Hey Look, I’m Back (Hopefully)

Hey, remember when I used to do this blog thing? No? Well that makes sense because it has been FOREVER since I’ve updated you all on my international experiences! And, believe it or not, there have been quite a few over the past few months. I’ve interacted with the awesome exchange students who are at my school for the year, hosted a boy from Germany for three weeks, spent a whole weekend volunteering at an AFS event, and have some fun things coming up. So, let’s get started!

First, I want to explain why it’s been so long since I’ve posted. There are two simple reasons: school and rehearsal. Together, those two things (plus the homework which accompanies school) take up approximately 11 hours of my day. The rest are spent briefly seeing my family and sleeping, so there’s not much room for writing in there! I have missed it so much, and hopefully I’ll have time to post more frequently since my rehearsal life has calmed down and there are some school breaks coming up. I hope you all are excited to hear more from me, and if you’re not that’s really too bad. I’m sharing anyway :)

Now, allow me to tell you how my family came to have a German boy named Samuel live in our house for three weeks. At the end of last school year, I applied for a program called the German-American Partnership Program (GAPP) which is run through my school. Formerly a biennial tradition, it had been dormant for three years until a teacher decided to resurrect the exchange, which brings a group of German students to Oregon for three weeks and then sends a group of American students to Germany! Being the procrastinator that I am, I waited too long to submit my application (plus the teacher in charge isn’t the best at answering emails) and all of the female German students had been paired with an American by the time my application was received. There were also some scheduling conflicts, all of which resulted in me getting a phone call in September asking if I was still interested in hosting and if I was okay hosting a boy. After talking with my parents, I replied with an enthusiastic yes and that was that! We received Samuel’s application and contact info and I started talking to him via WhatsApp.

Fast forward to October 2nd. My parents and I are waiting at the airport, along with 13 other families, holding a huge “Welcome Samuel” sign, and staring at the top of the escalator in hopes of seeing a group of German teenagers appear. When they finally make their way down, it isn’t hard to spot Samuel (believe it or not, he was the only Vietnamese German) and we introduce ourselves in the semi-awkward way that always comes with meeting strangers who are about to live with you. By the way, this is all happening around 12:45 AM. There’s not much to report from that first night, primarily because I was so exhausted the details are a bit fuzzy. My general recollection is that we made idle chit-chat on the ride home and then went straight to bed with a positive feeling about the next three weeks. And we were right!

Samuel and I mid-way through a bike ride around town!
Samuel and I mid-way through a bike ride around town!

If you know me at all, you know I am very much a “girl’s girl”, meaning I’m not great at making conversation or connecting with guys, so having a teenage boy who loves rock-climbing and doesn’t know anything about music or theater in the house was an interesting challenge! We didn’t become the best of friends (and it didn’t help that I was at rehearsal until 6:30 every evening and then came home and did homework), but we got along very well and had fun when we had the chance to hang out. There were three other German students at my school (the rest were at other schools in town) and I loved getting to know them as well. Samuel was great at taking the initiative and planning activities for himself — he definitely took advantage of the time he had here! Unfortunately, that also meant that when I got home, he was out, and when he got home, I was in the middle of homework or asleep. Ah, such is life! All in all, having him here was a great experience, and I can’t wait to go to Germany in June! I actually just returned from a trip meeting and we’ve got lots of exciting things planned.

The other major international event that has occurred since I last wrote is AFS Sky Camp! Every fall, AFS Pacific Cascades has their Post-Arrival Orientation for the year’s exchange students at a youth camp about 45 minutes away (or 5 hours depending on which part of Oregon you’re coming from). All of the students and host families in Oregon spend a full Saturday in sessions where they talk about culture shock, how to deal with conflicts, language barriers, and all of the other things that come with exchange. I was a leader for one of the host sibling groups, which was a lot of fun! We didn’t have loads to talk about, so after about an hour and a half of discussion we just hung out and played cards. Fine by me! That evening there was a talent show, the highlight of which was a girl from Russia and a girl from Ukraine singing a traditional folk song together. If that doesn’t show the power of exchange, I don’t know what does! Other acts included a singing of the Italian national anthem from, as they announced themselves, “The Italians!”, a traditional dance from Cameroon, and (actually this might be the highlight) a blond, Swedish girl named Else lip-synching to Let It Go. Dreams came true that night. After the talent show was a dance — with a DJ and everything! — which morphed into everyone just hanging out and talking. Even though I was technically a volunteer, all of the students welcomed me. I made friends from France, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Argentina, Palestine, Germany, Denmark, Austria, Japan, and so many other amazing places — it was a completely surreal experience.  We stayed up long past our bedtime, which made waking up at 7 AM oh-so-fun, but it was absolutely worth it. Every time I have the chance to hang out with people from other cultures, I’m reminded of how much I love travel and learning new things about the world. So, thank you AFS for the awesome opportunity!

The one other thing I want to mention is that I have been semi-successful in starting a program for exchange students at my school! So far we’ve had one “get-to-know-you” lunch which was a huge hit and very well-attended and I’m in the process of planning a second one and some fun activities for the coming months! I’m so grateful that our new principal is as enthusiastic about international learning as I am and has been so willing to help me make this a reality. I can’t wait to see what the future has in store!

Well, that’s all the updates I have for now. Next month I’ll be going to an AFS event in Portland, OR and ideally writing a blog post about that, as well as anything else that pops into my mind! I truly do intend for this to be more than just a collection of things happening in my life, but it’s hard to find the time to sit down and write other things I’m genuinely proud of. With any luck, that will start happening soon! Until next time, goodbye!

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