could tell and I still have the second half of my exchange to look forward to.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. I haven’t really had the chance to do so because I’ve had a packed schedule. Between school and the holidays it’s been hard to find time. A lot of people have asked about how the holidays are spent here and I am happy to talk about it.
Christmas is known as Jul (pronounced as yule in English) in Denmark and is a very celebrated holiday by most people. Everyone buys advent calendars that have a piece of candy for each day of the month. Also leading up to the holiday people will attend or have julefrokosts, directly translated “Christmas lunches” even though they are actually dinners. You’ll attend maybe one or two a week if you have a lot of friends and they can be held even two months before Christmas. They are all about spending time with friends and family while eating half your body weight in food. It’s like having several Thanksgiving dinners in one month.
I’m not completely sure what days are the holy days for Jul but it’s a couple right before and right after it. It’s celebrated on the night of the 24th rather than the morning of the 25th so for most Americans it’s fairly different. However in the United States I celebrate with my mom’s side of the family on the 24th and then the rest of my family on the 25th so for me it wasn’t too out of the ordinary. For Juleaften (“Christmas evening”) my host family and I all dressed up even though it was just the five of us and ate an enormous amount of food including duck, various types of potatoes, and a lot of other tasty traditional food that I can barely pronounce the name of. After eating we all gathered around the tree that was in the middle of the living room and danced around it and sang Christmas carols. Since I’m not yet a master at Danish I just tried my best to mimic what they were saying. The rest of the night we spent opening gifts from one another and having a good time.
After the craziness of Jul it’s still not completely over. There’s still the amazing night of New Years. Most Danish teens will eat dinner with their families and then continue to some other party with their friends. My host parents took me to a party to have dinner and it was very similar to a Julefrokost. During that time I met a large number of my host parent’s friends and spent the evening answering questions on things such as what it’s like being an exchange student, where I lived in the United States, and my opinion on our new president. I was happy to answer all their questions and meet them.
Afterward I followed my host sister to a small party that she had invited me to. It wasn’t large at all, just a couple of her friends who enjoyed my company. Until midnight we spent our time playing card games and chilling out the way teenagers do. In the United States we don’t celebrate New Years with many fireworks and people were surprised to hear that. When midnight hit we all went outside to look down at the city and watch everyone fire off their fireworks. We were able to see the whole downtown area from where we were and watched as the fireworks lit up the sky in every direction. It was not like the United States where we shoot a few fireworks and are done. They were being fired from everywhere and it went on and on for an hour or two. It was truly a spectacular sight.
The holidays are most definitely far more celebrated here by everyone. I am very happy I was able to take part in all of it. I am hoping to bring one or two of these traditions back to the United States with me as well.
A little over a week ago I moved in with a new host family. In this exchange program we each get to experience life with two to three families over the course of the year. My family is very kind and friendly and I have been able to spend a pretty decent amount of time with them already and have been getting to know them. To start one conversation my host father asked my why I went on exchange. I didn’t have a simple answer at the time so I couldn’t exactly give him one on the spot. He told me to get back to him on that. It’s been a couple days and I finally have my answer.
This exchange program has been part of my life since I was nine and my parents hosted our first exchange student. Today they are on their sixth exchange student through the very same program. I’ve seen the effect exchange makes on peoples’ lives whether or not they are the student. You make lifelong friends- people you can consider your family- and have the opportunity to call a town halfway across the world your second home.
I talk a lot about this, but I have traveled a lot throughout my life. My family has always loved doing so and it has become a large part of my brother’s and my lives. My family has always taught me to value experiences rather than objects.
Another value I have is camaraderie. I believe that the more enemies you have, the less room there is for positivity in your life. You can’t live like that. For someone who values experiences and friendship above everything else, foreign exchange is the best possible opportunity for someone my age.
So yes, I do know why I’m here:
I’m here to learn more about myself and whether I have correct values or if I need to change them. I’m putting my mental and emotional strength to the test to find out whether or not I am prepared to be an independent adult and if not then learn how I can. I’m here to experience something new and learn to live in a different culture that I am unfamiliar with. To make friendships that will last a lifetime. To have memories when I’m old and think to myself that this was one of the best decisions of my life.