Hometown: Portsmouth, Ohio
School: Portsmouth High School
Sponsor Club: Portsmouth, Ohio
Host District: 1850
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Bremen-Hansa
Guten Tag! My name is Jacqueline Meriwether and I will be spending the 2015-2016 school year in Bremen, Germany! I was born and raised in the small town of Portsmouth, Ohio so moving to a big city in Germany is going to be an exciting change. In Ohio I was involved in many sports and clubs such as volleyball, swimming, track, show choir, horseback riding, mock trial, and National Honor Society. I’m planning to continue some of those activities in Germany as well as joining new ones. I also have many interests, particularly in literature and music. I come from a very musical family where spontaneous “jam sessions” are a normal part of the day. I can play the flute and a few chords on the piano, but I prefer to sing. Traveling is also very important in my family, so instead of buying a TV for the bedroom or a new car, we save up for a trip to Europe. Therefore, I’ve been to a lot of places, but visiting a country and living in it are two very different things.
My main objective for this exchange year is to learn German and speak it fluently by the time I come home. Learning a language has been an aspiration of mine for many years, and my father, who is fluent in German, has given me a head start. Through the Rotary Youth Exchange program, I now have the perfect opportunity to finally reach my goal, and I couldn’t be more thankful. It now only depends on how hard I work and how determined I am to get the job done. So I need to give a huge thanks to Rotary, all the Rotarians involved and the Portsmouth Rotary club to make this possible for me as I head out for a great year. Auf Wiedersehen!
Letters to the Portsmouth Rotary club (my sponsor club)
Dear Portsmouth Rotary,
I am now at the half way point of my exchange, and getting to this point has been an adventure. I have had some struggles, especially with the language, but these struggles have caused me to grow into a more open minded and mature person. In this past month, some exchange students have completed their exchange and gone home, while others came in and began their exchange. This has really caused me to reflect on my first days here and think forward to my last days here in Germany.
Compared to my first days, my German has improved so much. I can say with confidence that I can speak German. I am definitely not fluent, but I can meet new people and establish relationships in German with relative ease. I can watch movies and read books in German, and I am starting to participate in the classroom. However, when thinking about my last days in Germany, I become very sad. I am far from ready to go home, because to me, Germany has become my home. I have made fabulous friends, and I have really come to love this city. I still have half of my exchange to live, so I have time before I have to say goodbye.
This Sunday I switch my host families. Even though my past family was wonderful, I am looking forward to having a younger sister. In my next update I will tell how everything goes.
Dear Rotary of Portsmouth,
This is the end of month four and if feels like the time is going by so fast! I am almost to the halfway point of my exchange and the feeling is bittersweet. I am so glad to have gotten past the difficulties of adjusting to a new life that are inevitable in the first few months, but now that Bremen, Germany has become my home, the time is moving faster and faster. However, I still have plenty of time left!
The month of December was particularly special because of the holiday festivities. The Christmas market was unbelievable. I went every time I had to the chance, buying Christmas gifts or eating unique, traditional foods, or sometimes even just walking in between the little shops and stands and seeing what it is they sold. There are actually two Christmas markets in Germany. The regular one is in the city, but on the river they have a medieval market, and this is unique to Bremen. The medieval market was probably one of the greatest highlights of my December. All of the people in the stands wore medieval clothes, and there were many shows held on little stages where people played ancient melodies on medieval instruments. The streets were lighted by fire, and every once in a while there would be a man performing a fire show. He would light torches and flip them in the air. Also, one could find the most unique and interesting merchandise at this market from beautiful pottery to tricky games. I could go on forever about the Christmas market.
This month was a particularly eventful month for me and most exchange students and I will try to sum it up as best I can. Earlier on in the month, the exchange students had a German test and a Christmas celebration. Tests are never all that much fun, but the Christmas party made up for it. We sang Christmas carols, played games, and took pictures with Santa. In the midst of all the fun, we did not forget our purpose here as Rotary students. This month we decided to sell calendars to collect money for the refugees who are struggling this winter. The calendars are a collection of pictures from our home countries that we took and arranged ourselves. Each country is its own month. We are selling them to Rotarians in our club, and it is remarkable how fast they sold. Orders for more calendars keep coming in, and we are raising a lot of money.
For me, this year’s Christmas and New Years will never be forgotten. Sometimes it was hard because I could not be with my family. However, my host family and friends did a great job in making this year special. In Germany, they open the presents on Christmas Eve late at night. On Christmas Day, my family drove me down to the Austrian Alps on a ski trip. We stayed there about a week and came home just in time for the New Years celebration. I celebrated New Years with my friends from school and that was a crazy experience, because in Germany its not illegal to light up huge fireworks on the streets. When the clock struck twelve, the streets of Bremen became a battlefield and there were huge rockets exploding all over the place. The sky was an explosion of colors for about an hour after midnight. The next day the garbage was a sight to be seen.
