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My German Exchange


									                                                    Ryan Smith (NSW), Siemens 2009-2010 Sponsor Report

My German Exchange
Lübeck, Hamburg, Ratzeburg, Dortmund, Salzburg (Austria), München, Dresden, Köln, Berlin

When I first heard about this amazing exchange program in Year 7, I set myself a future goal: To
be one of the Australian scholarship recipients of 2009 and travel to the land of castles,
sausages and beer – that is, Germany – and improve my linguistic skills and learn about the
culture along the way. Every year I would keenly ask my teacher for the application form, but
                                                            she would always say the same
                                                            thing; “To apply for the scholarship,
                                                            you have to be in Year 11!”.

                                                                  Well, I eventually reached Year 11,
                                                                  and still had not lost any of my
                                                                  original enthusiasm, and so I
                                                                  immediately applied for the
                                                                  scholarship and was later given the
                                                                  opportunity to have an interview,
                                                                  which I ended up being successful
                                                                  with! A few short weeks later, I
                                                                  attended the Presentation Dinner
                                                                  and met Mr Tony Saliba and his
                                                                  friendly colleagues. I thoroughly
 Me and my family with Mr Saliba and his colleagues at the        enjoyed the dinner and speaking to
                   Presentation Ball                         the company’s representatives that
                                                             night, and it aided in the realisation that
I was finally going to Germany!

I was not just awarded a 10-week exchange by Siemens Australia. Rather, Siemens awarded me
with a life-changing cultural experience during which I made the most remarkable friends (with
whom I still keep in touch) I immersed myself within the German culture and way of life, and I
was able to enrich my overall sense of identity and international consciousness. This once-in-a-
lifetime opportunity to not only travel to, but also to live in Germany is easily one of the
highpoints of my life and it has shaped my sense of self and my prospective future. Now, as I sit
here on my familiar chair in front my computer monitor back here in comparatively balmy
Australia, I reminisce and realise the intrinsic value of my German experience and what I would
have been like characteristically and as a global citizen if I were to have stayed in Australia. The
difference in character between my current and former self is somewhat overwhelming, but it
reflects the highly rewarding nature of Siemen’s generous support of the initiatives of GASS,

Like a dozen other ‘stipis’ (scholarship recipients), I was matched with a host family situated in
the northern portion of Germany. About an hour’s drive north-east of Hamburg on the
                                                 Ryan Smith (NSW), Siemens 2009-2010 Sponsor Report
Autobahn, Lübeck was to become my favourite town/city in Germany because of its quaint
Innenstadt (the CBD which actually forms an island), its perfect size (not too small but not too
big) and also because it became my home away from home. As this was my first student
exchange, my first time in Europe and my longest time spent away from home, I was quite
intent on making a good first impression and on getting along with the Pagel family. The car
ride from Hamburg Airport to Lübeck proved to be quite trippy, because my host father,
Matthias, floored the accelerator and stayed in the fast lane at 200km/hr for the majority of the
                                              journey! As an avid car enthusiast, I normally
                                                  would have enjoyed this, but the dismal 2
                                                    hours sleep over the 30 hour journey from
                                                     Sydney to Hamburg created an overall
                                                     feeling of giddiness and semi-consciousness
                                                     and the leafless trees flying past and
                                                     morning drizzle didn’t help!

                                                      When we arrived home, I was introduced to
                                                      my new neighbours (my host family lived in
                                                      a townhouse) and shown around the house
                                                      before being shown my newly renovated
                                                      room. My host sister, Nele, even painted
         Birte, Nele, Hauke and I
me                                a ‘Welcome Ryan’ sign which included the silhouettes of the
church spires and the Holstentor of Lübeck which I brought back with me to Australia.
Remembering to try my best not to be shy, I went downstairs to the living room and talked to
Hauke, my host brother and now good mate, and Birte, my awesome host mum, for a good few
hours. Although we had sent each other emails almost every day since receiving each other’s
contact details, speaking to the family in person proved to be incredibly challenging at the start.
But I knew that in order to benefit most from the exchange, I had to push myself and face the
challenge of speaking German without worrying about the countless silly grammatical
pronunciation mistakes. We were able to communicate with each other very well right from
the start, although the language barrier was really frustrating at times. Thus, I quickly settled
into the family and learnt to release any inhibitions I had and just enjoy what was going to be
an unforgettable trip.

