Living the American Teenage Dream

August 2005 – June 2006. I had the first “assessment center” of my life quite early – I had just turned 16 and remember I was quite nervous when my parents took me to Frankfurt. I really wanted that high school exchange in the States and did not want anything to go wrong. Luckily, a few weeks later I got a positive reply from YFU, the organization I chose for that exchange. Now I would just need to fill out a million application papers and hope for a family to like me. I remember that for two months, I rushed home from school every day, hoping for that letter to be in our mailbox telling me who my family would be and where I would move to. It must have been May or June when finally it arrived.

Our own little lake in the backyard – my favorite spot.

In August, I would fly to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to be picked up by my host dad, mom and sister who lived in Richfield. It is a small town close to Germantown where I would go to high school. I still remember the first time I had to talk English with an American in a “real conversation”: I was ordering a hot dog at Chicago O’Hare airport and was seriously swamped by his questions whether I wanted pickles it. “Pickles? What is that?” And then my family picking me up at Milwaukee airport, greeting me with balloons and stuffed animals – I immediately felt very welcome.

The first few weeks were quite hard on me though – so many new impressions, a different language, jet lagged. And then high school… The bus picking me up at my house (better don’t be late!), then the American pledge every single morning at the beginning of first period, changing class rooms for every course (and oh, if you were a minute late, trouble ahead). Quite a different experience from German high school. I eventually eased into it and really started absorbing all kinds of impressions. To sum it up: What you see in American high school movies are no stereotypes, just the hard truth – haha! They were all there, your hot football players, the preppy girls, Prom Queen (or everybody’s darling), the band nerds, you name it.

And the food in the States! Mh, so good. Too good apparently, as I suddenly needed to buy my clothes a size bigger. Oh well, how could you possible resist indulgences like hot Cinnabon rolls with extra frosting, Cheesecake Factory cakes, Papa John’s pizza, Culver’s cookie dough ice cream, well, I could go on with the list but you get my point.

Gymnastics – G-Town/Falls

So I eventually decided to counterbalance this trend of having to buy bigger sizes in my jeans: I signed up for Gymnastics in the winter and Track & Field during the spring. I thus had the full American high school experience: After-school practice, five days a week, being part of a spirited team. Besides, I probably had the worst week of my life during my first week of Track practice (I was on the Sprints team, 100m & 200m). The coaches pushed every single one of us girls to the limit resulting in 50 girls walking very funny, each and every part of our bodies hurting like crazy. At one point, I could not even reach up to grab the books at the top-shelf of my locker and sitting down, ouch. Climbing stairs, no idea how I even managed that.

Graduation – Class of ’06
St.Thomas, US Virgin Islands

I really did have a great time, especially on our trips to the Wisconsin Dells, Door County, Minnesota and to top it all off, the Caribbean. A fun week with my host sister on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, seriously paradise on Earth. (Pssst, I got her drunk on some tasty Caribbean Rum blended with fresh Mango and we had some serious fun.)

All in all, these ten months passed by so quickly – my stay was over in no time. It was once-in-a-lifetime experience from which I grew so much. You go on this journey as a 16-year-old girl but you return a much stronger person, not grown-up, yet independent and with a broadened horizon that suddenly let’s you view the World from a different point of view. I would not want to have missed that experience for anything and have to be forever grateful not only for my parents who rendered this stay possible but also for my host family who accepted me as a member of their family and made me feel loved. Thank you!

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