Myrtha in Virginia

Being an Exchange Student

My name is Myrtha and I came back a while ago from my year in America. When I look back I can say it was the best year of my life. Not because everything was always easy, nice and pretty but because I learned so much, language wise and also for my life.

My adventure started on a Tuesday, after I had said goodbye to my friends and family. Surprisingly it wasn’t all too hard for me to say goodbye, my whole body was set in adventure-mode and I was only looking forward to what’s going to happen. Anyways when I walked into the plane, I was so excited to finally see New York and then start my new life. As we reached New York, met up with all the other exchange students and sat in the bus heading towards the city, I had to pinch myself to see if this is actually reality or if I was just dreaming. I will never forget that moment when I first laid eyes on the beautiful city of New York. The five days in New York are unforgettable and we got to see so many things, I had a really great time.

Saturday was departing day, we all rode different busses to the airport and then continued with our travels to finally reach our host families. It was a very weird feeling, excitement mixed with a little bit of fear, how this year is going to turn out. Then finally arrived at the local airport in Lynchburg, VA, I saw my family standing and waiting for me. My littlest sister gave me a teddy bear which I still have on my bed today, and then we headed home. It felt strange seeing the big and beautiful house for the first time in reality and not just in pictures. The next evening, my family took me to the local baseball game and I met new people. I soon felt at home in that pretty house and started to love my new family.

The school at first was a bit frightening, it was so big and I kind of got lost, but I got used to it really fast. I really liked that I could choose my courses and so I ended up with; dance for music theatre, adv. American literature, adv. Physics, French 4, math analysis, adv. American history and photography. It was hard to meet people at first because you had different people in every period. But it didn’t take long until I got invited to join Sorority and had my first American sleepover. And those became my people, we had sleepover every weekend for the whole year and I just had the greatest time. Of course at the beginning as an exchange student you have to make the effort. Especially at my school, we had 7 exchange students so you weren’t an attraction like you might have thought you’ll be but it is worth it. I also got involved in jazz dance, and due to my friend Casey, I started pole-vaulting (Stabhochsprung), which I still practice here in Germany today.

A regular weekday looked like this; I rode the typical yellow school bus to school, which wasn’t my favorite part of the day since it took quite long to reach my school. Then I went from first to 5th period, then lunch break with my friends. Be aware most American cafeteria food is not edible in my opinion, so I always brought my own lunch. Then 6th and 7th period. After school we practiced pole-vaulting for about 2 hours and then my host mom came and picked me up. This was my daily routine. Sometimes we had meetings of the German of French club which I participated in. On weekends I was usually pretty busy as well. Volunteering with the Sorority, sleepovers, hikes and so on. Spirit week was also a lot of fun, you dressed differently the whole week before the homecoming game, which I actually not went to because there was a dance thrown by a sorority the same night. It was fun, every day there was a different theme; Pajama Day, Decade Day, America Day and so on.

I had a really great local rep and we could participate in activities with all the exchange students once a month. In December we took a one day trip up to New York. Seeing the loved city again, shimmering in the gleam of Christmas was lovely. Thanksgiving was a nice experience, too: My hostdad roasted a turkey about half the size of my little sister and the whole family came to our house to celebrate this special holiday. The same night we went "Black Friday Shopping". Every Friday after Thanksgiving, all the stores have big sales so you go shopping at 12 at night to get the item you want at up to 90%.

The time from my arrival until New Year was good but also hard, there was so much new stuff, which I had to experience and deal with and I was homesick from time to time, especially around Christmas. But I had a lovely holiday experience with my hostfamily and they couldn’t have made me a more special time. On Christmas, we went to see the musical “Les Misérables” and then we went to my aunt’s house and celebrated with the whole family. Over Chrismas break we took a trip to West Virginia to see my hostmom’s side of the family, it was very interesting to see the different area and lifestyle.

From New Year’s on until the very last day of my stay, it was just great. Polevaulting meets, sleepovers, dances, coffee-breaks, road trips with friends, dance practices, photo shoots - everything. I was living my American dream. I rarely had a free minute in which I wasn’t doing anything. A highlight was over spring break; my family took me to see Washington D.C. I love that city; it is really interesting with all its museums and just had a great atmosphere.

