There are many various adjectives which I could use to describe the past year, but I’m at a loss. There is simply no way that I could begin to accurately describe the year that has been, and all that has taken place and then changed in a thousand different ways. I am speechless.
All I know for certain is that 2014 was hands down the best year of my life.
And that is how this year will forever remain etched into my memory. Although I don’t have a clue about what exactly is to come, at this point in time I can’t imagine having experienced anything better. I will always look back and view my year abroad as a massive highlight.
I have experienced so much in such a short 12 months, time really has flown at a super sonic speed. On the other hand it feels like I have been living this life for a lot longer, and while I have been in Germany it is hard to remember life ever being any different. Now, in less than 10 days I will be boarding a plane back home. The word in itself is now very confusing because I feel my heart being pulled in two complete opposite directions whenever it is said. To think that I’ll even be returning to my old life is incredibly surreal and honestly it doesn’t feel like that day will ever come. But unfortunately, every exchange student knows that eventually it does come around.
In January I watched my last Australian sunrise and finally embarked on the trip of a lifetime and flew solo to the other side of the world. Upon arriving in Flensburg I met my new German family and celebrated my host father’s birthday, was enrolled into a new school and began forming friendships with other students from all over the world. I was in awe of my new home and spent many days exploring the city and taking endless photos. I travelled to school in the dark and witnessed my first snowfall.
I definitely didn’t stop meeting new people and trying new things in February. I attended my first Handball match, visited a frozen beach and caught my first glimpse of Denmark. With my class I travelled to Kiel to tour a university and also started attending a German language course three evenings a week after school. Throughout my whole first month, everything was very exciting and entirely new.
By March I think you could say that I was becoming used to the swing of things. I started meeting many of my classmates quite regularly. They showed me much of the city and in turn, I introduced them all to the deliciousness of Pavlova! We started spending a lot more time outside, including a few trips to the beach, as the weather was warming up and the sun decided to make an appearance. At this point my German was starting to steadily improve. One highlight of March was my first Rotary District Inbound Orientation meeting, which was held on the island of Föhr. I finally met every other exchange student in my host Rotary District 1890 and had a blast.
I was given the details of my second host family in late March and celebrated my second host father and host sister’s birthdays with them in my future home. April was a blur of meetings with the 11 other exchange students living in Flensburg quite frequently, which was when I really started to feel like a part of one big international family. I drove to Denmark and Sonderborg for the first time, and ate my very first Danish hotdog. Everyone warmly welcomed two weeks of school holidays, during which I celebrated Easter with my first host family, and then moved into my second host family just a week later.
Since moving in with my second host family I was now speaking zero English at home, therefore my German improved very quickly and suddenly. Temperatures finally hit above 20 degrees, which meant enjoying breakfast on the terrace outside and that meant it was finally time to grab our swimsuits and head to the beach. Perhaps we were a still a little too eager, but at least not one moment was wasted.
May was the month we had all be waiting for. Why? One word: Eurotour!
Those three weeks will always be some of the most memorable of my exchange. The bonds created while road-tripping around Europe on a double decker bus are life long, not to mention all the amazing sights and scenes we were lucky enough to experience. It was a was a time to truly live, enjoy ourselves and be free, without having a single care in the world. An experience and memories to cherish for a lifetime.
At the conclusion of Eurotour, it was time to return to Flensburg and slide back into the German school routine. In June, Summer had only just began, nevertheless we dashed to the beach at every given opportunity. This time it was finally warm enough to swim comfortably. I received visitors from Sweden, went canoeing in Kapplen, travelled with my host family to the Danish island of Rømø and celebrated a Holi festival of colour. Germany was in full blown Soccer World Cup fever and watching almost every game soon became a priority.
The Rotary District 1890 conference was held, which was also the last time that our family of exchange students would be all together before the oldies started flying home.
I went on an excursion to Hafen City in Hamburg with my class and my Aunt Elaine came to visit me in Flensburg all the way from Australia. June was also when we would have to start saying teary goodbyes to our beloved oldies coming to the end of their exchange year.
I celebrated my 17th birthday on the island of Sylt with my second host family in July. I was very lucky to be celebrating in such a beautiful location for the weekend, along with my generous German host family who I consider to be as close as my own.
Time continued to fly by as I headed off to Berlin directly after returning from Sylt. The trip was organised by my school and I had an amazing time wandering around the German capital, and celebrating Germany’s Soccer World Cup Semi Final win with my classmates.