I could right a ten page report and still not be able to tell everything about my exchange so far. It has truly been an adventure, and I am so thankful for this opportunity.
Dear Rotary of Portsmouth,
It is December first, and it is the start of Christmas season here in Germany. The whole city of Bremen has set up many small shops and food stands in the spirit of Christmas, and there are many lights and decorations through every street. Christmas has never felt more like Christmas, and its not even close to Christmas yet! Of course, there is no Thanksgiving here, so the country has jumped right into the festivities and it is so exciting!
I have been enjoying this early holiday season with my host family this last week. We baked Christmas cookies, decorated the house, built a gingerbread house, and started our advents calendars. My host mother says that Germany is so excited for December, because November is the saddest month in Germany. In the United States, as you know, we usually associate November to Thanksgiving and the warmth of family, friends, and good food. However, November in Germany is the lonely month in between Freimarkt and Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market), and it is the month to remember the dead. It is very somber and serious, so the joys of December are happily received.
As far as my German goes, I really feel like I have improved a lot, especially compared to my first day. Conversations are getting easier, faster, broader, and deeper. Those little things that were so hard at the beginning, such as buying a book at a store or ordering in a restaurant, have again become easy and natural again. I speak almost all German to my friends (depending on the friend), and it is really cool to know that if I had not been able to speak German, I would not be able to communicate to some of my closest friends.
I have recently signed up for a language course that will last through December. It will really help me with my Grammar, and it will hopefully allow me to grow in the language. I have made a lot of progress, but I still have a ways to go. Thanks for your support.
November 1: I am now entering the third month of my exchange and I am happy to say that all is still going wonderfully. I have integrated into my German life so well that its strange to think that I have only been here for two full months. However, at the same time if feels like this year is flying by.
Tomorrow I am going back to school for the first time in two weeks. I have been enjoying the German fall break by travelling with my host family and through Rotary. The first week, my host family took me to the Harz mountains on the boarder of West and East Germany, and in the second week, my Rotary district took us inbounds on a tour throughout Germany. We visited Cologne, Bonn, Meinz, Eisenach, Weimar, Berlin, and Wolfsburg. We went on several tours and visited museums mostly on the history of the second World War and the Cold War in Germany. Berlin was unanimously considered the favorite with its rich history and multicultural scene. When I was not traveling, I spent my time in Freimarkt. Freimarkt is one of the biggest festivals in Germany located by the main train station in Bremen. I could be comparable to the Scioto County Fair, except its a lot bigger and a lot more German.
Even though I had a fabulous fall break, I am ready to go back to school and get back into the swing of things. The week with the exchange students was a nice break from the German language, but its time to get back and start learning again.
October 1: I am into my second month of my exchange, and I just want to give a little update about my life here in Bremen, Germany.
So far, I have had a wonderful exchange. I am happy to say that I have a great host family who was very welcoming and generous from the start. We have done many activities together. For instance, my second week in Europe, my family took me on a tour, and we visited many German cities as well as some places in France and Austria. They have also been very helpful in getting me settled in Bremen. With their help, I joined a volleyball club and I sing in the choir in the Bremen St. Petri Cathedral.
The high school I am attending has also been very welcoming. Even though I cannot understand much in the classroom, the teachers find ways to include me, and the classmates are always willing to help. At the beginning, all of the teachers and most of my friends spoke only German to me. However, I spoke English to the people that I was with the most. Now, I told everyone that I do not want to speak any more English because I am here to learn German, and thankfully everyone has respected that. Each day I get better at listening, understanding, and speaking, and I have made so much progress.
A huge highlight of this exchange is the events organized through Rotary. I went to the district orientation where I met exchange students from all over the world. It is truly remarkable to meet so many people that are so different from you, but at the same time, have so much in common. We are all from different countries with different backgrounds and cultures, but at the same time, we are all on exchange together, facing the same fears, challenges, and issues. We can learn from each other, support each other, and grow together, regardless of who we are or where we are from. Through Rotary, we have become like a family. We’ll be travelling on a Germany tour over the fall break, and I am very excited.
I can not say enough how thankful I am that you decided to sponsor me to go on this exchange. I am learning so much each day, and honestly, learning has never been this fun.
P.S. Sorry for any grammar mistakes. I am starting to talk like a German.