Aoife Sadlier is a TY student who was awarded a scholarship (A culture and language course in Germany) from the German Embassy based on her outstanding results in German in the Junior Certificate exam last year. She has just returned from the trip and this is her account of it.
I was lucky enough to be selected to go on a three-week-long trip to Germany, starting the 7th of June. It was an amazing opportunity and I am sure the memories and friends I made will last a lifetime! I got to travel Germany and explore its culture while improving my German at the same time. The whole experience was very beneficial and I learnt so much.
Our adventure started at 4:20 in the morning in Dublin Airport. I had not previously met any of the other eleven Irish students also going on the trip, but we instantly bonded and it was as if we had known each other for years! The trip to Bad Iburg, the small town in which we would be staying with our host families, was an eventful one for sure because between missing trains and trains not arriving as scheduled, the trip took a little longer than expected. We met with our exchange partners for the first time outside of their school. I had not had much contact with my partner before arriving, which meant that I was not sure what to expect. However, I was reassured when I met the family and saw how welcoming and friendly they were.
Classes at Gymnasium Bad Iburg, the local secondary school, started at 7:30 in the morning. This was a bit of a culture shock as the school day in Ireland typically starts at 9.00. Exhausted from the long journey time the day before, we found the early start rather difficult! We got the opportunity to go to class with our partners and I was surprised that although there were many similarities, a lot was different as well. I found that the student-teacher relationship was much more formal there than it is in Ireland and that the work they did involved little to no writing. I also found it strange that half of their overall grade for each was based on their participation. It also was strange being in a mixed school again, as I currently go to an all-girls school. The rest of the time we spent in the school was in a special language class that was only for the Irish students. We got to choose what we wanted to learn in these classes. Instead of being a formal class situation, we did fun activities and things like having class outside or using songs to learn vocabulary. I found they were very useful for reviewing grammar points and learning new vocabulary as well as learning a bit about German culture.
We also had the opportunity to go on several trips during our stay. The first was a tour of Bad Iburg, which didn’t take very long seeing as Bad Iburg is quite a small town! We toured the local castle and also went to the town hall, where we got to meet the mayor and get our photo taken for the local newspaper. Our second outing was to Münster. We had a tour guide for the first part who took the group to see all the main tourist attractions, such as the Münster Cathedral and the town hall. For the next three hours, the group split up and we explored the city by ourselves. This meant getting lost many, many times, but it was a lot of fun all the same! Our next trip was to the Ideenexpo in Hannover. It was a six-hour round trip, but it was worth it! This exhibition had everything from trampolining to live music. Many major technology companies had stalls there where you could experience events like hover boarding, learn about aerodynamics, and take part in race car simulations. They also had all sorts of foods available, such as falafel, pizza, currywurst and frozen yoghurt. Of all of the excursions we did, this was definitely one of my favourites. Finally, we went to Osnabrück, the closest big city to Bad Iburg. We did another city tour and visited yet another town hall as well as the old part of the city. After the tour, we were given three hours of free time where we were able to explore, go shopping and get lunch. During the second week, I got the opportunity to go back to Osnabrück again, this time with my German partner’s class. We went into the science university and did a workshop on DNA and even got to see live DNA. Even after only a week, my German had improved, which meant although I did not understand exactly everything that was being said, I could follow it comfortably.
My host family was very considerate and keen that I would get a good insight into German life. Every evening, they organised an activity either with them or with some of the other Irish students, such as getting ice cream in the local ice cream parlour! On my second day, they brought me to a show put on by the sixth year students in the school. They had clearly put a lot of work into it and it was complete with a band, improvisations and games. One thing we did was go to a Bergfest, which was the German equivalent of a céilí, complete with traditional German lederhosen and dirndls. We also got to go with the whole year to the theatre to see a play called “Nathan der Weise” set in the 17th century. I cannot say that I understood much of what was going on, but it was an interesting cultural experience. In Germany, they have their ‘debs’ or ‘prom’ before the sixth years leave the school; as it coincided with our visit, we were able to attend. It was a lot of fun and I got to meet lots of new people and make new friends. Other activities included making pizzas and going to the Zoo, to Osnabrück, the outdoor swimming pool and to an adventure centre!
After two weeks in Bad Iburg, we left our German guest families and went to Berlin for five days. By this stage, we were all exhausted! Our first day, we visited urban gardens located in an old air hangar, a venue that provides allotments for people living in apartments to grow plants. While I had read about this concept before, it was interesting to see it in practice and reinforced my impression of Germany as a very environmentally-aware ‘green’ country. We attended a street concert as part of the Fête de la Musique and got ice cream afterwards, which we really loved! We visited lots of tourist attractions the next day such as the Berlin Wall museum and were given a guided tour of an area where the wall used to stand, the Jewish Holocaust Memorial, the Brandenburg Gate, the Ampelmann store, the Regierungsviertel, which is where all the government buildings are and the Reichstagsgebäude, which is where the government meets. The next day, we were able to split up and were given four hours to do whatever we liked in Berlin. I thought this was a great idea because it meant we got to choose what we wanted to do, see and explore. Later in the day, we did a workshop about what happened to the Jews in Germany in the Second World War. Following the workshop, we went to Alexanderplatz and did a tour of the Fernsehturm. Our fourth day was spent in Potsdam, a nearby city. Although it took about an hour to get there and back, it was a great experience, as Potsdam is very different to Berlin and a really beautiful little city. We visited the picturesque Sanssouci Castle and walked around the gardens. Afterwards, we went back to Alexanderplatz in Berlin where we were given an hour to go shopping. As it was our last night, we went bowling, which was a lot of fun. On our last day in Berlin, we visited Checkpoint Charlie, the Concert house in Berlin, Museum Island and a Jewish synagogue that had been destroyed during the war and then rebuilt afterwards. We then took a bus to the airport and arrived back in Ireland at 21:00.
I am so grateful to have been given such a wonderful opportunity. I had the most amazing time in Germany. Not only did I get the chance to travel around the country, visiting lots of different cities and obtaining a real insight into German life and German culture, I also got to improve my German and make lifelong friends. Auf Wiedersehen Deutschland!