The IUHPFL Experience
“If I had to give some words of advice, I would say these things. One: take pictures. Take a lot of pictures. If you don’t take pictures, you will heavily regret it. Two: keep a diary or a journal.
Once the airplane touches German soil, it's nothing but German for the next six weeks of your life. It’s time for total immersion, from the food to the language, family life to school life, and historical monuments to churches. After a long but comfortable flight, you’re just a short bus ride away from a life-changing experience.
Krefeld was very intimidating at first. It was a city that I had never been in (a country I had never been in, for that matter) and I felt lost. Luckily, the group traveled together to the meeting point where the host families were waiting to pick up their new six-week additions. One by one they called us off the bus. This was probably the most nerve-wracking ten minutes of the whole trip. I had no idea what my family looked like or what they expected of me. Once my host parents pulled up, my name was called. I introduced myself to them and off we went. We made small talk to get to know each other better and soon we pulled into the driveway of their house. I met my two host brothers, ages eighteen and fifteen, then my host mother showed me the way to school, and after that I decided to take a nap.
The everyday schedule went like this: I would wake up in enough time to shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, and head out to the bus stop. Exactly. I took the bus to school every day, without help and without guidance. It really made me feel like I was a citizen of Krefeld. When I got to school, we broke up into small groups to talk about the previous day and work on phonetics. After that we had classes. Literature, Grammar, Conversation, and Culture were the four that we took. We had a small break after the second class, and then lunch after all four. After classes we would either go to choir or to theater and work on songs or plays, or some days we would go outside and burn some energy with physical activity. Soccer was a popular choice. Then, after the afternoon activities, we would have free time. This was my favorite part of the day. A group of us would walk around downtown Krefeld, where there were many shops and restaurants. There was one particular shop on the corner of Rheinstraße: a little ice cream café. I had ice cream almost every day at that café.
I had the pleasure of visiting Germany during the FIFA World Cup. That was quite the experience. I went with my brothers to every game Germany played in. We went to a public viewing with about 2,000 other people. The atmosphere was insane. When Germany scored a goal, the whole place went up in a mighty roar of celebratory shouts and screams. Random people I didn’t know hugged me. When we weren't at soccer games, we would hang out in the park and play pick-up soccer games or go out to eat. I went to my older brother’s musical and play productions, which were really fun, and my younger brother is a drummer (like me) so I went with him to his lessons and his band practices. It was a blast. I also went with both brothers and their friends to a hip-hop concert. I had never been interested in that genre until that point.
The entirety of the trip isn't just spent in Krefeld. As a group, we took three excursions to other cities. Two of them were within a couple hours, and one was to the other side of the country. Our first vacation from school was to Aachen, where we visited the cathedral that Carl the Great (Charlemagne) occupied in his time. It was a really cool place. Then we took a three-day trip to Berlin, where we saw the Berlin Wall, the Berlin Cathedral, and even the Blue Man Group. Going to Berlin was the highlight of the whole trip. Standing next to some of the roughest history of Germany really changes your outlook on things. The final excursion we took was to Cologne. We saw the wonderful Gothic cathedral that stands high and proud in the middle of the city. We were taken on a tour of Cologne and then given free time to roam around and buy souvenirs.
I also went on trips with my host family. On the first weekend, we went to Düsseldorf and walked around. Later, we went to Cologne and saw the yearly fireworks. It was the most amazing array of fireworks I have seen in my life. My favorite trip with my family was a day trip to Belgium. We spent a couple hours on the North Sea and then we went into Ghent to eat lunch, meet a friend of my host family, take a river tour of the city, and then eat dinner. That was a lot of fun.
The thing that happened to me that I will never forget is when I was packing up to leave (I'm sad thinking about it) and I needed to know how much my suitcase was allowed to weigh on the airplane. I looked on Lufthansa's website and found nothing. My host mother came in the room and asked what I was doing, so I told her. She then told me to call them. I thought that was crazy. Even with six weeks of learning German behind me, I was still scared to call Lufthansa and ask. My host mother dialed the phone and gave it to me; I was trapped. Someone picked up the phone on the other line and asked if they could help me. I asked the question, totally mistake free. After I hung up the phone, I felt a sense of accomplishment I had never felt before. It was great.
Like any awesome-filled adventure, this one had to end. If I had to give some words of advice, I would say these things. One: take pictures. Take a lot of pictures. If you don’t take pictures, you will heavily regret it. Two: keep a diary or a journal. Take an extra notebook with you to write down what you did that day so you will always have a written record of what you did. If you don’t keep a diary or journal, you will regret it a lot, but not as much as if you don’t take pictures. Three: be social, be yourself, be open. The point of the trip is to learn about the language and the culture. The simplest way to learn the language is to speak it, make mistakes, and then learn from those mistakes. Your host family knows that you aren’t a perfect German speaker. They will help you. And last, but not least: do everything you can. You never know when you will travel to Germany again. If someone asks you if you want to go someplace or do something, say yes!
That is my trip in an atom-sized nutshell. I still keep in touch with family members and friends that I made in Germany, and I always look at the pictures I took to remind me of what an exceptional time I had. That trip was something that changed my life for the better, and I will never forget it.