One year ago, I flew over the big pond to become an exchange student in the United States. Excited and nervous at the same time, I arrived at the little airport inBrainerd, Minnesota, or also known as “the middle of nowhere“. As I saw my host parents for the first time, all the nervousness from before was gone in a second and we all felt like we’ve known each other for years. My host family was living in the countryside and our neighbors were one kilometre away. So the only living creature you could see around there were deer and bears in ourback yard. I had a host brother and a host sister who already moved out of the house but were still visiting us on weekends. Like almost every American family we had a lot of pets at home almost like a little zoo. With three cats and two dogs there was always something going on and I couldn’t even think about getting bored.
The first days of school were quite hard. I wandered around in the hallways to find my classes, didn’t know anybody and the biggest problem was to open my locker. It took me two weeks to figure out how it works but I always asked other students to open it. So basically everyone knew my locker combination by then. AlthoughI had anidea how high school worksfrom all those American movies,I still was surprised how different school is compared to schools in Germany. I guess one of the biggest differences really are the teachers and the classes. First of all school is a lot easier and not as formal as in Switzerland. Theteachers are likefriends and half of the lesson we just talked with the teacher about what’s going on this weekend or who is dating whom. Once my math teacher asked the whole class if he’d rather buy his wife a shirt in size L or in XL. It turned out XL was probably the better choice.
But also the classes themselves are different because you get to choose which ones you like to attend. So if you’re not a math freak you can just choose another subject instead. Besides maths, English, geography and American history, I had some fancy classes such as greenhouse, where we wereplanting vegetables and flowers in the school’s greenhouse. Also band was one of my subjects where I played the flute. We were about 40 people and playedat every football or basketball home game to support our team and entertain the crowd.
Of course the United States are known for their fast food and tons of different candy. As an exchange student you’re kind of forced to try all that stuff. Especially one soft drink called Mountain Dew, which my host dad drank every morning to wake up, became one of my favorite American things. Anyhow the American food was really delicious and just too good to resist. In order to keep my weight I decided to join a sportsteam. Although volleyball has never been one of my favorite sports I signed up for it and I was surprised how much fun volleyball is. I had practice every day after school and sometimes we played games against other highschools. It was amazing to experience this highschool team spirit. When I hit the ball everybody screamed: “Good catch Anja!“ And evenwhen I missed the ball they said: “Nice try Anja! Shake it off!“
I was living in a very small town and my school was so small everybody was kind of related to everybody. But I enjoyed living in a small town because I knew everybody and everybody knew me, so Ireally felt like I am a part of that town. Of course there wasn’t much entertainment around there but on weeknights we were all pretty busy with high school activities like sports and music. On weekends I got to hang out with the youth group of my host family’schurch where we playedgames and had fun together. The group also organized trips to camps, concerts and skiing hills. (It really was a hill for German people.)
The real cold Minnesotan winter came pretty early. Minus 30 °C and tons of snow hit me pretty hard because I hadn’t bought any winter clothes yet. Right after our first snow, Thanksgiving was coming up. My host mum stood in the kitchen for days to prepare our meal and cooked that famous turkey. I’ve honestly never eaten so much food on one single day as on Thanksgiving.
After Thanksgiving, Christmas break was coming in big steps so we put up our big fake Christmas tree and sprayed it with pine scent to make it more real. To get in Christmas mood I baked cookies with my host sister, played Jingle Bellsat the Christmas concert in school, watched a Christmas movie with my host mum every night and helped her decorate the house. But still it felt like I missed out on Christmas that year because Christmas is a very emotional time and every family has their own traditions.
I had already spent half of my time in the USA and the time after Christmas was just flying. My English had improved so much that I already dreamt in English and at the same time my German was getting worse and worse which turned skyping in German with my family into a real challenge for me.
Finally the day came my host dad and I had been waiting for the whole year. The Superbowl which is the final football match of the season was finally here! From my host dad who is a big football and especially Minnesota Vikings fan I learned all the rules and fell in love with the sport. My host dad was very happy he’d found someone to watch football with and I developed a close relationship to him.
One of my highlights in my exchange year was the rodeo my friends took me to. It was so exciting to see real cowboys riding those furious bulls and trying to stay on for 8 seconds. I’ve honestly never seen so many cowboy hats and boots under one roof.
In Spring I joined the track and field (Leichtathletik) team of my school. Although there still was snow on the ground, it didn’t hold us back running in shorts and tank top through the snow. After the cold winter where I hadn’t done any sports except for some cross-country skiing in my yard, the practice after school was pretty exhausting. But the coaches were all very supportive and always turned practice into fun. Twice a week we all traveled to track meets all over Minnesota where I mostly competedin triple jump.
Prom night was finally here! We had been talking about this ball dance for months discussing what dress we should wear and how to style our hair. My friends and I even got a spray tan so we didn’t lookpale in our pretty dresses. Just like real stars we drove with a big limo to our school. At the grand march we walked through our lovely decorated gym to present our dresses to the parents and spectators. After the parents were gone the dancing began and lasted till the early morning.
The last couple weeks of school went way too fast and the last school day came sooner as I wished. Of course it was very sad to say goodbye to all my friends who really made my exchange year so special. I was so overwhelmed when two of my friends surprised me with a self-made picture album of all the great memories we made together.
Over that year I grew so much and the whole experience changed me a lot. I see the world with different eyes now and those great moments are gonna affect my whole life and I am so grateful for that.
An exchange year really isn’t just a year in your life, it is truly a whole life in a year. You’re always gonna have a second home on the other side of the world, belong to another family on another continent and have true friends even miles away.