Friday, July 6, 2012

All Good Things Must Come to an End

I cannot believe that today is my last full day here in Berlin! These past 6 weeks have gone by so fast. I feel like I did so much, yet at the same time I did nothing. Either way though this has been the best experience of my life and I am so glad that I chose to study in Berlin.
These past 2 days have been very bittersweet for me. Yesterday classes ended, today my host family left, tonight I have to say goodbye to all of the amazing people I’ve met through Fubis, and tomorrow morning I fly home.
Yesterday, I was so excited to be done with class, which I mean everyone always is, but when it actually happened I was quite sad. Usually when you end class your completely okay because you know you’ll be back again next year and you’ll easily be able to see the people you met in your class whenever you want. However, it’s a completely different feeling when your done with a class where you know you’ll never be back again nor will you see these people really again and it was just kind of hard. However, I think my class ended in the perfect way. The agenda for our day yesterday was to take our final, play apples to apples in German (of course), and then to present our final presentation. So, we arrived to class and took our final, which was actually a lot easier than I thought it was going to be. Then after a little break we were suppose to present our presentations, but all of us weren’t really ready to present so we begged our teacher to push it back and let us play Apples to Apples instead and then after our next break we’d present and end class that way. Of course she agreed with us, so we all had fun laughing and playing Apples to Apples and then we had an hour break and we all just worked on our presentations. When break was over we came back and our group asked if we could go last (even though there was only one other group), but we just thought it would be more fitting for what we were about to present. So once again everyone agreed and we were quite happy. Now, our final presentations had no boundaries besides that it had to be at least 10 minutes long and that she wanted us to do something creative. Not to be mean, but the first groups project was a little boring and pretty generic. They went with our teacher’s idea of being a travel agency and just discussing a part of Berlin to the class. It was interesting, but there was nothing too special about it. Once they were done it was finally our turn. We could not wait we were so excited!!

So we started off by stating that our teacher said she wanted creative and that is exactly what we were giving her. Not only did we want to do a final presentation, but we also wanted to create something that would not only be memorable for us, but for all the people we have met through the Fubis program. So we decided to make a video. It first started with a video from our first day of class where a boy taught me the East Coast Swing Dance and flipped me in a weird way. Haha. Then, we created a game where we showed clips of us describing everyone in our class, including ourselves, and then made them guess who we were. From here, we went into clips of us interviewing people from different classes about what their favorite memory  was from the last 6 weeks here, what their favorite place here was, if they found love and where, if they were sad it was over, etc. After this it went into a slideshow of pictures that we took ourselves or off of other peoples facebooks that portrayed what the past 6 weeks have been like here. And then finally, it ended with two random video clips. One was of my group member singing Karaoke and the last one was of my friends and I driving to Munich singing and dancing to Backstreet Boys. My teacher and everyone else loved it. Not only did it showcase everything about our experience, but it was such a good representation of my group partners and I. My teacher even wanted us to present it at the farewell ceremony, but we would have to edit some things out of it to make it more appropriate so we declined on this invitation and instead we are just going to post it in our Fubis Social Group we created on Facebook.

                                                (My group partners and I)
Then after class, I went home because I knew it was the last night I was going to be able to spend time with my host family because they were leaving for Italy today. So last night Luise and her friends and I went out one last time together and we just reminisced about everything, how fast time goes, and how much we are going to miss each other. Then this morning, it was my host dad’s birthday so we all woke up early to celebrate and have breakfast together. This was a very nice way for us to end things. Shortly after breakfast though we had to say our goodbyes which consisted of a lot of hugging, kissing, and nice remarks. We were all really sad, but we all know that we will see each other again because we are basically family now.Shortly after they left too, my host mom texted me telling me how much she will miss me, hopes I have a safe trip back, and that I am always welcome here. Then my host sister texted me too just telling me how she loved getting to know me, how she is going to miss me so much, and how she cant wait until we meet again. It honestly was so nice. I am so thankful for the family that I was placed with. They are such amazing people.
Now I am just sitting around doing last minute packing and waiting until I go out tonight with the friends I made here within the past 6 weeks. Once again its going to be another bittersweet moment when I have to say goodbye to them.
However, im not going to lie I am really excited to go home and be with my family, friends, animals, and boyfriend! Ohh and to finally have some sun back in my life again. hahah

Monday, July 2, 2012

One of my favorite placings in Berlin....

