Maybe this is my last post of the year. This is the post where there is too much to say. The post where there’s nothing left to say at all. Where I’m supposed to answer the question (as I so often am) “Are you excited to go home?” (it’s more often phrased as ‘You must be excited to go home!’). This is the post where I’m supposed to be able to look back on this year and say to myself with certainty that I achieved everything I wanted to. That I spent all my time just like I would have like to. That it was a perfect year. That I’m ready to go home.

And I think I can. I don’t think I could have done anything better with my life this year. I think starting college would have ended up with a pre-mature mid-life crisis. I think not going to college is something that hasn’t really ever occurred to me as a viable option. And look at me now! My German is REALLY good. Even if I didn’t get anything out of the year, that’s something I’ll be able to take with me. I met a ton of new people. I settled into a family that’s not mine. I became a not-twin for the first time since I was negative nine months old. And all on my own.

During my interview for this scholarship, one of the questions I was asked was why I wanted to do this program. I don’t know exactly the words I said. But this has never been a program I just wanted to do. I never WANTED to go to Germany for a year. This is one of those things that I have needed to do. I NEEDED to get this scholarship. Not because I didn’t believe I would survive here on my own (even by the tender age of seventeen it was clear to me that death is a rather unusual effect of loneliness or sadness). Not because I needed to run from my family. But because I just needed to check that I could do it. I didn’t want to just say for my whole life that this was something I could have done. I wanted to be able to say it was something I DID do. All by myself. Despite the fact that I will probably get carded until I’m sixty and can’t help myself from smiling even when I’m not exactly in a great mood.

And here I am. Sitting on my not-very-much-longer-bed in my not-very-much-longer-house with my I’ve-had-him-since-Easter-1997-stuffed dog. The same kid, in a way, that the Easter Bunny brought that dog to. The same one who has a washcloth and a roll of toilet paper as a pet. Who thinks sheep are such surprising looking animals that she thinks “DUDE! It’s a sheep” every time she sees one. Who, three years ago, lost two grandmothers and had mono all at the same time. Who suddenly was unable to eat for months and who scared her mother nearly to death because of it (sorry about that…I promise not to do it again if I can avoid it). And at the same time, I’m a completely different person. Instead of stuffed animals I collected beer glasses and coffee mugs this year. I’d rather buy a magazine in German than in English. I buy magazines now (when possible, Bad Kleinen is rather small). Instead of reading books for school, I read them because I felt like it. I have a younger sister now (who’s more than a minute younger). I have TWO older brothers and suddenly understand what my mom means when she says she hit her siblings more than Sophia and I do/did.

So maybe this is the last post. Maybe I’m leaving this life behind. Maybe my German won’t be so good the next time I’m here. Maybe I won’t find it weird not to have a younger sister and two older brothers anymore. Maybe everything will be just like it was except for the renovated bathroom upstairs. Or maybe, I’ve turned into a new Katherine. A Katherine who can’t write sentences in English anymore without wanting to insert German words that would add clarity. Who has discovered the joy of Freizeit (free-time). Who sometimes just wants to sit and write. Who likes to ride busses and trains by herself because it encourages thought.

And maybe, just maybe, I don’t have to choose. Maybe I can have a pet washcloth and collect beer glasses. Maybe I can speak German and English. Maybe I can pick and choose the best of both worlds. After all, who wants to make a decision? Who wants to say anything for sure? Everything is bound to change anyway.

Maybe my life will go like I’d like to think it will right now. Maybe.


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.

Time Goes by

I thought for a while that I was going to get through this entire year wwithout getting sick. But here I am, the third weekend of March, and I’m I can’t seem to rid myself of this cold. While being sick is never particularly pleasant, this particular time is more annoying than usual because of the circumstances surrounding my illness. Namely that ‘m leaving Germany in three months and spending any of that time being sick is NOT what I wanted to do.

IThis weekend, I was supposed to be with my jazz band in Neubrandenburg at a jazz workshop where bands from all over Northern Germany as well as a couple from other countries get together fro three days and play a ton of music. Two hour rehearsals followed by thirty to sixty minute long breaks for lunch or coffee (recall my admiration for the German tradition of four o’clock coffee). i’m trying not to dwell on the fact that I’m lying in my bed instead of playing in a concert right now, but it’s, well, to put it in German √§rgerlich.

