German Exchange

A German Adventure

I didn’t quite know what to expect as I arrived at the airport with my family by my side in mid-August. I was about to leave them, my friends and my school behind and embark on a massive adventure all on my own. At the time I had no understanding of the scale of what I was about to do, the sheer number of new people I would meet and the experiences I was about to have over the coming four and a half months. 

I lived with a host family on the outskirts of Düsseldorf, in a village called Meerbusch-Büderich. My host parents Sabine and Martin and well as my host brother and sister, David and Nina, made me feel welcome from the moment I met them and opened the doors of their home for a complete stranger who they had never met before.  It was fantastic to integrate into the life of a German family and to even celebrate Christmas with them.  

 

I attended Year 11 at the local secondary school, Mataré Gymnasium and studied alongside students from around the area. It was fascinating to experience the way another school operates, especially on the other side of the world. I was able to take a broad range of subjects including German, Geography, History, Advanced Economics, Chemistry, Philosophy and Sport, all of which were taught at a very high level in comparison with Australia in terms of the depth of topics and the pace at which they were covered. I was also given the opportunity to join AGs (Extracurricular Clubs) such as the Debating-AG, which I not only enjoyed, but also benefited from significantly in terms of my German skills. My school also gave me the opportunity to teach a Year 9 English class about Australia for a term, which was an amazing opportunity in and of itself.  

A key highlight of my time in Germany was the time I spent travelling. My host family and I travelled to parts of Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands together, which was great fun and extremely eye opening. We visited cities such as Bonn, Trier, Aachen and Winterthur. I also travelled to Berlin for a week with my host brother David and other young people from around Meerbusch, as part of an organised school holiday program. My time in Germany’s capital was terrific, especially after taking Modern German History in German at BHHS in the lead up to my exchange. We visited many of the city’s landmarks including the Reichstag (Parliament Building), Brandenburg Gate, the site of the Berlin Wall and Fernsehturm (TV tower/lookout), among many others. 

My school also ensured I had plenty of free time, which I used to travel around western Germany by myself, visiting places of interest such as Köln (Cologne), Aachen, Wuppertal, Solingen, Remscheid, Oberhausen and Duisburg as well as dozens of trips to discover Düsseldorf itself. My exchange in Germany also gave me the opportunity to explore my own interests. I applied successfully to take part as Head Delegate at a four-day Model United Nations in the city of Siegen. Travelling alone across a country, being completely independent, living by myself, doing something I am passionate about and meeting an amazing group of like-minded and diverse people was a real turning point for me. It stands out as one of the most unforgettable parts of my exchange! 

Before long, the action packed months had passed, an amazing German Christmas with my host family was over and it was time to say an emotional “Auf Wiedersehen” to my host family and to head back home to Melbourne. I couldn’t (and still can’t) believe that my exchange is all over. What really strikes me is the kindness of strangers, no matter what language they speak. I have formed so many lifelong bonds, especially with my host family, which mean so much to me. The way they opened their doors to a stranger and let me live with them for those four months was an absolutely incredible and generous gesture. 

The overall experience proves that you are capable of so much more than you think you are initially. I urge anyone studying German to make the most of the outstanding opportunities which are offered to you, believe in yourself and take the leap of faith. You’ll be amazed at what is out there waiting for you (and your German skills)! 

By Tom Yakubowski Y11