“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
“Entscheidend ist nicht, wo ein Mensch in Zeiten der Ruhe und Sicherheit steht, sondern wohin er sich in Zeiten der Herausforderung und Kämpfe stellt.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
I can’t change the cards I’m dealt, just how I play the hand. This has probably been the most important lesson of the last few months. Figuratively speaking, I think our default is to immediately fold if we get a hand that we’re not pleased with. We settle without even considering if we have a play. Life rarely goes according to plan. It’s funny like that. I came in to this exchange expecting nothing but the best. However, I can’t say that these past few months haven’t been without struggles and frustration. In my case I wasn’t dealt the best hand. My host family and I were far from a good match. We had little in common and faced unsolvable problems. I won’t go in to much detail, but this past month or so has been one of the hardest I have ever faced. Thanks to my friends and family I made it through.
“Life is a series of experiences, each of which makes us bigger, even though it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and griefs which we endure help us in our marching onward.”
I broke the news to my soccer team that I would be moving. My soccer coach mentioned that we had a soccer tournament in late January. I saw this as the perfect opportunity and told him that I didn’t think I could make it. Which then lead to the question, “Why not?” I quickly glanced at Mary (who knew about the situation) and she knew exactly what I was thinking. She then said “Don’t! You will make them cry.” As the words “I am moving” came out of my mouth I saw a quick change in the faces of every person on my soccer team. I believe they were in complete shock.
I will never forget some of the comments that then followed:
a. “We could sign a petition, send it to your organization, and say that you must stay here.”
b. “If you are leaving, someone must learn your skills. Can you teach me your tricks?”
“Where are you moving to?” “Oh, it can be anywhere in Germany. Well, that means it could be Bavaria. Oh no. You won’t understand anything they are saying.”
Then everyone on my team started joking around and making arrangements for where I could live. One girl even offered me her bed.
It was at this moment that I realized how lucky I was to be part of a team such as this. Women’s soccer is not that big in Germany, and I am lucky to have found such a team. They definitely respect me and my skills. Every practice someone says something along the lines of “Can I be with Ashlen?” or “Crap, I have to play against Ashlen.” That is definitely a great feeling. With my soccer team, I also feel that I can be myself. I can joke around, be goofy, and just be me. The good thing is though, I don’t have to actually leave my team…
Another exchange student (Mary) who is also part of CBYX lives just outside of Flensburg. We are on the same soccer team and see each other quite often. Through our friendship I have become close with her host family. They have done so much for me. In November I had to take the SAT, and her parents arranged a trip to visit family members in Hamburg so that I had a ride. They have also taken me to many of my soccer games, and really made me feel like a part of their family. Funny thing is, I am now part of the Sommer family. About a month ago as I was sitting down for breakfast with the Sommer family, Hauke (host dad) said to me that if I was given the opportunity to move that his family would like to take me in. Of course I did not have to accept the offer, and he completely understood if I wanted to completely start over. This decision definitely wasn’t easy. Apparently they had been discussing the idea for several weeks, and made sure that it was 100% fine with Mary. After breakfast, Mary and I made a pro/con chart.
Biggest Pro: I knew that I would fit in with the family. Like I said before, they had already made me feel like part of their family. I wouldn’t have to worry about building a new connection and after already struggling to make a connection with my first host family, I feared a bit that maybe I would be placed in a similar situation. Plus, they love soccer and being active.
Biggest Con: I would have to share host parents, and I was worried about speaking too much English with another exchange student in the home.
I definitely thought long and hard about this decision, but I am positive I have made the best one for me. I went back and forth for over a week. I talked with my parents for a long time as well. After discussing all of the pros and cons, they also agreed that maybe I should give this a shot. I knew my situation could only get better. Many people would not want to be in my situation. They would not want to share host parents and live with another exchange student, but for us it works. After telling the Sommers I would like to move in with them, they called Experiment. Experiment said that according to the rules that the move would not be allowed. After they discussed the situation, they agreed that I could move in…however the USA organization said no. After several emails and a little persuasion, they finally said yes. I moved in with the Sommer family on December 9th, so I have only been here for two weeks. I know that I have made the right decision.
I started my new school last week. I am in the 12 sport profil class. This means that sport class is one of my main classes, and everyone in the class is very in to sports as well. My first day of sport class we played hockey on roller blades. It was awesome. I am so happy with my new situation. My class is so friendly. The first week of school my classmates made sure that I always knew what was going on, and that I knew where I had to be. I also have already been invited out several times, and I always have people to talk to from my class during the breaks. I already feel like a part of the class. In February we are taking an 8 day class SNOWBOARDING trip to AUSTRIA! I couldn’t be more excited.
Yesterday winter break started. On the last day before winter break, the 13th grade always host a soccer tournament, and a bunch of other schools participate. Only those in the 13th grade can play, but everyone is invited to watch. It is a really big deal. I watched the entire tournament with some of my classmates. It was a really nice way to end our last day of school before the break. Then I spent the entire day home with my seven year old host brother. We played soccer, and bingo, and Wii, and drew pictures. It was a nice day. Today I went grocery shopping with my host dad. Shopping two days before Christmas is just as crazy in Germany as it is in America. Mary and I are also home alone tonight. We just finished wrapping our host family’s Christmas gifts. Problem was…we don’t have a tree to put them under. So we improvised a little bit!
At the end of the week I am going snowboarding in Bavaria with my host family!! We will be right on the Czech border and plan on visiting there one day as well. I AM SO EXCITED.
My host mom is also Danish, so my family also has many Danish Christmas traditions. One of those being the Nissers. Nissers are little elves whose favorite food is milchreis. When you don’t leave milchreis out for the Nissers, they will play tricks on you. The other morning all of the shoes from our shoe closet were scattered up and down the steps. The towels in the bathroom were also scattered everywhere. The next morning as I sat down for breakfast, I went to pour myself some milk and it was blue. The butter was also dyed pink. Those darn Nissers. My host brother made sure to put out milchreis that night.
Last weekend I went to the Hamburg Christmas market with Mary and Lauren. It was so crowded, but it was really neat to see. I had a very enjoyable time. I also went to a soccer pizza party last weekend. It was also really fun. On Wednesday I went ice skating with my local coordinator, Mary, and Lauren. On Thursday I had my last soccer practice of the season. Last week I received a nomination from Paul Broun to both the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy.
A friend of mine asked if I felt like I had lost a few months of my exchange. I quickly answered no, without much thought. During these past few months I have learned valuable lessons that many people will never learn. I have encountered many struggles, made important decisions, and learned so many lessons. The lessons continue as we speak. The fact is that I can’t put a number or words to the last few months. I’m a work in progress and I’m continuing to learn. I’ve become a sponge. I haven’t arrived and I never will and I don’t want to. I don’t ever want to get to a place in life where I feel like I’ve made it and there’s nothing left for me to learn. The last few months have been altogether challenging, yet rewarding, difficult, but satisfying, fearful, yet hopeful. I can’t wait for the next months of this exchange.