Stop asking me when I’m leaving
Stop asking me if I’ll get credit for school
Stop asking me if I’m nervous or excited
Stop asking me if I’ll be homesick
Stop telling me I’m brave
Stop asking where in my host country I’m going… You don’t know of my obscure town
Stop telling me things people do in my host country
Stop telling me about your trip there that one time
Stop assuming I’m not doing any work there
Stop assuming I’ll be a tourist
Stop asking why I’m doing this
Stop assuming I’ll go to an English-speaking school
Stop assuming my parents are rich
Stop assuming I’m not getting my own paperwork in order
Stop asking what will happen when I get back
Stop trying to tell me what I should bring, do, or send home
Stop assuming my host family are creepy
Stop thinking my parents are insane for letting this happen
Stop saying you can’t wait to see me at Christmas… I’m not allowed to come back for some sort of holiday?
Stop asking if my family will come visit
Stop asking if I speak the language

50 Things I missed out on while on exchange

1. journaling

2. taking pictures of some random things

3. trying some weird food

4. buying a book in my host countries language

5. going to a disco

6. traveling with my organisation

7. a lot of small souvenirs

8. trying a bit harder to learn the language

9. making more friends in my host country

10. celebrating the shit out off holidays

11. having fun on my birthday

12. buying a flag of my host country

13. going to a sports event in my host country

14. doing something fun with my host family

15. take a trip with a friend

16. trying a new sports

17. eating as if I were going to die tomorrow

18. taking videos

19. seriously trying to ace a test

20. trying to regularly watch a TV series that’s an original in my host country

21. do something I’m scared of

22. Look at every single church

23. take a picture of all the food

24. random selfies

25. sending my friends/family at home pictures

26. sending my friends a long message in my host countries language just to brag

27. spend way too much money

28. try somthing that’s totally not from your host country but you don’t have in your country

29. take pictures of the airport

30. take pictures when I arrived

31. take pictures when I left

32. told that boy that I like him

33. dressed a little slutty

34. trying weird products

35. buying presents for my friends back home

36. writing on my tumblr

37. getting excited about little things

38. take pretty pictures of myself

39. take pretty pictures of landscapes

40. trying not to talk to my friends at home at all for at least a month

41. writing a letter to myself before going on exchange

42. spending more time outside

43. not worrying about school

44. crushing on boys but not caring too much

45. hanging out with people I normally wouldn’t hang out with

46. becoming a fan of a regional sports club

47. going to every into meeting

48. trying to teach someone my language

49. cry less

50. laugh more

Hey you behind the screen! I have a few tips for you!

So I just met with an early return from Germany who was kind enough to answer some of my many questions. Here is some of the information she gave me about life as an exchange student, particularly as someone from the U.S.A. in Germany.

Plan on spending around €200 per month. Her allowance was €80 per month, and mine will be €75 a month. Budget accordingly. Transportation costs add up fast. Do your research and get a student card if possible to save on fares. German teens also tend to get out of school for the day earlier than their American counterparts. This can lead to frequent (and costly) trips to local cafes and ice cream parlors.

One big suitcase, a rolling carry on, and a backpack worked well for her. Wear your heaviest shoes on the plane. Shoes are one of the worst things to over-pack. Note: Germans don’t wear flip flops as often as Americans do. They’re nice for the pool, but walking around in them all day on cobblestone streets causes serious pain. Scarves are more popular in Germany. It’s also generally cooler outside than the U.S. (besides Alaska).

The Trip and Customs:
Most exchange students to Germany have a layover or two. Customs are no big deal and there’s no reason to lie.

Host Family Conflict:
If you have a serious conflict with your host family, talk to your organization! Don’t downplay anything. This is YOUR exchange!

Be friendly. Germans tend to be more reserved. The returnee stressed that when they are drunk, they tend to act like they know you very well, but the next day you’ll still be acquaintances. Don’t think they dislike you if they go from your best friend while drunk to an acquaintance when sober. The reality is, they probably do want to be friends, but being upfront is just not part of their culture.

Unsaid Expectations and Norms:
Germans may seem to be much like people from the U.S., but the returnee reminded me they are not. They still have their own expectations that aren’t necessarily voiced. 

  • For example, at home, most Germans expect you to keep doors closed. They believe it is orderly. They’ll even keep the bathroom door closed all the time! Just because Germans have their doors closed does not mean they are avoiding you. 
  • If you’re at a restaurant and order “Wasser,” literally translated to “water,” you will receive mineral water, and it will probably be room temperature. If you want tap water (water from a sink), specify. German tap water is safe to drink, but for some reason Germans normally drink mineral water. If you would like to order tap water, the word for it is “Leitungswasser.” The word for cold is “kalt.” Milk is also sometimes served warm. 
  • Beware: Refills are never free in Germany. 
  • Don’t wish a German happy birthday before their actual birthday. It’s bad luck and they will totally die before their actual b-day. 
  • Older Germans in particular will glare at you if you open a window on a train or otherwise allow a breeze in. It supposedly causes colds. 
  • Places like Walgreens do not exist. You can buy toiletries from a “Drogerie,” but prescription medicines must be bought from an “Apotheke.”
  • If you’re from the United States, don’t be surprised if people sit down next to you on a bus or other public place. People from the States tend to think they need more personal space than people of other nationalities.
  • Also for people from the U.S.: small talk is unnecessary. You’re probably talking too loud for everyone else’s liking, too.
  • Getting your driver’s license as soon as you’re of age is not as common as in the U.S. German teens must be 18 to drive, and they must undergo a rigorous driver’s education course and a fairly difficult written exam, in addition to an in-car exam. Not to mention, for a German to finally get their license, it often costs  €2,500-€3,000!