Sunday, May 30, 2010

Kopenhagen = Toll!


Where I've Been 2009-2010 auf einer größeren Karte anzeigen
So I'm back from Copenhagen, Denmark. I find the German spelling of Copenhagen cooler with a K instead of the C. And it was one of the best trips I've made thus far. Unfortunately, the overnight bus ride wasn't too pleasant since it was too loud to sleep. But once we got to Copenhagen, it got much, much better! I explored the city with Lucka from the Czech Republic, Alessia from Italy, Murat and Melek from Turkey, and Dániel from Hungary. Murat brought a book about Copenhagen and it was an extremely useful tool in guiding us around the city. Everyone else said they didn't see that much of the city, but we literally covered the entire city center. It took between 6 and 7 hours by foot, but it was a great experience! We spent a total of 11 hours in Copenhagen before we got back in the bus for the overnight ride home. Everyone was exhausted! Probably from the lack of sleep, walking, and converting from the Euro to the Danish Crone. I don't remember everything that we saw (considering we saw so much), but it was all spectacular to look at. We did see the town hall several times when we were lost at the beginning , a few markets, a bunch of churches and a synagogue, an outlook point (in the Rundetaarn, or Round Tower) (Murat, Melek, and I at the top of the Round Tower)
, Amalienborg Palace, a picture of the Little Mermaid (the main attraction in Copenhagen; she's currently in Shanghai for an international exhibition) , the harbor
, and some other great points of interest! Unfortunately, Copenhagen was also my last trip for the year with AFS. I had to say good-bye to quite a few exchange students that I most likely won't see before I fly home. However, I felt like we all left in good spirits and wished each other all the best.

(Left to right: Lucka, Alessia, Me, Dániel)




Amalienborg Palace. We got to see the changing of the guards.

An Army Base near the Harbor.



I suppose Denmark is a big fan of Obama.


Haven't seen one of these in a while!

On Tuesday, I'll be doing another overnight trip. However, this time it's with my school and we're going to London. I get to speak some English! Although the Danish spoke English well, they didn't really understand German. That was fun to have to translate! :-)

Bis dann,
Matt

P.S. Happy Memorial Day everyone! And today I turned 19 and 2/3 years old! I'll be back in June! Okay, I know it's only a day away...so you won't have to wait too long...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Who says...

When you come to Germany, you might notice that majority of the commuters listen to their iPods and MP3 Players while in the train, tram, bus, etc. So a few weeks ago, I decided to do the same. After selecting the Shuffle option on my iPod, "Who Says You Can't Go Home" by Bon Jovi started to play. (Here's the song in case you're not familiar with it.)

Just a cool claim-to-fame would have to be the fact that Bon Jovi's hometown is Sayreville, NJ, which borders my town. I found the basically the lyrics to be very accurate to my perspective of my adventures in Germany and my upcoming flight back to the States. I'll take the lyrics in stanzas to explain what I mean:

"Who Says You Can't Go Home"
by Bon Jovi

I spent 20 years trying to get out of this place
I was looking for something I couldn't replace
I was running away from the only thing I've ever known
Like a blind dog without a bone
I was a gypsy lost in the twilight zone
I hijacked a rainbow and crashed into a pot of gold
I been there, done thatand I ain't lookin' back on the seeds I've sown,
Saving dimes, spending too much time on the telephone
Who says you can't go home

When I was considering where to apply for college during my junior and senior years, I told myself that I didn't want to go to the same college as anyone else in my high school. I wanted a fresh start. I wasn't particularly looking to go to Alaska or some place extremely far away; "unique" was more of a goal for me. So I was looking for something that I couldn't put my finger on, although I could see (with or without my glasses) better than a blind dog. I wouldn't really call myself a "gyspy" either because when I heard about the CBYX program from my German teacher, I felt better suited for an exchange program rather than starting college directly. So you could consider when I received this scholarship at the beginning of March 2009, it was like I "crashed into a pot of gold". Moreover, after the year...or what I can now sum up as 8.5 months, I think it's become a sort of routine for me to see a new city or try something new or different. I've been there and done that. And I feel like I've gotten something (perhaps a new experience, a new German word, or I've thought that it wasn't so great) out of each "adventure". It seems like it's become the "norm" and yet still an adventure. And now thanks to the internet and Skype, I don't have to save up dimes to call Jersey up and report on my lastest endeavor...which I'm done at times too often.
[Chorus]
Who says you can't go home
There's only one place they call me one of their own
Just a hometown boy, born a rolling stone, who says you can't go home
Who says you can't go back, been all around the world and as a matter of fact
There's only one place left I want to go, who says you can't go home
It's alright, it's alright, it's alright, it's alright, its alright

