Friday, February 22, 2008

Germany - Day 23: 2/22 (The Final Countdown)

Days Left to Departure: 1

So this is the last full day in Germany. It was somewhat hard to really put into words as I went through in my head the usual old habit that I have had since I was a small child and I realize something was about to end. This is the last time…that I will put on my football pads, that I will get a #6 from the House of Fo in Nanjing, the last time I am going to walk out the door of my classroom at Ballston Spa. It’s more of just a roving observation, but it always happens in my mind, and today was no different. I was realizing that I would not be going back to GSG after today and the morning commute, which I have actually come to enjoy because it is a daily chance to ride on the autobahn, and I saw a SMART car that looked different than anything I have yet seen, as it was a two seater sporster. SMART cars are supposedly coming to the Cooper Mini dealer in Latham. I am all over this model when a) it is available and b) I can afford it. That being said, I have developed a level of comfort and have enjoyed my emerging sense of independence as I can get around town using the buses and it’s a great feeling. I feel like I could actually start to take care of myself here, and that is such a strong part of who I am, it makes it nice to gain that feeling, even if it is on the last day.

Today was somewhat sad, but also it gave a real great chance for reflection in a very humorous way, which it would have to because that is really our group. For the first hour of the 90 minute session, students tried to finish work and get any last academic requirements out of the way. Besides a mildly surprising assignment that came in yesterday (surprising because BH-BL is on break), everyone seemed to be just about done with work (Erin, how is that Animal Farm reading coming?). Once students were pretty much squared away, we worked on material for the going away party this evening. Jessia is giving a speech about her experiences with the exchange, and then the American group is going to do a version of “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?” where the kids act out some of the more memorable moments of the last three weeks that all of us have shared. It has the potential to be pretty funny, so I hope it goes as well as it can because the students were very excited about it and actually remained for an extra block, just to do a run through.

After period three was done, Frau Canavan and I had some errands to run. We took the bus, which was an awesome turn of events as the drivers went on strike this morning, but apparently it was settled by about 11 A.M. Gotta hand it to the Germans when it comes to efficiency. We ran around Moers Centro doing some last minute buying of gifts and preparation for the evening’s festivities. We also took the opportunity to have a final doner, which I ordered totally by myself and tricked it out, Mody Style. It was perfect. The best one that I had since I arrived. I even took a video so people had a better idea and took a picture of the end product. Mmmmm…doner.

Frau Canavan spent the next two hours going in and out of shops, checking things off our collective shopping list and when hit the bus perfectly so I made it back just in time for me to meet Beatrix for the ride back to Kamp-Lintfort. Her mother had fixed a great hot lunch of pork schnitzel, baked cauliflower and boiled kartoffel. I also enjoyed my new favorite beverage and a great replacement for Coke, which I gave up for lent (along with walking at least two miles every day), which is basically a mixture of one-half orange juice, one-half seltzer water. Good stuff.

I then decided to repack most of what I did last night in order to accommodate the new items I picked up and something for James Flacke that is being sent home, which might be the entire length of my biggest bag. Should be interesting. As I pack things together, I realized that I had a lot less space than I thought. Especially when I received unexpected gifts at the farewell party this evening. Looks like I might be carrying a pretty good amount of materials in my bag. Mostly laundry, but I was hoping the back pack would end up being light. It’s funny. I am now thinking back of that last night in China. My roommate had left three days before, so I was by myself and two or three remaining American students. Packing up your belongings in a hotel is one thing, but living here was a little more personal. As with China, I really LIVED there, not just staid there. While I hope that I had a positive enough impact on this program for Kelly to invite me again, because of the rotation of teachers and the drive to bring all disciplines on such exchanges, we both know that it will be at least five years before I am able to do this again. By that point I will be almost 37 (yikes) and will probably have kids, God willing, so leaving the country may not be a realistic option. All of this has come to me this evening and while I am not as emotional about it as I was with China (I wanted to stay at least another trimester and break - four months), I am sad to be leaving. This has indeed been long enough to develop friendships and even though I was more secluded than what our students had, and was left more to myself (my family here really respected my privacy a great deal), I can only imagine what it is like for the students.

