During the summer holidays I went to Germany as an exchange student on a ten-week scholarship with an organisation called SAGSE (Scholarships for Australian German Student Exchange). I went with 22 other year 11 and 12s from all over Australia and New Zealand. A group of random strangers who grew to become my best friends in the world.
This was my first time overseas and my first plane trip of longer than an hour so I had no realistic expectations. As I said goodbye to my family and got onto the plane I did not feel afraid despite actually being absolutely terrified for the month leading up to it. Our travel time was approximately 24 hours in total. We swapped over in Singapore and arrived in Frankfurt very jettlagged and hardly able to believe we were actually on the other side of the world. For the foreseeable future.
We were spread out all over Germany. I lived in Dresden - a stunning, history rich city which was perfect for me - and a beautiful host family. My host sister Eleanor and I were matched perfectly too. My first week in Dresden was the fastest I have learnt German in my life. I went to school with Eleanor which was admittedly one of the more challenging aspects of the exchange for me personally. We did many unforgettable things such as celebrate Christmas and New Years together, visit the Czech Republic, go to Christmas markets, but also just small things like go on picnics or sit by the river at night. It really becomes a new normal life, except you've created it new from scratch and everything is more exciting. Some things I noted to be incredible, were how when faced with a challenge you simply rise to it and how by being planted in a culture you can so effortlessly learn its language and fall in love with it. It is extremely fulfilling to simply speak and actively learn the language. I have found a second home on the other side of the world which will always hold a piece of my heart and sense of belonging.
SAGSE also put on some amazing camps. All of the Australians and their hosties (host partner), plus that same amount in GASSies (alumni of the exchange now in an organisation called the German Australian Student Society) gathered together in a small city called Naumberg halfway through the exchange for a five-day camp. I became so much closer with all of the Australians during that time and began friendships with hosties which I continued to grow through the rest of my time there. We had heaps of fun dancing every night and doing games, activities and competitions together.
Directly from Winter Camp we embarked in small groups on five days of fully independent ‘Free Travel’ - something completely unique to this scholarship and possibly the best week of my life. I went to Hamburg, Nürnberg, Stuttgart and Munich. We organised locations, trains, youth hostels, activities, food - everything - within our groups. It was so adventurous and exciting!
We returned to our families for a few more weeks, then said goodbye for the last time as all the Australians reconnected in Berlin for our last five days in Germany. We did so many activities in Berlin, like seeing the Berlin Philharmonik Orchestra, visiting Parliament House, meeting the New Zealand ambassador, touring a Stasi prison and so many other things, but the stand out for me was the incredible friendship I had. It was impossibly fun. We all flew back to Australia together, back to our old lives but now part of the aforementioned GASS. I know it’s cliché but this trip was genuinely the best thing I have ever done and I cannot recommend it enough. I cannot thank SAGSE and my sponsor, GASS Victoria for this amazing opportunity enough. If you want to know more about applying for a scholarship or being a host yourself, look on SAGSE’s website and talk to me or Mr Smith.
Iona Easton, 12B