But one thing that I really to miss after having spent so much time in Germany is that I'm an American living among Germans. It's a blast and fun and a cool and unique experience, but there are moments where I wish I didn't speak with an accent. And the only place that I can do that is at my home in the States. And as I quickly learned that throughout my year: An exchange year isn't always fun and games; there will be things you miss from home; and most things aren't like you imagine them to be. So when I get asked what I miss the most about home, I answer "I miss not being foreign." I've enjoyed it for the time being, but I doubt I'd like to be a foreigner for my entire life. So when the day in July comes, it'll be alright to go home.
I went as far as I could, I tried to find a new face
There isn't one of these lines that I would erase
I lived a million miles of memories on that road
With every step I take I know that I'm not alone
You take the home from the boy, but not the boy from his home
These are my streets, the only life I've ever known,
who says you can't go home

Germany was a rather distant place to fly to and spend a year there. Fortunately for me, I'm not in a remote village nor have a lack of buses and trams. But I do have to walk, bike, or drive a kilometer to that bus stop. I'd say I now know that street really well. But that road and bus stop were always the start of a "journey" that brought me to something new. And there isn't one memory that I'd like to erase. Because each memory or experiences has contributed to bringing me to the point where I am now. I've learned about myself, people, cultures, history, communication, etc. But I do think when I go home, I'll be looking at my hometown, friends and family with a shifted perspective...nothing extreme, but in order to live in the German culture, I had to adjust: You don't fit in (in my opinion) when you're completely American in a group of Germans. And some people have told me that I have "germanized" myself. Makes me glad to think I fit in. But I still notice the American in me.
[Chorus]
I been there, done thatand I ain't looking that
It's been a long long road
Feels like I never left, that's how the story goes

It doesn't matter where you are, it doesn't matter where you go
If it's a million miles aways or just a mile up the road
Take it in, take it with you when you go,
who says you can't go home

[Chorus]
It's alright, it's alright, it's alright, it's alright, its alright
Who says you can't go home [x2]

I'm sure I can't really comment on this stanza because I haven't gotten home yet. Although I imagine I'll be welcomed home by my friends and family. And..."Who says you can't go home?"



Now I'd like to clarify more on my intentions for this blog post. I realize I could have potentially saved it for a later date, but I didn't have any other ideas for this one. Therefore I had the idea in my head and decided to write about it. Other exchange students have written on Facebook how they're not ready to go home or don't want to leave Germany. Others are counting down the days till our last orientation in Washington, D.C. Although I'd assume they don't want to go home either. And I'm sure when we have to go home, I'll wish that I could stay longer as well. However I think that ten months have been superb to learn a new language along with some many other things (that I can't keep track of how much I've actually learned). But I know have a second place that I can call home. And I consider my host family like family. Or to differentiate, my German family. I consider Domi and Marie-Claire my sisters and Barbara and Claude are my German parents...even though they didn't give birth to me, I feel just as comfortable with them as my real parents. So I will miss Germany a lot especially my family, friends, exchange students, and Germany, but at the same time I'm also starting to look forward to starting college and swimming again, as well as hanging out with my American friends and family; I'll have so much to share with them! As much as I'd miss and yearn to go back to Germany, life continues with new milestones (my next one is college). And I will certainly try to go back to Germany as soon as I can. So all-in-all, I will try to appreciate each moment for what it offers. (That's getting harder and harder in school.) I still have 1.5 months; so a lot can happen!

This weekend I'm going with AFS to Copenhagen, and on Tuesday, I'm going with my school to London for a day. I'll be sleeping in buses for the next couple days with these trips! So I'll try to keep you posted!

