Anna HörterAnna Hörter, ’12

A few years ago, by the side of the Rhine River in Cologne, Germany, my best friend and I were talking about the possibility of going abroad as juniors. In our excitement, we imagined ourselves surfing in New Zealand or shopping on 5th Avenue, at a high school football game dressed in school colors or at prom with some gorgeous date. Life would be a blast. Even so, we both agreed that we probably wouldn’t go. How were we going to change families, continents and more importantly our lives? Needless to say, we weren’t quite right.

When I boarded that plane back in August, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had come to gain experiences, learn how to speak English fluently and lastly to accomplish something on my own. I wanted to know what it meant to live in America.

As for the experience, I gained a lot, though it took me some time to get used to how things are done here. I had never written an essay before, nor did I know which coin was a quarter and which one a nickel. Obviously, I had a lot to learn and up to this day I stumble upon things that I don’t know or don’t understand. Once my friends and I were on the way to Jeni’s Ice Cream and I asked, to their amusement, “Guys, what, exactly, is a ‘douchebag’?”

Since August, I’ve become so used to living here that I barely noticed the past seven months flying by. Looking back, the hardest part so far were the first few weeks: leaving my home and family, adjusting to the culture shock. While America and Germany have similarities, they have many differences, as well—not only the language, but also the mentality, the family life and the educational system, to name a few.

For German students, it is not uncommon to go abroad in one’s junior year, just as it is not uncommon for American students to go abroad in college. But whatever nationality you are or when you go, a year abroad is always memorable. For me personally, my most memorable experience was a trip to San Francisco, organized by the exchange program. Sixty-seven exchange students from all over the world came together for a longer weekend in California. Coming from Ohio, the fairly warm weather was a relief, as was sharing the experiences each of us had gained.

When I was starting this column, I thought it wouldn’t be hard to just talk about the experiences I gained, but it was. After a couple tries and a little frustration, it finally came down to this: Over these past months I have experienced the American lifestyle, found new friends and improved my self-confidence. To think that I’ll return to Germany in June is bittersweet. I’m both excited to go home again but also reluctant to leave my new life here. This experience that began so long ago at the side of the Rhine River has been incredible.