I think one of the most interesting places to go to in Berlin is the Berlin Wall. For those of you who do not know, the Berlin Wall was a barrier created by East Germany to cut off West Berlin so that their different beliefs (East=Communist and West=Democratic) were not forced on them. This wall stood for 28 years and kept East Germans from fleeing to the West. However, in 1989 when the Communist party finally fell, the checkpoints were opened so that anyone could go from East to West Berlin. This was known as the fall of the wall and most of the wall was destroyed. Not even a year later East and West Germany reunified into a single German State. This was and still is a very significant, historical moment in Berlin, Germany, and the World.
Even though most of the wall was destroyed, there are still three main areas that stand. My favorite part is known as the East Side Gallery and it is located at Warshauer Stra├če.
This part of the Berlin Wall is a memorial for freedom and host approximately 106 paintings from artist all across the world. I honestly could walk along this section for hours and not become bored of the wall. The paintings are so interesting, intricate, meaningful, etc. Honestly anyone who witnesses them is amazed. Not only are you staring at a wall that once symbolized pain and separation, but you are also looking at a wall that now promises a better future for Germany and the World.

  (The three pictures above show my favorite piece. Awesome coloring and so much detail.)
 (In English: He who wants the world to remain as it is doesn't want it to remain at all)

These are just a few of my pictures from the East Side Gallery.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Neuschwanstein Castle: The most beautiful place in Germany

I think this past weekend I went to the most beautiful and amazing place I have ever seen: The Neuschwanstein Castle in Southwest Bavaria, Germany. This castle was constructed by King Ludwig the second in the late 1800’s however only 1/3 of it was completed due to the king’s death. The death of the king is also very interesting because it is an unsolved mystery. It is believed that his family murdered him, but every time someone attempts to look into his death his family puts a stop to it and mysteriously the few pieces of evidence they had from the night he died randomly disappeared or were destroyed in random fires. Very suspicious right? Anyways, along with the interesting history behind this castle it is honestly an amazing sight. It lies up on a forested hill that overlooks the Hohenschwangau Castle, multiple lakes, the Alps, and various villages. It also has a river that runs by it with multiple waterfalls. Also, another interesting fact about this castle is that it was the inspiration behind Walt Disney's castles. Honestly just thinking about it makes me smile because I loved our trip there so much and I am so happy that I can share it with everyone. 
I was in Munich this past weekend and a group of 5 of us decided that we really wanted to see this castle. The only bad thing was that it was a 2 hour train ride away, but we all figured that it was worth it. So Saturday morning we all woke up super early and headed to the train station. We wanted to figure out what was going to be the cheapest and fastest way to get there. We looked up prices for renting a car, prices for a train ticket, and the price of a tour. In the end the cheapest and fastest choice was to go with a tour group there. We were a little skeptical about this because tours are usually quite boring and we would rather do things on our own but we decided to risk it.
                                   (Train ride to the Neuschwanstein Castle)
So we got on a train for the 2 hour ride and headed to the castle. Once we arrived in the village we stopped at this little restaurant to get food and to use the restroom and then we were taken on a little tour of the village. First stop was at the Hohenschwangau Castle, which was King Ludwig’s family’s summer home. From there we went over to one of the various lakes to take pictures as well as to take in the beautiful sight. After this though it was time for us to take the hike up the hill to the castle. I don’t know how long or high up we went, but it definitely was a work out to get up there. However, if you have bad knees or something and cannot make the hike up there, there are horse-drawn carriages and buses that go up there. Once we made it to the top we went to various look out points to take in the beauty of the area and then we headed to the castle.
                                          (Us infront of the Hohenschwangau Castle)
(One of the lakes)

                                               (Views of the villages from a look out point)

                          (Different images of the Castle up close and personal)
Included in our tour was a ticket to go inside of the castle and the have a half hour tour. Unfortunately, you were not allowed to take pictures, however my friends and I could not help but be sneaky and snap a few shots even though they are of poor quality. The inside was beautiful! There was gold everywhere, very intricate woodwork, windows everywhere, murals and paintings everywhere, a chapel inside, etc. When inside we got to see the thrown room, the servants quarters, the king’s bedroom, his bathroom, his personal chapel, various hallways, a room that looked like plays were held there, and the kitchen. To me this didn’t seem like a lot of rooms to visit, but then I had to remember that the castle was not finished yet so therefore one could not really see what the rest of the castle was going to look like.

After we toured the inside our tour guide took us on another hike through the foothills around the castle. There were once again various look out points, but the coolest place we went to was a bridge that gave you the most beautiful sight of the castle. It was beyond breathtaking. Then, once we were done taking in this sight and taking pictures we started on our hike down. However instead of taking the paved path, she took us on a trail that went past the waterfalls and was all along the river. This was amazing as well. The water was so clear and the waterfalls were so pretty. At one point my friends and I stopped to play in the water. This was just the perfect ending to the perfect trip.