Bis dann!
Matt

P.S. "Who Says You Can't Go Home" is one of my favorite songs. But my current favorite song is "100 Years" by Five for Fighting.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pfingsten

Well the German school system is good for giving us a lot of random days of school off. So sometimes it feels like I'm not in school as consistently as I was in the USA. We had a 4-day weekend for Berlin for Christi Himmelfahrt (when Jesus rose back up to heaven), and now we have a 5-day weekend for Pfingsten (Pentecost). In Religion class we spoke about Pentecost (in German Pfingsten). A quick summary of Pentecost is (from Wikipedia): "On the day of Pentecost all the Lord’s followers were together in one place. Suddenly there was a noise from heaven like the sound of a mighty wind. It filled the house where they were meeting. Then they saw what looked like fiery tongues moving in all directions, and a tongue came and settled on each person there. The Holy Spirit took control of everyone, and they began speaking whatever languages the Spirit let them speak. Many religious Jews from every country in the world were living in Jerusalem ... they were hearing everything in their own languages."

So when we were discussing Pentecost, I kinda realized that AFS works in a similar way. Thinking about my first camp in Germany where they brought a group of teenagers, who all have different native languages, into the youth hostel in Möchengladbach, I knew what it felt like to hear all these different languages. Overall, English was the main language spoken at the camp in our discussions, and German was encouraged but wasn't really spoken. We all stuck with the language we knew best. And so a spirit didn't come through and allow us to understand every language. I did learn how to curse in at least five languages. But that won't take me very far in life to insult everyone and not understand their replies.

Moreover, this group of about twenty exchange students from four different continents has learned to, more or less, fluently converse in German. In that time, we developed strong friendships and are still there for each other. Looking back on how our conversational skills have progressed, I can't really imagine how we communicated with each other at the beginning...especially in German?! I find it really cool just to think that as our German improved, so did our bonds and friendships with each other. And even though we all miss speaking our native languages, one could say that a spirit helped us to understand each other in (at least) one language: German! Wednesday was the 250th day that I've been in Germany. I find it astounding that so much could happen is what seems like a relatively small window of time. It takes about the same amount of time to create a child.

Möchengladbach. October 2009


Berlin. May 2010



Happy Pfingsten/Pentecost everyone!

Bis dann,
Matt

P.S. I had a little visitor when I wrote this blog post.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Berlin!

Well John F. Kennedy is well-known throughout Germany and the United States for the famous mistranslated phrase "Ich bin ein Berliner." JFK should have said "Ich bin Berliner". Having added "ein" in the sentence, he changed the meaning of the quote to meaning "I'm a jelly donut (or pancake)." So this past weekend I got to explore the city where JFK said his timeless saying....BERLIN!
The trip went from Thursday to Sunday. The 4 days can be summed up that is was a very hectic, non-stop weekend with a lack of sleep and sun and too much rain. But despite all of that, we managed to accomplish quite a bit!

Our first rest stop on the way to Berlin was the old border patrol between East (DDR) and West Germany.

We stayed in a youth hostel in Potsdam. So on Thursday evening, we strolled around the city. We got a glimpse of the Holländisches Viertel (Dutch Sector) and a portion of the Innenstadt at night. That concluded time we spend looking around Potsdam because to us...Berlin just seemed way cooler. But nothing against Potsdam, it's a very pretty house. Before I forget, we got to see the Cecilienhof, the home of Crown Prince Wilhelm Hohenzollern, a.k.a. where the Potsdam Conference after WWII took place. And afterwards we visited the summer home of Frederick II of Prussia called the Palace of Sanssouci. Unfortunately it rained the entire time we were at the castles.

So now to the main focus of the trip...BERLIN! We got to see the Reichstag, which is the building where the German Parlament gathers. Even though security was tight and the wait was long, we got to hear quite a bit about the view point at the top of the building.

I also found out that Berlin is the most visited Capital city in the world.

Other highlights of the visit were checking out:
.the Berlin Wall.

.Checkpoint Charlie. (the division point between East and West Berlin.)
.The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The museum was underground and there were 3,000 of these symbolic pillars in memorial of the Jews. The photos are 6 Jews that were murdered during the Holocaust. You got the chance to learn a bit about their life stories.


.Unter den Linden. Rick Steves describes this attraction as a "leafy boulevard through the heart of former East Berlin, lined with some of the city's top sights" like the Brandenburg Gate (Tor). I find the Königsallee in Düsseldorf nicer than Unter den Linden.
.Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate). Awesome site at night!