Instead of dwelling on twhat I’m missing, I’ll look at what’s coming up in the next few weeks of my life. Next weekend is a concert for Blasorchester (my oompapa march band) which I’m very excited about, not only because there hasn’t been one since Christmas, but because I am playing a duet. Andrew and I were asked by the director if we would be so kind as to play something just the two of us to draw attention to the fact that we are the two American exchange students and that we are playing with them. We eagerly accepted this offer. Thanks to my dear grandfather who (like Andrew) plays trombone, we found a duet. Only problem was that the music had piano accompaniment and sounded weird when just the two of us played. Solution? Jazz band director offers to write the piano part out for a french horn, tuba, and trumpet, so we can have friends who are also in the band play with us and make it into a quintet (a really cool sounding quintet, if I do say so myself).
Speaking of Blasorchester, I don’t know if I’ve already mentioned this at some point before, but I LOVE that band. Everyone has been so welcoming to Andrew and me, I feel like a special guest the whole time. I’ve been given a mug, a jacket, and a calendar. These are things the band normally sells. But because I’m me (or something) I get them all for free. That’s really just the tangible part of why I like it so much, though. Everyone who is in the band has been so nice, as well. About half the people in the band are kids between age thirteen and fifteen who go to the school right across the way, and the rest are adults. For the majority of the time I spend my time with the kids. From the first time I started playing, I felt like I was meant to be a part of the band. It’s weird how you get feelings like that sometimes, but I’m just HAPPY when I’m there for some reason. Difficult to describe exactly, but I think I’ve expressed my happiness with the situation. When I think about what I’m going to miss when I’m back home, Blasorchester is definitely in the top three things. It makes me sad to think I’m only going to have practice there every Thursday for a couple more months.

Anyway, back on topic. The weekend after next is still a bit up in the air (Denmark? Concert? Go to eat Mexican food? Other?) There have been a bunch of suggestions, and I’m still in the process of planning, but SOMETHING will definitely be happening. Then comes Easter. Friday and Monday are both holidays. Friday is some sort of traditional Bad Kleinen thing-not sure exactly what, but it sounds like food and socializing to me. Jan and Krystin are also going to come up from Hannover on Sunday. And the Easter Bunny will clearly be around (speaking of the Easter Bunny, he is NOT pink or yellow in Germany. When I suggested he might be at work, I got strange looks and the question “have you ever seen a pink rabbit?”).

The weekend after Easter I am going to go to Hamburg on my own to see my host grandparents. I’m not completely sure what we are going to do while I am there but ballet or opera or symphony will be included. I’m so excited to do something posh like that again. It’s been a long time since I have.

Afterwards I have a couple weekends free (at least for the moment, I’m sure they’ll get filled up as well), and then Sophia (my sister comes) and then, well, it’s June and I’ll be going back home already. Spring is a fast season, unfortunately. Next time I come up to breathe it will already be the middle/end of April and the year will be almost over.

The moral of this post is: getting sick is really annoying. Try not to do it, especially when you’re having a good time (with your job as well) because it just messes everything up.


The Christmas Post

It’s a bit late. I apologize for my lack of attention to my blog recently. Time has been…well…filled.

Before I left the United States, I made a survey for people about assumptions people had about Germany and Germans, etc. One of the questions I asked was about German traditions. Generally the answer I got was “I don’t know anything about German traditions, but I hear Christmas is pretty cool”. I’d heard that as well, so I was fairly excited for Christmas in Germany.

And with good reason. Looking back on the whole season, I’d say it’s not really CHRISTMAS itself that people mean when they say Christmas here is fun. It’s the whole season and everything that comes with it. The Christmas Markets, the Gluhwein (warm spiced wine), the chilly weather, the fact that the four Sundays before Christmas are “Advent” days and are considered to be the forebearers of Christmas. That, and the fact that Christmas itself lasts for three days. It’s not a one day (or half day) affair consisting of breakfast, presents, and a fire. It’s a dinner, presents, time spent with family, etc. For three days. I think I’d compare it to an extended Thanksgiving.

Let me start with the month preceding Christmas day. I’ve already written about Christmas Markets some, and I’d like to reiterate the fact that they are super duper fun. Really. I don’t know why Americans don’t do that (very much at least). Then the Advent Sundays. In my particular family we didn’t do anything specifically special on those days, but candles are lit all day long, and it’s sort of a “Remember to be nice to people” sort of day. Plus, people wish you a happy (insert number here) Advent, which is another reminder to be nice to people. When I say people. the television is included, just by the way.

Christmas itself. Unlike in the United States, Christmas Eve is the presents day. Rather than waking up in the morning and immediately opening up the piles of presents under the tree, the day is fairly normal until the evening when a big dinner (raclette in my case) with the family happens and then presents are opened up afterwards.

The twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth are for seeing more family, spending more time with family, and generally regrouping after the year. The twenty-fifth here was more food, a skype with my lovely family :), and more time with family. The twenty-sixth we drove to Hamburg and saw the grandparents and then I flew to France (another blog post I have yet to write).

It’s not easy to describe exactly what was so nice about the whole Christmas thing here. I feel like I just wrote that I essentially spent time with the family for three days straight. Which is true. But it’s different somehow. It’s not spending time randomly, it’s spending time BECAUSE it’s Christmas and it’s about enjoying each other. A really good feeling for everyone. As I said earlier, it’s really the whole season, starting at the beginning of December. December is about spending time with close friends and not fighting. Christmas is intensive family time. Not a bad tradition at all, I’d say.

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.