Of course the main highlight as for most of the students was Prom. I have watched many high school movies and had an exact vision of how it’s going to be. I got asked to Prom by my friend Jack pretty early and I also got my dress in advance, so I could stay out of the last minute rush of getting a date and dress. The week before Prom, everyone got their hair done, have a mani-and pedicure, eyebrows waxed and so on. Then the big day had come. The getting-ready-part is very fun but also very stressful! Me and my friends changed locations twice and I had to do everyone’s make up but it all turned out well.

Then all the guys came for the first photoshooting. My date and I, we changed locations three times so we could get a photo with everyone since all the people arrange into “promgroups” and have dinner together. Finally arrived in our group, after many pictures and aching cheeks from all the smiling, we went and had dinner at an Indian place. After dinner, we went to the actual prom, which was downtown in a big event center. It was themed “midnight in Paris” and I thought it was fun. Most of my friends thought it was lame, usually the actual Prom is the people’s least favorite part of the whole prom night. We all left and got some coffee, changed into normal clothes and then went to the Afterprom. Afterprom was at the local mall. You could play games, take funny photos, get your picture drawn and so on. That was over at like 3 a.m. But Prom night is long not finished yet. Half the school drove to my neighbors place for a little after-after prom party, which was a lot of fun. So at 8 o’clock in the morning I fell into my bed and slept like a rock until the sun was down again. Prom was one of my loveliest experiences and will always be on my mind.

The next highlight was my cousin’s wedding. My aunt planned everything in the last detail; she’s a perfectionist and one of the dearest people I know. I had never been to a wedding before so I don’t have anything to compare but this wedding will always be the greatest. Anyways after the ceremony in the church, we went to the reception in the local country club, ate and danced deep into the night.

The weeks became shorter and shorter and the time flew. This was pretty scary because I knew at some point I would have to wake up from my dream and leave this place. I had my end of the year recital of the dance company, which was an experience but I had to work hard for it since they all were like semi-professionals.

My friend Ashley asked me if I would want to go to the beach with her. Of course I wanted to go! The only problem was, it was after my departing date. After many mails and Skype sessions we could manage to push back my flight so I could go down to South Carolina with her and her family. Just relaxing at the beach, meeting up with other friends that were down there, I really enjoyed it.

Back home I only had a couple days left until my plane left. I tried to forget it, spend every waking minute with friends and family. I had to do everything for the last time. Go to Starbucks for the last time. Get a Blizzard for the last time, go to the pool for the last time. My host mom organized a goodbye get together of my closest friends and family. Having the last sleepover, going to the last party, saying goodbye to everyone, getting the last haircut. It was painful but something inside of me held me together and I did not feel sad at all. It was just like if my brain was telling my body that if it lets me get sad there is going to be that big empty hole inside of me. So I held it together and did not shed one tear.

I decided to start packing the very last day, which was a bad decision, I had to pack two 50 pound boxes, which had to be sent per mail. My family took me to my favorite restaurant for the last time and two of my best friends slept over. I couldn’t go to sleep at all that night. At 5 in the morning, we had to get up and go to the airport. I totally suppressed any thoughts of having to say goodbye. The last pictures were taken, the last things were said. Minute-long hugs with everyone. But again, I couldn’t shed one tear, my body didn’t allow it to. Then I had to go through security, go down the steps onto the landing field. And looked back. Up there at the window, there they were all standing. This broke the string in me that held it all together and I couldn’t stop crying. About a day later I landed in Germany. Everyone was speaking German and I didn’t want them to. It was weird and I refused to speak it, until I saw my mom and dad again. It was so nice to finally have them back. So I was back home, where everything started. It felt strange, everything was more or less the same but still changed. I saw all my friends again and started with daily life. I’m always thinking about America. Now and then when I’m not busy and alone it hits me. It feels like a dream. I’m so grateful for everything, my parents, my hostfamily, into, my friends, everyone.

I’m especially looking forward to Christmas break, because then one of my friends is going to come visit me.

-xoxo, Myrtha, 16