And the final thing that Berlin is well-known for is their unique walking figures for the pedestrian crosswalks (Ampelmännchen). They are different in East Berlin than in West Berlin and the rest of Germany. When you see these Ampelmännchen, you are in East Berlin:

So I found Berlin to be a really awesome city! Like I was told...there is no other city like it in Germany. Berlin has it's own unique identity, particularly when you consider that this single city experienced the entire German history (good and bad) first-hand. Unfortunately the weather hindered our adventures a little, but it was still a lot of fun. We managed to have a lot of fun in the evenings ranging from the encounters with some interesting and humorous drunk people (a.k.a. Benny) to always having to wait on the Latin Americans (because they aren't used to being on time) to meeting up with my fellow CBYXers, Claire, Ian, and Sylvia. The one thing that I really cherish about my experiences with AFS is that when I'm with other exchange students, I feel like I can always relate to them more than to someone who hasn't been a foreign exchange student before. Therefore it's always awesome to meet up with them and have countless memories and jokes.

Bis dann,
Matt

P.S. I found 5 Dunkin' Donuts in Berlin. I encouraged everyone try my favorite donut: Boston Creme. All that had tried it, found it delicious! I forgot how much I miss them.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Glück auf!

Well the past week has been overall swell. Last Tuesday, I met up with a fellow American exchange student from Utah. I ended up meeting him through Facebook after he was befriended by Mike (from Braunschweig.) I know...Facebook is making the world one giant network. That was a fun get together...and really nice to speak with an American!

And so the weekend was the next thing worthy of mentioning. An exchange student from Australia, Chris, came to Krefeld. We explored Düsseldorf on Saturday. We had seen an ad for "Nacht der Museen" (Night of the Museums). And so we decided it would be an interesting, worthwhile experience...more creative than the club we had planned to go to. And we went to a birthday party for one of my peers in between (yes we drove to Düsseldorf twice in one day)...but it was a great Saturday. We ended up seeing art in a Tunnel, a Karneval museum, and modern art...and I never looked at art so thoroughly, so it was certainly something new. :-D The pictures are from Chris's camera because mine had died during the party.




On Sunday, Chris went back home. And I went to two museums with Barbara and Claude. The first was a Coal-mining Museum in Bockum (the title, "Glück Auf" is how they would greet you in the coal mining (der Bergbau)) and then a Water Tower Museum (all about water) in Mülheim an der Ruhr. Both museums were worth the visit, although they didn't reach the "expectations" we had. It was nice to learn a bit more about the area of Germany I'm living it, das Ruhrgebiet (even though I technically don't live in the Ruhrgebiet, rather next to it.)Click here to learn more about the Ruhrgebiet By the way, the Ruhrgebiet is the Cultural Capital of Europe for 2010. And so I had enjoyed the Mother's Day (Muttertag) in Germany. It's not celebrated quite as extensively as in the USA. Some families treat it like a completely normal day.





Monday and Tuesday have been a bit stressful because my future came knocking at my door. I had to pick classes for college and take two language placement exams for Spanish and German. I just realized that I'll be starting college before I know it. Last time this year, I was really excited about going to Germany, and now I'm starting to get excited for college. But before I get back to the USA, I gave on Friday and Tuesday my first three presentations about the United States to students in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. It was a nice change from the same old classes. And I got some good feedback from the students and teacher! :-D So despite the stress, I feel like I've had an optimistic perspective on the past few days.

I'm going to Berlin on Thursday!

Bis dann!
Matt

P.S. I just realized that in the US, quite a few people refer to me as "Matt Knoth" rather than just Matt, which is what everyone calls me here. Perhaps the reason is because there are fewer "Matt"s in Germany.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Alles gute zum Muttertag!

Alles gute zum Muttertag!

Happy Mother's Day!

I'll be posting a blog about my weekend soon!

Bis bald,
Matt

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Der Kamin

Well, unfortunately the weather hasn't been so wonderful at the start of May...or at least after the pilgrimage. I'd just like to say how much I love the fireplace in our living room. Growing up...my Dad always said that "Our family is not fireplace people". Well I'm going to have to disagree with that statement. I would definitely recommend that we get a fireplace! I'm a fireplace person! ;-) And I thought I'd write this quick note because I'm enjoying the warm of the fireplace on this cold, rainy May 6th while skyping with Jazzy Landry. :-D You can read here blog here: Click Here!

Schönes Wochenende!
Matt

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Matt hat Trier überlebt...

