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What I did on my summer vacation - Went to school in Germany

August 14, 2007|by SALLY NEWLIN/Pulse Correspondent

I stayed in Germany for a month this summer, and there I made new friends, learned new things, ate new foods, and did things I didn't think I would back in America.

I'm here to share my story of the life I had in Germany. I lived with my host-sister, Jessica, from mid-June to mid-July.

The first thing I had to get used to was a new school life. German school is totally different from an American school. In the first place, they were still going to school at the end of June. And you know how school ends at the same time every day in America? Well, not in Germany. School ends around noon or 1 p.m. most of the time and you only have one day of the week where you get off at about 3 p.m. or something. Classes are usually 30 to 45 minutes long, but, depending on your schedule, sometimes they are two hours long.

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You can go to the market across the street (if there is one) during breaks. There is also a separate area near school for teens to smoke and hang out.

German students get very crazy at the end of the year. My school had a big water-balloon fight, and there were water-gun fights all around school. How cool is that?

Now let's talk about food. There is no cafeteria. They have a little stand where you can buy food such as bread and sandwiches, drinks like juice and soda, and candy. And you can get it anytime you want it. Beats a cafeteria, right?

Just watch what drink you get. Some of the water is what's called "sparkling," which means it's bubbly. Most American teenagers don't like it, but the Germans love it. I don't like it.

I was at the school for middle-level kids. The smarter kids who want to try to go to college attend a school called a Gymnasium (pronounced "gim-NAH-zee-um"). I went with my host-sister Jessica to a Gesamtschule. Then there is a lower-level school below that. But it's for kids who will have the lowest paying jobs. Transportation? Same as America - walk, ride your bike or take a bus.

Now let's move on to what German teenagers do for fun. Jessica's friends like to hang out a lot just like any teenager in America and they like having a lot of free time. It's very important to Germans to have free time. That's why people work fewer hours and kids get out of school earlier.

On weekends, teenagers love to party. They usually get a big group of teenagers they know from school. Sometimes they go someplace, and sometimes they sit and drink alcoholic beverages. Just to have fun. I didn't drink anything. I tried some things, but I spit everything out. But, eh, can't be helped. I was going out almost every day to hang out with Jessica's friends.

American stereotypes of Germans are wrong in so many ways. Not all Germans are Nazis. In fact, it's illegal to be a Nazi. If you display the Nazi symbol in Germany, you could be arrested and sent to prison.

Also, the German language might sound like a cat spitting or like everyone is angry. They're not angry. They're actually really nice people. But there are sounds in German that we don't have in English.

The class I attended in Germany loved me. And now I miss them all. They gave me such a warm welcome. Some of their stereotypes of Americans were wrong, too. They think we're easy. They said that when they hand American teenagers an alcoholic drink, we'll just take it and drink it. I said that wasn't true; American kids aren't stupid.

One kid in Germany was messing with me and tried to get me to drink, but I didn't, because I'm not stupid. The drinking age might be 16 in Germany, but don't go overboard.

I loved the sights - castles, cathedrals, beautiful statues and fountains, and culture. There are a bajillion castles in Germany. The biggest castle we saw and the longest hike up to a castle we endured was at Neuschwanstein. It's a big castle built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria in the 1870s. He wanted Neuschwanstein to be a better re-creation of an ideal medieval castle than Hohenschwangau Castle - the castle of his father, King Maximilian II. So he built a huge castle on top of a mountain to look down on his dad's castle, which is smaller but has a more beautiful interior.

Now let's talk cathedrals. There are many, of course. But I think the most beautiful was the one in Cologne. It has two huge towers more than 500 feet tall. You can walk up inside one tower. It has about three times as many stairs as the Statue of Liberty. Sure, its tiring on the way up and it seems the spiral staircases might never end. But it's worth it when you get up there and see the view. You can see the entire city of Cologne.

The bottom of the cathedral is cool too. It's a Catholic church and they have people tour and worship as well. But don't expect to get in on Sunday. That's when Mass is celebrated and no tours are allowed. That goes for any church or cathedral.

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