I attended school for around 4-5 weeks during the time I was in Lübeck, and Hauke and I rode
bikes to school almost everyday, punctually leaving the
house by 7:40am (when it was still pitch black and
                                                             My best photo of Lübeck during Christmas!
around 0°). My first day riding was slightly eventful,
as I began riding on the wrong side of the street and
I was not aware of the strict bike etiquette in
Germany, attracting lots of negative attention from
the somewhat intimidating German commuters. But
I soon got the hang of it, eventually getting used to
riding at the speeds of the locals and cutting travel time from half an hour to 15 mins.
Sometimes I would need to ride home alone because I would stay back in the city after school
with the two other stipis who were also based at my school; Alexi (Melbourne) and Liz (Perth).
                                              Ryan Smith (NSW), Siemens 2009-2010 Sponsor Report
                                                 Together we roamed every street and corner
                                                 of Lübeck city. The fact that we came from
                                                 entirely different cities from Australia but
                                                 established and maintain such strong bonds
                                                 with each other highlights the irrelevance of
                                                 distance when it comes to friendships.
                                                 Although I was the only male scholarship
                                                 winner out of the seven in Lübeck, I ignored
                                                 the gender disparity and we all made the
                                                 most of our time during our stay in the
                                                 beautiful city, going to the Christmas Markets
                                                 together, having dinner and discussing our
                                                 similar yet different experiences with one
                                                 another, and meeting each other’s new
                                                 German friends. The unusually high
                                                 concentration of stipis in the one town made
                                                 our experiences even more unique, and the
                                                 memories and bonds were to be everlasting.
       The picture taken during the interview    We even got the opportunity to do an
                                              interview and mini-photo-shoot with the local
press, thanks to Liz’s host parents who were both local journalists!

This trip of a lifetime gave me the opportunity to assimilate into, and take part in, a wholly
different culture more than 15 000 kilometres away from home. I developed perseverance,
confidence, and independence, while also learning how to adapt to a new environment and
face everyday challenges, such as finding my own way around by asking strangers for
directions, or getting to know Hauke’s fellow classmates and his out-of-school friends through
challenging conversations in German. I also learnt to really enjoy life to the fullest and cherish
every moment I have and, when appropriate, to release my inhibitions and be even more keen
on meeting new people and establishing new friendships. The only downside of my time in
Germany was the precious little time I had to do everything. I always had something in mind to
do on top of the things I was already doing, such as watching one of Hauke’s plays, staying out
after school with friends, or participating in family activities like day trips or talking with
Hauke’s grandparents, with whom I made very special bonds that I will never forget. The
similarities between the Pagel family and my family back in Australia, both physical and
characteristic, helped me understand that although there were so many differences between
the German and Australian cultures, relationships could still be established between the two.
Although, I could never become accustomed to the German people’s organisational proficiency
(I am more a spontaneous and last-minute person).

What felt like only a few weeks after arriving in Germany, it was time to temporarily leave the
Pagel family in Lübeck and travel by ICE to Dortmund for Wintercamp, which is an integral part
of the scholarship program during which gassies (past scholarship recipients) and stipis
participate in a four day program of sightseeing, group activities and getting to know each
other. Looking forward to the camp since leaving Australia, I was actually slightly nervous about
                                               Ryan Smith (NSW), Siemens 2009-2010 Sponsor Report
what it was going to be like as I had only gotten to know a handful of the 150 people attending
the camp. But it ended up being incredible! I got to know the rest of the stipis, their respective
host siblings, and a few gassies as well. We had fun during our countless group activities, where
we all were able to express and share our similar feelings of excitement, disbelief and
contentment with one another.

Wintercamp was also educational, as we visited the Steinwache gaol and the Hösch Museum
which both allowed us to learn about the history of this particular city. We all benefitted from
Wintercamp, as it gave us the opportunity to expand our knowledge about Germany by sharing
our different experiences and newfound fluency in German, and we all formed strong new
friendships, regardless of where we came from. We were together and that was all that

After a fantastic time in Dortmund, all the stipis did their five days of free travel. Before our
sponsor visit, Eddie (the Siemens scholarship recipient from Melbourne) and I travelled eight
hours by ICE direct from Dortmund to Salzburg, where we stayed for two nights. The incredible
beauty and charm of the Austrian city makes it one of my favourite cities in the world.