The farewell party this evening was very nicely done. Each host family brought enough food for 10 people and being that there were 50 people and 15 host families, we did quite alright. There was a great atmosphere, dancing, joking around, and such. At about 9:15, Herr Fabricius called everyone together and gave a speech about the importance of the program and how well it went, and that we need to remind ourselves that the struggle of these programs is what makes it valuable and allows us to grow as people, no matter our age. Amazingly, he delivered it in German, then English. At that point, a German student, Sandra, delivered a speech about how she felt about the program in German. Despite not knowing what she was saying, the pure emotion she was exuding told me everything that I needed to know. I have always found Sandra to be direct, honest, and sincere, and when Kim got up to hug her crying host, I was happy to see that this exchange just works. Maybe not all hosts and American students had that same level of connection, but I think we will see more tears than jeers at tomorrow’s farewell at the airport.

Next, Jessia gave a speech in English about how thankful she was to everyone who put the program together and how everyone she met went out of their way to make sure that she was having a good time. It was also heart felt and included a quote (so bonus points from me). Canavan followed with a speech in German which introduced me, who was to serve as “Drew Carey” for the night’s skit. With Herr Fabricius translating as I went, we did “The Top 20 Moments From the P.E.A.C.E. Exchange to Moers 2008”. I would say that of the 20, about 15 received raucous laughter from most of the room, and many of those laughing the hardest were the parents.

Afterwards, it was dispensing of a few gifts, here and there, and some tearful goodbyes by students who could not go to the airport tomorrow. I feel a little bad that Gloria can’t go to the airport and that she has already come to the U.S., so while most students are in the “see you in eight months…after tomorrow” mode, she was forced to say goodbye for real tonight.

And while at times, American students clumped with American students, and Germans with Germans, by the end of the night those natural cliques had been broken and it was totally intertwined. Because of how stressful the last few days were and how tense, I was very happy to see that we could all put it behind us and concentrate on why we were here and what the point of a foreign exchange is. To come together. To learn about each other. To make friends. To avoid misconception for unfamiliarity.

When I returned home, instead of running down to write my blog, I staid up in the living room with Beatrix, Kevin, Hannah, and Gideon until midnight because I wanted to spend as much time with them as I could. On the way home, Beatrix told me that she thought I was not what you would call a “typical American” and that my intelligence, education, and mostly, my curiosity made it a pleasure to have me around because I showed sincere interest in Germany. It was really nice of her to say to me because I have been trying to hard to not only set that example for the kids, but to really live that credo myself. Not to be a broken record, but I cannot fathom the amount of knowledge that I have obtained on this trip. And while terms like ziekekreig will fade from my memory, eventually, a connection, FINALLY, with the other half of my ethnic roots will allow this experience to remain with me, always.

As everyone seemed about ready for bed, I gave Beatrix the book about scenic views in New York, Hannah a bag of marbles so she can rehab her ankle, and Gideon a New York Mets ball cap, even though he is really all about basketball. They felt pale and thin in comparison to what they offered me for the past 24 days, but I think that this is a time where “it’s the thought that counts” was an accurate representation.

Right now, I have about eight hours before I leave and realize that I have written about 32,000 words detailing my experiences here. I only hope that all of my effort in chronicling my events has one major effect on my readers, no matter if it’s Mr. Schultz, the Board of Education, students, parents, teacher, or just community members (or you too, my German readers!), PLEASE understand that even though I don’t speak German much at all, this is a wonderful program that teaches students so much about the world and themselves. I cannot tell you how many deep and thought provoking conversations that I have with these students who are really just bright, bright people. These are conversations that I could have with many students, but when someone is opening up to new ideas, like students were here to do, it just lends itself to discussions that we never have time for in class, or at least not enough. Whether it was Roman history, or contemporary politics, human rights violations, or literature discussion, it felt so real, and the learning felt so real, that I would go through all of the work it took to miss two weeks of class again in a heartbeat. It really was that great of an experience, even if it wasn’t always easy.

This exchange, and others like it, should be supported, and if possible, more exchanges should be encouraged by any district and department that has the means. Giving students perspective is probably one of the greatest preparatory measures that we can give in terms of getting them ready for life after high school. While no exchange will ever be perfect because of the number of people that it inherently involves, it is a perfect learning experience and I am sad that it is soon coming to an end. My hat is off to all of the people, and specifically to Frau Canavan, Herr Kramer, Herr Fabricius, Frau Lohoff, and all of the host families that make this possible. I thank all of you who have read the pages and pages of writing that I have been able to do. It actually made me feel like a writer again, and I haven’t felt that way in quite a long time.

Barring any unforeseen adventures on the way home, this should bring my Germany blog to an end. So knowing our group the way that I do now, that means I should be posting one more, once I get home. What do you think? Time for a milkshake, Bekah?

(FYI: I will add pictures to the last few entries and post a link to my web albums for anyone who wants copies)

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