Last weekend (20th and 21st) I went to nearby Paderborn. I was there to help out with the interviews with the students who are applying for the Congress-Bundestag Scholarship to participate in an exchange to the United States.

I definitely got a lot out of the weekend. One of the strangest feelings was knowing that not too long ago I was on the other side of those interviews, that I had those same questions, that I wanted to be an exchange student.

I was basically there to answer any and every question the students had about life in America or being an exchange student. Talking about the best parts of an exchange, such as all of the funny little cultural differences, the new people, the challenges, and the rest of those general-and-cheesey-sounding-but-completely-true things really reaffirmed my confidence in my decision to do this exchange year.

It was also interesting to see the objects that they had to bring to represent their hometown. It's charming how each little German town has so much pride in whatever speciality or festival it's famous for. You can add that to the list of charming things about Germany: train rides, Sunday afternoon coffee and cake, the cobblestone pedestrian zones in the middle of cities, and hearing Germans try to pronounce the word "squirrel".

On top of all that, I got to see another nice city in Germany.

The cathedral in Paderborn, one of the most Catholic cities in Germany.

A fountain in the Füßgängerzone (pedestrian zone). I think it's funny that Germans who have been to America find the malls the coolest places to shop and Americans who go to Germany find the outdoor version awesome.


American Teatime

Hello and sorry for the two-week abscence (the dates in this blog are international, so the 9.10.2007 you see below isn't from September 10th). Everything is still going along just fine over here, I'm still alive, still learning, and still sharing what I can from the good ol' US of A.

A week ago Sunday two of my American friends (who are also exchange students from the same program) came over to my house for some German-style Sunday afternoon cake and tea. Many German families do this every Sunday at home or go over to a friend's house for an afternoon of tea, coffee, cake, and pleasant conversation. I think it's really charming. We added an American twist to our Kaffee and made pancakes (albeit German pancakes) and ate some of the delicious cookies from our care package.

Pouring tea and such.

Our midafternoon feast. One of the pancakes turned into a crêpe. Other than that I am beast at flipping those enormous, thin German pancakes.

Anna and Jes sipping herbal tea.

Anna looking pleased and satiated after teatime.

After that we took a walk through the city and shared our experiences so far. It's crazy to think that as of today I've been in Germany for three months. I've also got some pictures and things to say from this weekend, but I'll catch up on that a little bit later.


Keepin' on keepin' on

Just a little general update on my experience abroad:

Yesterday my Betreuer (the volunteer from the exchange program who lives in my area, each student has one) came over to check up on everything here and do an interview to make sure everything is ok. Everything is great. My host family and I get along very well and there's very good communication between us.

Today, after a pretty cold bike ride to school (looking at the weather report for Virginia is a little sad), I took a philosophy exam. Understanding and writing about Immanuel Kant and his philosophy in German is definitely a challenge, but the teacher is nice and will probably cut me a break.

I also stopped by an English class in my grade and talked about segregation, civil rights, and the current racial situation in America. It's pretty difficult to answer a question like: "Is there equality in America?"

Later in my social science/econ class, we were talking about inequality, how to measure it, and the causes of it. During the course of the class, the teacher asked who was responsible for correcting inequality when they see it. Immediately just one other student and I responded "society" while the rest of the students who responded said "the government."

I got to thinking: would "the government" have been the typical answer in America? Maybe the Germans have on average more trust in the ability of the government to fix problems. What would you (Americans, Germans, or any others) have said in this situation? Please sign your comments so that I can see who wrote them (I still don't know who wrote a comment on the Spain post (jagdgeselle?) and a comment on the Brussels/Aachen post (anonymous), so if you know, let me know).

As always, comment, email, and take it easy.


Brussels, Aachen, and more Fall Break

I've been on the road a little bit since the last entry. Mainly I didn't update at the beginning of the week because I was kind of busy being in Brussels. The trip was great, even though the weather didn't quite cooperate all the time. We took a road trip from home base in Rheda through Germany into the Netherlands and then down into Belgium all the way to Brussels. The great thing about Europe is that another country is rarely more than a car trip away.

We stayed in my host cousin Sven's apartment in Brussels. He used to work for the European Union Parliament and now he works for the EU Commision. He's also fluent in German, English, French, and Polish. He was nice enough to take us in for a few days and show us around.

First we took the typical touristy path through Brussels, bringing us to all of the most important sights in Brussels, mainly...

...a tiny statue of a peeing man, the origin and meaning of which is contested. There's apparently several legends explaining this one, but for some reason, it's a ridiculously popular landmark.

After that we went to the Atomium (picture here from Wikipedia, I couldn't get a good one myself), which was constructed for the 1958 World Fair and stayed simply because it's awesome. For you TJ kids out there, its shape is that of an iron crystal. The thing is as tall as a football field, and the shafts are filled with escalators and elevators, while the spheres are filled with displays, pictures, and a restaurant.

My host mother, father, and brother in the escalator.

Then it was on to lunch and a tour of the EU complex. It's so huge and has so many different parts for all of the different departments you can't really take a picture of it. This is a picture of just one wing of the EU building. Afterwards we went to some semblance of a "gift shop" where you could really just grab all kinds of EU pamphlets, maps, posters, etc. for free. I have a booklet smaller than my thumb that tells me (in German) what all of my human rights in the EU are.

Me in front of the Royal Palace of Belgium.

After a whirl through the King's Park, we stopped in this cozy little shop for coffee, tee, and chocolate.

The son of the mom-and-pop owners fixes up a box of chocolates wearing a white silk glove.

On the way home we stopped for an afternoon in Aachen, home to fountains, natural spas, and a beautiful cathedral, in which the remains of Charlemagne (Karl der Große, in German) lie.

The tallest stained glass windows in Germany or Europe or maybe the world. I forget. In any case, it was beautiful.

After the tour of the cathedral we went to the Schatzkammer (treasury of the cathedral). Here's me next to the bust of Charlemagne, shortly before being scolded through a loudspeaker for taking a picture. Among other things, there were body parts of saints, relics of Jesus' time (including Jesus' belt), gold chalices, paintings, sketches, and gold everything.

Outside the cathedral on the plaza...

So that's it for my slideshow-like blog posts from fall break. Life goes back to normal next Monday when I start school again. I hope all is well by all of you. As always, comments, emails, love notes, phone calls, and everything are welcome. Take it easy.