July 23rd, 2007

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Germany 1992 -- Part 1

15 years ago, I was at the beginning of what would turn out to be a life-altering experience: A full summer living in Germany.

Of all the things that happened to me growing up, I think that that summer, along with my "troubles" in school (esp. elementary school) and the time I spent with my grandmother, shaped me more than anything else, and it certainly set me off on the right foot when I headed off to college. I don't think I've ever really recounted the experience here on LJ, since it's old news, so I thought I'd write it out today.

Part 1 - How The Trip Came About

My journey to Germany started more than a year before I actually left. When I was a sophomore in high school, I set my heart on going over to Germany as an exchange student. I went to a couple of information sessions with the two big programs that arrange such exchanges. Despite my enthusiasm and the fact I knew I could get recommendations and support from my teachers and parents, it turned out there was no way I could actually participate in the program, since you have to be willing to cough up $10,000 of your own money to cover the costs. Which was so not happening, when on the other hand I could just go to my regular high school for free.

However, I was pretty determined and this drove me to some research, which led me to the Congress-Bundestag scholarship program. Basically, the C-B program was established years ago as a joint exchange program between the U.S. and German federal governments, to foster amity or some such thing, and two students from every U.S. state get sponsored to go to Germany for a year and vice versa for Germany. By landing a spot in this program, I could get to go on exchange for a year, all costs paid, plus get perks offered via the C-S program, like meeting German politicians, going to U.S.-Germany foreign relations events, etc.

Anyway, I found out about this, took care of the application (bigger and thicker than my college apps, no lie!) and eventually found out I was on of the finalists for Massachusetts. Then came the day I had to go in for an in-person grilling by some kind of selection committee in Boston. Mom took me in to either Harvard or MIT, can't remember, and there I had to face this panel of about 10 people -- German teachers, diplomats, etc. -- who grilled me (grilled me!) for a half hour or so. I was like 15 or 16 at the time and it scared me to death, plus I got frustrated with some of the questions, which I thought were kind of unfair Then there was this odd "group session" where I was put with three other candidates and made to work with them to make some kind of presentation, as a demo of our group skills or something. Well, that turned out OK but not great. Anyway, long story short, all that drama and a couple months later, I got an envelope telling me I didn't make it. So no free year in Germany.

I was still determined, however, and my German teacher at school, Frau Meyer, knew I was, and managed to finagle me another opportunity. She had been running an annual U.S.-German exchange with a gymnasium in Germany for several years, hosting a couple dozen German students every other year, sending over American studnets to Germany on the other years. Through her connections at that school, she heard about a girl who wanted to attend school in the U.S., not for a whole year, but just for a quarter, and not through a program, but privately. And whatever family would take her in would get to send their student over to Germany for the summer! It took some convincing, but I got my parents to agree. The girl's name was Carola and prior to the final arrangements, her dad Manfred flew over to the States (as part of another trip, I think) to arrange things in person. He had to pay my school around $10,000 tuition for the three months. But the school agreed to it and for three months during my junior year, my family hosted Carola, who we set up in the guest bedroom and who attended school in the grade below me. Carola's English was spectacular, but she was pretty shy, so although we had some good times together (going to Portland, lots of adventures with my dog Taffy), we didn't get very close. But it didn't matter, because the deal of me going to Germany was good to go!

I have to credit my sister Carolyn for the fact I actually was allowed to go to Germany. Even though I was all set to pay all the costs -- $800+ RT plane ticket, plus spending money) -- my parents were apprehensive about letting me go out on my own. Not that I'd be on my own in Germany exactly, but it was hard for them to let me go so far away. Plus I think they were worried that my bad sense of direction (really bad at the time) would cause me to get lost and maybe end up in Poland, maybe? Anyway, Carolyn tells me that she was talking to Mom and Dad in the time leading up to my trip and they were wobbling on whether to let me go and she spoke up and *insisted* they let me, plus pay for my plane ticket, because she and my siblings never got an opportunity like that and I had it, so they should let me go for it. After all, at that point I was an "only child" and my parents, though tightwads, could afford it. And so Mom came to me and said I didn't have to pay her and Dad back for the plane tickets they'd bought and so I could take out more for my spending money, have a better time on the trip.

TBC later today...
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Ring around the kitties

So Caleb's cat Sophie has been battling ringworm for a couple of months now, won't go away. He's had to treat her several medicines and weekly baths. It has finally gone away just about, hardly any scab left, and she was about to spend 10 days with me while Caleb goes out of town. I had it all figured out how to do it this time without nearly as much stress, taking lessons learned from last time. But alas, I don't think it's to be, as I just discovered a patch of fur and some scabs on Luckie's face -- yeah, ringworm! She either got it from me indirectly or got it from Sophie last week when she was over for a few hours. Crap. They really shouldn't be around each other, cross-contamination. Anyway, I hope Luckie's proves easier to treat than Sophie's. Gotta go to the vet with her tomorrow. Putting medicine on her is not going to be fun!