                                                  (Views from another look out point)

                                       (View from the bridge of the Neuschwanstein Castle)

                                   (Photos of the hike down along the river) 
When we finally made it back down to the village we loaded up on food and headed back to the train station. Once on the train my friends and I discussed that this was the best tour that we had gone on and we were so happy that we chose to go on it. If we had gone by ourselves we would have never seen or done everything that we had done in that day. It was cheap too. For the roundtrip train ride, the tour, and the ticket to go into the castle, and a tip for our tour guide we each spent about 50 euros. We also all agreed that this was the most fun and best thing that we have done in the past 4 weeks that we had been in Germany.
Therefore, for anyone who plans to go to Germany in the future I urge you to make the trip out to Southern Germany and visit the Neuschwanstein Castle. You definitely will not be disappointed at all.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Host Family Loving

I think one of the best decisions I made with studying abroad was choosing to live with a host family. I don’t know how many times before I left I was told by friends that I was crazy for wanting to live with a family I did not know and I how I would have no freedom. I mean I myself was a little skeptical too because it is a complete gamble on what type of people you will end up with and what your experience will be like. However, I figured that I would feel more comfortable living with a family and I would learn/understand the culture more.
The process of applying for a host family was quite simple. I had to fill out a questionnaire, send in a photo, and then write a letter to my future family telling them about myself. From my answers, the program researches through the families they have and find the one that they think best fits with you. After waiting a good month or so I finally received an email with my host families name and then shortly after that an email from my host mom. In the email I was told that they had two daughters, Luise who is 20 and Philline who is 11. My host mom Nana, was an Art therapist and that Niko, my host dad, was an engineer. Lastly, that they lived in the suburbs of Berlin near a few different lakes and that they have a dog named Emmi. After reading this I became quite excited. They sounded like a really nice family and I could not wait to meet them.

When the day finally came that I was going to meet them I was extremely nervous. I was nervous about if they would like me, if I would fit in, if they were going to speak any English to me, what my house looked like, what the rules were going to be, etc. However, as soon as I met them all my fears and questions were erased and I instantly felt at home. It was the weirdest feeling to instantly just have all your nerves go away like that, but they were beyond welcoming and nice to me.
I live in a part of Berlin called Mexikoplatz, which is one of the high end suburbs. The house I am living in is 4 stories and I live in the basement in like my own little apartment. Then, I have a decent sized backyard with a tree house, trampoline, patio, etc. Its honestly so nice here and far from what I expected but in a good way.

My host sister, Luise, and I have have become best friends. I swear her and I have the same personality and we are almost inseparable. She told me that her and her family were just as nervous about meeting me as I was about meeting them, but that they all honestly love me. For some reason Luise and I always find ourselves talking about how we are so happy that we were we were paired together. Its also really nice because she always takes me out with her friends and they have been just as welcoming as my family has been. All her friends always talk to me on facebook and all invite me places. Everyone just wants to ensure that I am having a good time.

Then how I was nervous about having rules, I really do not have any. I do not know how many times that I have come in from the night at like 5 in the morning and my host parents always just laugh and tell me that they are happy that I am having a good time. They are also always pushing me to go out and explore. They understand that I am only here for a short amount of time and that they want me to see and do as much as possible. Its nice that they do this because I know so many people here that live in the dorms or apartments that just stay in rather than explore because they have no reason or push to leave. They just want to be lazy and sleep.
Lastly, I love how my family wants to include me in everything. They take me to family parties, they are always explaining the history of Berlin and Germany, they help me with my German, they cook for me, and most importantly they are always there for me and make sure that I am as comfortable and happy as I can be.
There is honestly so much that I could write and say about my host family experience, but the main thing I want the readers to get out of this is that it is an amazing experience. It pushes you out of your comfort zone, but it is such a rewarding experience. Everyone that I know here that is in a home stay here absolutely loves it and I know various people here as well that are jealous that they did not choose a homestay.

Sleep? Whats sleep?

If there is one thing that I have learned on this trip is that when you have the opportunity to sleep you take it. While you are abroad you are busy with school, homework, traveling, and enjoying the short amount of time that you have. Therefore, you usually, or at least I do, put all of these things before sleep. However I have come to find that the best time to catch up on your sleep is while traveling from place to place. Thus far I have fallen asleep on the platform waiting for the S-Bahn, on the S-bahn, in the car, on a bus, and on a train while traveling or waiting to travel from one place to another. My friends and I have found it funny though to take pictures of all of the times that we have fallen asleep in public places…

Yet, if you are going to fall asleep like this you must make sure that you have someone with you that is awake because people will steal your items. For example, one of my friends here was on his way home for the night and fell asleep on the s-bahn. When he woke up, his backpack, camera, and I-Phone were gone. The thing is too, is that you cannot even report this to the police because they will not do anything about it.