So a few months ago, I heard that Marie-Claire was participating on a walk to Trier. The only word that seemed to catch my attention was TRIER. And for those who don't know what Trier is, it's a historic city in Rheinland-Pfalz, and closely borders Saarland. (Click on the map from the previous post to see Trier on a map). But I never really considered what the other conditions of the trip were. These conditions included what ended up being:
-80 km (50 mi) hiking through the Eifel (a rather hilly part of Germany) over three days
-A LOT of personal reflection and prayer
-Countless repetitions of the Hail Mary prayer
-Church Services each day
-ALL IN GERMAN!

But the gist of the pilgrimage was: it was four days where we walked 20km on the first day, 26 km on the second day, and 34 km on the third day where we arrived at St. Matthias Cathedral. Our days of walking were centralled around this very small village (120 people) called Dodenburg. This village were our hosts and our group was a third of their population. But the village was basically a street and they also had a Castle, also called Dodenburg.Click here to learn more about Dodenburg.
And so we woke up early to walk and then when we returned in the evenings, we ate and drank at the Inn. But there are quite a few details in between...

So even though, I didn't really grasp the point of this pilgrimage, I feel like my feelings toward this experience are a bit contradictory.
-I got sick of walking so much rather quickly (after the first day).
-In the moments on silence that were about 15 minutes each time...the same thoughts ran through my head such as this upcoming period of transition..the difficulties of the German language...about my family and friends (in the states and Germany).
-I reached this point which I think is normal for each exchange student: I got sick of speaking (and hearing) German. And when you don't have the motivation to speak German, your language skills go downhill pretty quickly. So at some points I was rather quiet and just walked through the woods in my thoughts.
-My heels were red because my sneakers rubbed against them due to my low socks and every adult (every woman at least!) asked me if I needed a bandaid to prevent from getting a blister. Well I continuously reassured them that it didn't hurt and it's normal when I wear the sneakers. And old German people are stubborn! They insisted on giving me the bandaids. I appreciated their concern, but being continuously asked about it got on my nerves. Even the leader had confronted me about it...even though I never complained about my heels. (However, I feel like I complained each time I hiked up- or downhill.) And then I put on a bandaid on each heel so I'd stop hearing about it, and as the bandaids started to peel off, I couldn't tolerate it anymore! The people asking that is...
-It felt very foreign for me to hear these catholic prayers such as the Hail Mary repeated over and over.

However, on the other side that's a bit more optimistic is:
-Many people were interested in what I was doing here. Simple questions (with complex answers) like: What are you doing in Germany? Who do you live with? How does Germany compare to the USA?
-I was adopted and welcomed into a group of people that I really didn't much to do with before I got on the bus at the start of the trip. I had only been to one church service at St. Clemens and the Christmas party with the Youth Group. They even asked me to carry the cross that led the group as we went to the Abtei Himmelrod Monastery.
-By the end of the pilgrimage, everyone knew my name. Unfortunately, I only knew about a fourth of their names.
-After completeing the 80km as a first-time participant, I received a necklace with with a "medal" symbolizing that I reached St. Matthias (St. Matthew's) Cathedral in Trier.
-And the best part is: I had a new experience, and even though I don't want to take part in another pilgrimage for awhile, it was overall a good experience because of the following reasons:
-I got to see another perspective religiously. Yeah, Catholicism is a little different than being Presbyterian, but I still got the chance to reflect.
-I served as an altar boy in a service with the rest of the youth. Although to be honest, it felt a little bizarre to participate in the service because I had no idea what to do. But I did fine reading the prayer I read aloud. :-D
-The weekend left me with a good feeling inside...similar to like the Presbyterian Youth Triennium in 2007.
-The group that I was with were genuinely nice people. After the gathering in St. Clemens, everyone gave me a huge or a firm handshake wishing me the best of luck. That really made me feel special. Additionally, the group gave me a candle so that I think of them next year and that I'll be with them in spirit.

St. Matthias Cathedral, Trier, Germany.

While I didn't feel like the pilgrimage was so special when I took part on it, it was in the end and in retrospect, a well-worth experience!

So you've probably recognized by now that I take quite a few pictures...and so with that I've been able to see how much my physical appearance has changed. I'm referring to my fashion style, hair cut, skin (the acne), etc. I'll let you judge for yourself.




Bis dann,
Matt

P.S. HAPPY CINCO DE MAYO! Germans have no idea what that is!