Saturday, January 16, 2016

Addison J. Blanchard-Rooney: A Letter from Germany

Can any of you recall a time in your life when you were puzzled about how to flush a toilet? Now, I’m aware that that’s a highly unorthodox introduction to any piece of writing, but really; please think on the matter. Does a solid memory not come to mind? For most people, that would make sense. However, that’s a good example of my reality lately. On September 5, 2015, I lived through this very moment. The day I moved to Germany. And that, my friends, welcomes you into the life of becoming an exchange student exactly as all of those brave enough to take on this endeavor are welcomed: that first moment, which in retrospect is the most raw combination of funny, embarrassing, and downright humbling.
  To begin more properly, I ought to introduce myself. My name is Addison Blanchard-Rooney, and I’m spending my junior year of high school near Cologne, Germany. I come from a small town in Vermont, and since that first memory of being confused, my life has been a mixture of adventure, new fun experiences, and eye-opening realizations, topped with silly foreign language faux pas, drizzled with deep conversation, and baked for an hour at 300 degrees. (Fahrenheit, mind you—even after nearly five months of being here I still couldn’t tell you that in celsius if my life depended on it.) That’s what I call the recipe of being an exchange student.
Up to now it’s been smelling quite good as it’s cooking. I haven’t tasted the end result yet; that part comes in July when I fly back home. But I already know of all the years I’ve cooked, while that may not be many, this will be the one to get a Michelin star.
  My daily life here leaves me with no complaints other than the odd half-rain/half-snow weather I’ve most decidedly not gotten used to after coming from my fluffy white winter wonderland of Vermont. I wake up and begin my day most mornings with some sort of German roll topped with varying sausages and spreads. My favorite is liverwurst. I like to remind myself that it’s similar to pâté, to feel fancy.
  I then walk to school, a 15-minute journey through the center of town, before getting to the third biggest high school in Germany, where I learn many things about history and German grammar and biology but where I also am asked by peers to say things like “Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitäten-hauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft” (to be fair, Germans can’t say it without reading it anyway) and if I like Donald Trump.
  So there’s the everyday life and there’s also the big “This is why I’m here” moments. Moments like dreaming in a foreign language for the first time and realizing you finally used a new grammar concept correctly in speech without thinking about it first. (This is hard. For instance, German has five words for “the,” and sentences look like this: “I want at beach swim go, because it hot is.”)
  There are the moments when your breath is taken away. This happened to me when I stepped into the main hall of the Cologne train station for the first time and stood like a deer in headlights as I looked up, awestruck as the Cologne Cathedral looming above me, its presence totally tranquil and beautiful but with mocking undertones making me feel ridiculously small and young. Never before was I put in my place by a building.
  There are also the more political moments, such as seeing first-hand how the refugee situation is actually being handled. For instance, just 400 meters from my house here, the city government is planning on building a complex for the refugees accommodating 800 people. While almost every individual I’ve met has supported the refugee issue, situations such as this, where the city decides to cram the people together whilst looking past the several zoning regulations about to be broken, really frustrate citizens. After all, Germans are very, very rule-and-order-following people. Just one more of the never-ending list of differences ranging from gender roles to pen styles to lack of bagger at the grocery store. And boy, do Germans love their sales at the supermarket.
  I don’t see a time in the near future where the surprises like this will stop coming, and I couldn’t be happier about it. That’s why I came here—to be immersed somewhere totally new. I finally am, and ladies and gentleman, I’m flippin’ loving it.
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Addison Blanchard-Rooney is 16, from Randolph, Vermont and currently living in Leverkusen, Germany. His interests span the polar opposites of more sophisticated things such as writing, traveling, cooking, and learning foreign languages, as well as being a typical teenage boy enjoying sleeping in, computer games, and Netflix. He hopes to one day work in international politics, journalism, and/or linguistics, and his bucket list includes skydiving, entering a pie-eating contest, and learning how to whistle. You can follow Addison's blog on Wordpress. 

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