Hello! I am Jason, a Canadian teenager spending eleven months in Hamburg, Germany, attending a local Gymnasium, living a German life. If you are reading this, then you are probably considering going to Germany on a cultural exchange, as well. It’s not a small decision, or something to be taken lightly, but after spending what is now nearly three months in Germany, I can’t recommend it enough.
It is a difficult decision to make, I can understand that. When I heard that I was accepted by my Canadian agency to go to Germany, I almost backed out. Back in Canada, I had a lot of commitments. I was part of a committee welcoming exchange students to my school in Canada, showing them what there is to see in our small corner of Canada. I was on my school’s podcast team, acting as a journalist in my school. I was very invested in my studies. I had a group of close friends that I knew I would not see for a year. I was getting more and more involved in my town, in my school. But I decided to continue in my decision to go to Germany, and am I glad I did! I am now here in Germany, with a nice (and big!!) host family, in a beautiful city. I come from a small family in the middle of nowhere in Canada (which is not a bad thing), and I am getting the chance to live a life that is so different and yet so similar to my life in Canada. I love it.
To go on an exchange is an amazing opportunity. It has changed my perspective on so much. For example, I never truly appreciated Canada when I lived there. I had always liked it, and never considered permanently living anywhere else, but in comparison to other countries, Canada seemed boring to me. I didn’t think that Canada had anything that made it different – I thought that all the other countries had something special to them. But being away from it for a while has caused me to see my home country in a different light. This is not homesickness talking here (I’ll talk about that later on); it is a development of a genuine appreciation for where I am from, something I never had before. On top of helping me to love Canada more, it has also helped me to realize that there is more to the world than Canada and the U.S.A. That there are other languages and other cultures out there. Other lives, practically whole other worlds out there. It has expanded my world, or at least shown me the world that I always knew was there but despite wanting to travel, had never entirely considered as a whole. I am so grateful that I have had the opportunity to come to Germany.
As my appreciation for Canada has grown, I have been coming to gain a love for Germany, and its beauty, as well as the history that can be seen even in the everyday. I have also gotten to see into a culture that I had never really considered before. Germany had not stood out to me on a map for the majority of my life – but trust me, it should. There is so much more to Germany than its dark past, which is all that the rest of the world tends to hear about it. It is a country of hope, of remembering the past but also looking forward to the future. Also, there is a stereotype of Germans being cold and unhelpful – in my experience up to now, that is completely false. If you need help, or whatever, they are generally more than willing to help. I can’t tell you of all of the times where I have been needing directions or clarification on something, and how I have always been able to go up to a completely random stranger (okay, maybe that doesn’t sound like a good idea, but I am sure you understand what I mean) and they gladly help me out – with the right information.
My host family has been amazing to me. I am a traveller – I have always liked to move from one place to the next, to see as much of the world as I can. My host family knows this about me, and in my three months that I have been here, I have already been able to go to Berlin, Denmark, and Amsterdam, and I have been given so many opportunities within my new home of Hamburg that I never would have thought of doing before.
With e2 (my exchange agency here in Germany), in a few weeks I will be going with a bunch of other exchange students to see Munich. I have been given so many opportunities that I would never have gotten had I decided to stay home in Canada.
You will also have e2, the exchange agency here in Germany, to help you along. When I came to Germany, I didn’t know that much German (maybe not the best idea, but it is feasible – my German is getting better and better). I attended a language course which is designed to give you a run through of some of the basics of German. I was at a different host home, it was planned that I would go to my permanent family afterwards, and I did not click with the lady I was staying with. Things were not good – but it was no fault of the exchange agency. It couldn’t have been foreseen. I let my coordinator know how the situation was, and they did everything they could do get me out as fast as they could. I went to my permanent host family, and it was great! The point of this story is that you will not be alone in Germany – you will always have a large support system at your side who wants the absolute best for you. They’re only an email or phone call away.
Things haven’t been smooth sailing all along – I have had a few moments of homesickness, and I have also had moments that haven’t built up to be precisely what I have expected or hoped for (which is the picture perfect exchange year with a billion and six friends, going out with friends every second day), but your exchange is what you make it to be. A few weeks ago I noticed that things weren’t precisely as I wanted them, and I’ve been working on it since – and already, things are getting better. But even with rough spots, everything works together to create this amazing experience that I wouldn’t want to leave for anything.
I can proudly say that I now have two homes and two families; one in Canada, one in Germany. I may not be technically related to one of them, and I might not call the people in it “Mom” or “Dad” or “brother” or “sister”, but they feel like a second family to me nonetheless. I have found home in a city that is an ocean away from my small Canadian town. And it is great!
I hope that this letter comes of use to you in making your decision – and I hope that you have decided to come! It’s an amazing experience that I don’t want you to miss out on if you have any interest whatsoever in it.
Feel free to contact me if you want – I would love to talk to you, if you feel the need to. I have a blog, fromehtog.weebly.com about my time so far in Germany that you can either leave a comment on, or contact me through my contact page there. I'll be honest - I am not the best at answering at the comments section, but I do make an effort to respond quickly to whatever is sent into the Contact Me page, so if you want to talk to me, that is probably your best bet.
Hopefully you decide to come to Germany. If you do, I’ll say this on behalf of Germany: Bis später! (Until later/see you soon!)