By Chrissy Zopf,
On June 13, my plane touched down in Frankfurt, Germany shortly after 7AM. Although I had just flown throughout the night, I was experiencing a nervous excitement that prevented me from feeling any kind of exhaustion. After going through Customs, our group boarded a bus that would take us to the school in Gladenbach, Germany where we would be greeted by our exchange partners. Upon arrival, we were taken to a welcome reception. All around students were hugging, being reunited after two months apart. After a brief tour of the school, American students and their German partners were dismissed for the day.
I stood by Sina in the parking lot, shivering from the cold mixed with nerves, waiting for her mom to arrive and take us home. I’ve never been one to become nervous about meeting new people, but in that moment, my stomach was turning, and my mind was racing, what if her family didn’t like me? What if I didn’t speak German well enough to communicate with the family? But once her mom arrived, my nerves settled. I went in for a hug; a typical American greeting, while her mom extended her hand for a handshake, all while speaking English. We did a little dance and finally embraced. In the car on the way home I chatted with her mom, small talk. “How was my flight? What foods did I prefer? Would I like to speak English or German with the family?” Although I had been doubting myself minutes before, I chose to speak German with Sina’s family. It was an opportunity to expand my knowledge of the language, and I could not pass it up.
Although I didn’t have an image in mind of how I pictured Sina’s house, I was still shocked upon arrival. Her house was massive. My fears shifted from being liked and communication to getting lost within the house. It didn’t even occur to me that I would be meeting the rest of her family upon arrival. Once I walked in the door, Sina’s step father began to greet me. In rapid German. I was so overwhelmed by the velocity at which he was speaking that I didn’t catch a word he said as he tried to take my suitcase out of my hand. It didn’t occur to me that he was offering to carry it up to my room.
I was given a brief tour of the house and I convinced myself that it would be easier to find my way around than I expected. I then receded to my room while lunch was being prepared to unpack and relax. Although it was only noon, I was exhausted.
The first meal I had with my German family was pizza. In all honesty, I had expected something more German and less Italian, but I quickly learned that pizza is a common meal among Germans and can be found in almost every restaurant. I had always heard from my German teachers, Frau Wenck and Frau Krempasky, that Germans normally eat a larger meal in the afternoon, which I discovered on the first day to be true. While our lunch consisted of two large pizzas, our dinner was simply homemade waffles with Nutella or jams. Although it was not what I was used to, I quickly adjusted to the switch from a small lunch and large dinner to just the opposite.
My first few days in Germany I also noticed many differences between roles of family members. One of the biggest differences between German families and many American families was that Sina’s grandparents lived with her, but they were rarely seen due to the fact that they had their own wing of the house complete with kitchen and living area. I found this to be strange since many American homes are built to accommodate one family. Another difference was that while Sina was nearly 16, she did not have many chores, such as washing dishes or helping clean up after a meal. When I would arrive in the kitchen for breakfast, her mom would have already laid out every possible breakfast food on the table, or baked something for us to eat for breakfast. Afterward, she would insist that she alone would clean up and wash the dishes. I was confused by her desire to clean up the kitchen because I have been in charge of setting the table and kitchen clean up since I was probably 12 years old, convinced it was normal for all teenagers to have the same responsibilities at home.
While there were many differences in family roles, the biggest difference was cultural: the Germans’ love of soccer. In my opinion, the way Germans support their national soccer team cannot compare to the most die-hard football fan’s love and support of his favorite team. This viewpoint stems from the way soccer unites the German people. When I was in Germany the European Cup was taking place. On my first night in Germany I got a taste of how much soccer meant to the German people. Sina and I headed to the local sports viewing complex where a public viewing of the Germany vs. Netherlands game, and I was amazed at the turn out. The building was packed full of avid fans, from young children to adults, and those who just came to support their country’s national team. All around people were wearing jerseys, lays, flags, and face paint. There was an exhilarating rush whenever Germany scored a goal, the screams of the Germans and the Americans were so loud it was impossible to hear any distinct sound, it was just a roar of noise. When Germany scored the winning goal, and the clock drained completely, there was just a rush. The feeling of German pride and patriotism was palpable, and contagious. Once outside, there was a wave of cars, some honking the horns, some with the occupants shouting German cheers. Others were daringly sitting on the roof of the cars, waving the German flag in triumph.
After the game it finally hit me how exhausted I was. It was nearly 11PM, and the next morning I would be waking up bright and early for my first day of German school, which I knew already would be full of surprises. My first day in Germany had already come to a close.