Why I Like CBYX

About nine months ago, twenty-five just-graduates from all over the United States all flew to Washington. D.C to kick off their year abroad in Germany. The only noticeable thing they had in common was that they were all Americans and they were all interested for some reason or another in spending a year in Germany rather than going to college or whatever else they might do just after graduating from high school.

When I arrived in Washington that day, I was a bit of a mess. I wasn’t in the least afraid to start this big adventure. What I was scared of (and I still don’t know why) was meeting all of the other CBYXers. For some reason I pre-supposed that all of them would somehow be your typical confused American excited to do a year abroad in EUROPE and otherwise fairly clueless about the world. Therefore, when I arrived, I couldn’t think particularly straight, wasn’t really acting like myself, and wasn’t doing much to get to know everyone. I felt like it would be useless, anyway. It’s not like we’d be living near each other once we got to Germany. These people would never become GOOD friends of mine, they would just be people I knew who would eventually fade out of my life like so many other people I have met for short periods of time.

Fast forward to January, Berlin Seminar. Suddenly, these strangers who I had looked at skeptically and in a way almost condescendingly were friends. The ones I’d never even talked to were friends. Suddenly it became clear that I have a lot of common interests with almost everyone in the group. Of course the starting point for a lot of conversations at the beginning of the week was experiences we had had over the course of the first six months, but the number of actual interesting conversations I had was more than I have probably ever had with people my age in such a short period of time.

And what does that have to do with CBYX in particular? CBYX takes a group of people who don’t necessarily have a lot in common and thrusts them into a foreign (literally) situation. Suddenly, everyone has common interests. Common problems. Common ideas. Common goals. At the orientation in Washington last June, Hecko and Katelyn (former participants who ran a lot of the orientation) told us that the twenty five of us were a family, we just didn’t know it yet. I Immediately thought back to marching band, where I had also been told I was part of a family. The marching band family never really felt like a family to me, more like a giant group of friends. I came to the conclusion that I was once again being forced into a “family” and dismissed the comment as yet another piece of B.S being fed to the young American population.

But they were right this time. Of course, my fellow CBYXers have not LITERALLY become a part of my family. But this year is something the now-twenty-three of us share that no one else at home can be a part of. Although we’ve all had different experiences when it comes to the specifics, all of us have been living on our own for nine months without seeing our real families. While not all of us have dealt with the same problems, it is pretty much a guarantee that if you have a problem, someone else in the group will have dealt with a similar issue. And if you have some sort of success story, funny story, anything, someone in the group is going to be able to relate. It’s become a group of people that I feel really close to even though relatively speaking, I don’t know them nearly as well as my friends at home.

The fact that the vocational part of this program only has twenty five people is another advantage, if you ask me. That means that instead of trying to get to know 250 or however many people there are in the normal program, you get twenty five people and then get to know them fairly well. Having a family of twenty five is a lot easier than a family of 200.

So thanks, CBYX. I’ve been impressed with the setup, and don’t think it could be changed to be much better.

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Something New

A couple months ago I wrote about the first of my two internships and said I would write about the other later one when I had figured out more what it was. That second post never came. I started it a couple times and then stopped because it would have gone something like this:

“My second internship is really cool, I’m working in the school in Bad Kleinen giving out food to kids during their lunch break, mostly schnitzel, fries, and grilled cheese sandwiches. The hours are from 9am until 2pm (or earlier most days) and then I get the rest of the day off. I like the people I’m working with, but the learning curve is not really very high. Plus side is that I now know how a cash register works.”

This is now the second post, but it’s about (as you might guess from the title of this post) something new. As of today, my second internship is in an occupational therapy office. The first question I usually get from people both in Germany and the United States when I say occupational therapy (or Ergotherapie, depending which language I happen to be speaking) is “Oh, I’ve heard of that…what is it?” Until about a month ago I was among the people asking that question.

To be very brief, (and this is still a lot of impressions since I haven’t seen a ton of therapy in practice yet) occupational therapy is therapy for kids (some adults, too) who have some sort of problem with orienting themselves or other objects in the space around them. It’s working on motor skills, balance, concentration, and so on. When the actual methods were being described to me for the first time (by a girl in school who also is interning there a couple hours a week), I must admit I was a bit skeptical. “What do you do there?” “Oh, we play games, or sew, or build things, or paint!” Not exactly what Ms. Brown here thinks of as therapy that’s worth paying for.

Clearly, I have changed my mind, or else I would not have decided to start interning there. After I started my first internship with the disabled, I got the chance to see what occupational therapy is for myself. There are three people from the group that I am working with who go to the office once a week for therapy and as an intern, I get the option to go with. Always looking to learn something new, I thought going with would be a wonderful idea. The first time I was there with two people from my group-one blind, the other not. The goal that time was to first build a pyramid out of cans and then try to knock it down by throwing balls at it. Suddenly I understood the point of occupational therapy. Knocking down a pyramid of cans is not necessarily a simple task. What was the most interesting for me to see that day was the difference between the beginning of the session and the end of it. There was a noticeable difference that is difficult to describe but that was definitely positive.

After day one of officially being an intern, I am even more intrigued. For the first time I saw kids in elementary and middle school cooking and having to work at thinking about what they needed and in what order. Another girl (blind) standing on an oversized swing and enjoying herself.

Three months ago I had no idea what occupational therapy was. Now I’m officially an intern as an occupational therapist. Learning curve is once again high (as I can tell by my current state of exhaustion) but that is a good thing.

PS…Notice this is the second post in two days? That means I wasn’t lying when I said I’m starting to write again.

A Short Note on the Title of this Blog

Not the URL. The URL is obvious. If you don’t understand it, it’s because I’m saying ‘Hello’ to Germany for the year.

The other title. The ‘And Then There Was One’ title. Superficially, that’s pretty obvious as well. But I’m pretty proud of myself for coming up with that title before I arrived here. It’s like I knew what was going to happen or something.

Let me give you a short story of my life. 1993, Katherine Brown is born in a hospital in New York City and presumably (although I don’t remember this part) immediately handed to one or the other of her parents. She had approximately one minute of only-childhood. One minute that she doesn’t remember. From the second minute of my life up until I came here, I was one of two. One of a pair. Sort of like Salt and Pepper. They can be independent of each other, but they are forever going to belong together because…well, just because.

And then, suddenly, there was one. Alone, in Germany. I guess you could say one of the most important reasons for this year is exactly that. To learn what it’s like to be one instead of two. To go to school and for people to still not know I have a twin. To have an identity that is in no way associated with hers.

It’s working, this whole ‘And Then There Was One’ concept. Instead of thinking to myself “I don’t know, I think I’ll ask Sophia”, I have to think to myself “I don’t know, I guess I’ll have to make up my mind”. Instead of asking for company (aka support) to start up an awkward or uncomfortable conversation or a new situation, I have to just go for it myself.

It’s a good feeling. Good for my self confidence. Salt and Pepper CAN stand alone. They don’t necessarily prefer it, but in some cases it’s good (I personally don’t put pepper in my pasta water).

So here’s to Sophia. And here’s to me. And here’s to both of us, together. First there were two, and then…There Was One.