A year full of amazing MemoriesTuesday, February 15, 2011 By Hannah Sinder
“An amazing experience” (Frederike Goldschmidt, Connecticut), “a great chance” (Carolin Helming, Ohio), “the most amazing thing in my life” (Hannah Behner, North Carolina),… an exchange year in a foreign country can be this and even more but only if you take the challenge and make it the best year of your life. It is a challenge I took and a decision I will never regret! At the beginning of the year 2007/2008, my family made the spontaneous decision to host a foreign exchange student from the U.S.A. It was a great experience for everyone and Leah Miller and I became like real sisters. After this year, I knew that a year abroad would also be exactly the right thing for me – but only in Leah’s family in the U.S. This meant that I had to find an exchange organization that sends students abroad with direct placement, which means students already have a host family. There are a lot of exchange organizations out there. Informing me about their advantages and disadvantages and comparing organizations took some time but was the only way I could get exactly what I wanted. I chose International Experience (iE) to be my organization. Every organization has its own application process. I had to start with a short application containing some general information to apply for an interview at iE. The interview is one of the most important steps. The organization gets a first impression of you based on whether they decide to take you or not and if they want to offer you a scholarship. Even though my interviewer had already told me that they would take me and even like to offer me a partial scholarship, it was a great relief when I found a letter in my mailbox saying: “Hannah, we have the pleasure to welcome you to the iE global classroom!” After that, a long process of filling out forms, describing myself, getting doctor’s certifications, booking flights and a lot more, followed. I already knew my family, but I still had to fill out all the forms to become an official exchange student. In April, 2010, I went to my organization’s orientation weekend. We stayed at a youth hostel, got to listen to many presentations from previous exchange students and members of iE to get prepared for our year abroad and spoke English the whole weekend which, I thought, was the best part. The last step was then to apply for a visa. I had to fill out some forms and to go to the Consulate General of the United States in Frankfurt for my visa interview where I basically had to wait for about two hours in order to talk to a U.S. government official for less than five minutes. I received my visa about a week later. I spent the last weeks before my flight to the U.S. saying goodbye to family and friends, packing all I would need for one year into one suitcase and getting gifts for my host family. Although the last weeks and leaving my family was hard for me, there has never been a point when I said I didn’t want to do this anymore. I had never been surer about something in my life than this exchange year, and I wanted to make it a great time. Of course, living in the U.S. is a lot different for me than living in Germany, but since I already knew my host family, I had at least a general idea of what I was getting myself into. Coming here meant getting five new siblings on one day. There is almost always something going on – whether it is a basketball game, practices of any kind or a Super Bowl Party, like tonight. Even though it is different from the quieter and routine life I am used to, I enjoy it a lot and it is a great experience for me. One of the best things I am able to experience this year at Vermillion High School is this amazing school spirit that always seems to be missing at my school in Germany. Practicing after school or cheering for your team at all kinds of games or matches is what makes up this spirit and what makes American high school students proud of their school. I wish I could say that about my school in Germany, too, and I am thankful to be able to live with this spirit during this awesome year of my life. Maybe I will even be able to bring it back with me to Germany. My year here in Vermillion is only half way over, but I can already say that that is exactly what it has been so far: a great time! Probably the best time of my life. I have experienced things I will never forget, and I got the chance to make new friends, become a part of a new family and a new school and to build an entire new life. During a year abroad you can be whoever you want to be, but I learned that it’s the best to simply be yourself because that’s what people will remember and love you for.