My European summer was absolutely beautiful, although somewhat bittersweet as it meant travelling to Hamburg everyday for a week to see my wonderful oldies off at the airport. Germany won the World Cup on my host mother’s birthday, and everyone was absolutely ecstatic. I met my host sister as she returned from her Rotary Youth Exchange in Ecuador before jetting off to Sweden and Finland to visit my Dad’s host families and old friends from his Rotary Youth Exchange in Finland in 1989. What a blissful few weeks I was lucky enough to experience up north, where the weather was perfect and the days were long. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect destination.
Just when the summer really couldn’t get any better, my family and I went on a two week road trip down to Lake Garda in the north of Italy, with a stay in Munich on route. We also went on various day trips to Milan, and Verona. I tried paddle boarding for the first time, and I think my favourite day was when we rented a boat and spent the entire day out on the water. On our way back to Flensburg we visited friends in Dresden and canoed down the Elbe River.
I returned to school in August, this time entering the 12th grade as the new academic year began. After being away from school for such a long time, it was nice to see the familiar faces of my classmates again.
In August, all of the Rotary Youth Exchange newbies began to arrive in my Rotary District, with 6 new students coming to live with the other oldies and I in Flensburg. This time around we were a very diverse group of different nationalities, not only from the nations of South America, where most of my oldies where from, but also Japan, Turkey, United States and Belgium. Before I knew it, I had become an oldie, and was supposed to know exactly what I was doing with myself. The second half of the year was completely different from the first, I grew and became much more confident in myself. I’m so thankful now to have two separate [oldies and newbies] and amazing Flensburg Rotary Youth Exchange families.
In September, our second Rotary District Inbound Orientation was held and it was the first time we had all come together as the new group of District 1890 Inbounds. It was a fresh start and now the oldies were the ones providing the advice and tips to the newbies. I moved to my third host family were I would be living for the next 7 weeks, went sailing in Kappeln, and with the help of my new host mum, completed a two week work experience placement at one of the local hospitals. Before moving to my next host family, my family and I experienced Wattwandern, a North Sea low tide walk.
In October, I moved in with my fourth and final host family and travelled down to Munich for the second time as part of a group of 20 lucky exchange students whom the Rotary District took along to experience the world famous Oktoberfest. The atmosphere was insane, and I had an opportunity to wear my Dirndl I bought while visiting Munich in August. During the Autumn holidays I caught the train to Copenhagen and visited Lucy, a Rotary Youth Exchange student from my District in Australia, for a few days. Exploring the city together after not seeing each in 10 months was wonderful, and I believe I can safely say that during this year, Scandinavia has stolen a piece of my heart.
November was when time really started to speed up, and as always I was kept very busy. The month kicked off with a day in Hamburg spent with every student in the Rotary District. The Flensburgers established the tradition of meeting for dinner or a movie on Friday nights, and became a lot closer as an exchange student family. Everyone slept over for a night in Kappeln and I celebrated Lena’s 18th birthday with her. In the last week of November, Eugenia from Argentina and I travelled together to the city of Cologne and across to Belgium, where we met with Marleena, my father’s Finnish friend and her family, and Lara, another Rotary Youth Exchange student from my District in Australia.
December marked the beginning of Advent, the Christmas period when Germans start celebrating Christmas throughout the next four weeks. The Christmas markets opened up all over Germany, and just to make sure that everyone knew the festive season was upon us, decorations were put up in every possible corner. I attended my last Rotary District Inbound Orientation meeting in the beautiful old city of Lübeck and visited it’s famous Christmas market. My host family and I drove down to Hamburg to go to a Christmas concert in the St Michaels church and my Rotary Club held their annual Christmas dinner in the Glückburger Castle. I learnt to appreciate small German Christmas traditions like the baking of cookies and gingerbread houses and opening the tiny door of an Advent calendar everyday.
I can’t thank Rotary enough for giving me this opportunity through which I have learnt, changed, lived, travelled and experienced so much. 2014 was a year of self discovery, being stretched to my limits and becoming a permanent part of a huge global community.
When celebrating the New Year this time last year, I was mostly filled with excitement and anticipation of what was awaiting me in Europe. This year, it’s a very different feeling. In the coming year, I will once again be beginning a brand new chapter in which will also be bringing along many new changes. Here’s to a wonderful 2015, be sure to stay tuned!