                                                      Eddie and I shared a unique free travel
                                                     experience because of the generosity of
                                                     Siemens. We were invited to a three-day
                                                     tour of München and the surrounding
                                                     areas, which included a visit to the
                                                     Siemens Forum and Headquarters in the
                                                     Bavarian capital. The staff members we
                                                     met at the headquarters were all so
       Hohensalzburg Castle, Salzburg                friendly and welcoming; the whole
                                                     experience was just unbelievable. I could
                                                     never have imagined myself being guided
                                                   around the Siemens Headquarters in
München, Germany, getting behind the scenes and being told about the conglomerate’s
numerous forays into different international and domestic markets. It was truly a fascinating
insight into the workings of a successful, modern company, and I learnt about the sheer size
of the company and the variety of products and services it provides. Eddie and I felt especially
fortunate to have had this sponsor visit, as we had, by far, the best sponsor visit out of the
year group. We were chauffeured by a friendly local named Henry, who also doubled as our
tour guide, and were taken around the city and saw the Circus Krone and an opera
performance in München’s State Theatre. I simply cannot
express my gratitude to the company for our unique
experience. No words can describe the exhilaration and sense
of fortune that I felt during the amazing 3 days in München. I
                                                                     The limousine provided by Siemens
surely will never forget it, and am still humbled by the fact             during our Company Visit!
that the company not only supported our exchange to
Germany, but it extended its arms and welcomed us with
sincere benevolence.
                                               Ryan Smith (NSW), Siemens 2009-2010 Sponsor Report
After the sponsor visit, we still had the rest of our free travel to do. As there were only two of
us, Eddie and I were able to cram as much of everything in each day as we possibly could.

                                                          We visited insightful German museums,
                                                          and did lots of local sightseeing. If I had
                                                          not taken so many photos and recorded
                                                          my daily adventures in a diary, I would
                                                          have forgotten half of what we did by

                                                           From München we travelled to
                                                           Dresden, which was my other favourite
                                                           city during my German visit. At this
   Tram Line in Dresden                                    point I had not seen eastern Germany
                                                           in person before, so I was naturally
                                                           excited at spotting the Trabis (the
staple automobile of East Germany during the Communist era, infamous for its unreliability and
cheap build), observing the Baroque and Communist architecture, and visiting the less opulent
areas of the city. It was a real eye-opener to see this other side of Germany, where contrasts
can be made with München’s comparative extravagance and opulence and Dresden, where I
roamed the streets, keen to absorb any remaining aspects of East German culture. The
Ampelmännchen and Ampelfrau were my favourite vestiges of the East, as was the Communist
apartment blocks, which lined many streets of the older areas of the city.

From Dresden we travelled to Köln, where we visited the Lindt Chocolate Factory, climbed the
spectacular Kölner Dom, and wandered along the remnants of the original walls which used to
line the perimeter of the city. I was always made increasingly aware of Germany’s strong ties
with its history during my stay in the nation. The coexistence of historical and modern buildings
as well as the overall sense of hybridisation of older and more modern cultural elements of
German society reflected the value of history and heritage in their society. In Köln, Eddie and I
also watched a moving performance by the Köln Philharmonic Group.

On our return trip to our respective home cities of Wilhelmshaven and Lübeck, Eddie and I
stopped over in Hamburg to cram a little more sightseeing. We said goodbye to each other
after visiting the amazing Miniature Wonderland (the biggest one of its kind in the world) in the
warehouse district of the city, knowing that we would be seeing each other again at Berlin
Camp and made our separate ways home. While sitting by myself on the train back to Lübeck, I
suddenly realised that I was already a changed person, although it was not the end of the trip
yet. All my experiences during the past couple of months contributed to the creation of my new
sense of self and my independence. I could now travel to wherever I wanted to go in Germany
(and probably Europe) without bewilderment, anxiety or a sense of situational displacement. I
was confidently taking the right trains, the right buses and the right turns in a not only foreign
environment, but a snowy and windy one too!

Birte picked me up from Lübeck Hauptbahnhof and as we drove home, we caught up with each
other in German. We quickly reached home, and I was overcome by a strange sense of warmth
and satisfaction. Although I knew this was not my real home, the emotion which I felt as I re-
                                              Ryan Smith (NSW), Siemens 2009-2010 Sponsor Report
entered the home through its big, blue entrance door could only be comparable to that of a
person reaching home after a long period of absence; it felt surreal. I was amazed by how
attached I became to be to the Pagel family and their cosy townhouse.

With my German better than ever before, and thousands of hours worth of stories to tell, the
next few days following my return ‘home’ was just about catching up with Hauke and his family
and friends who I met during the course of my stay. This became challenging towards the end,
however, as I knew that each day that passed meant that I was a day closer to leaving
Germany! I didn’t want to leave!

                                                                    The time flew by impossibly
                                                                    quickly, and it was soon time
                                                                    to say goodbye to our host
                                                                    families and German
                                                                    classmates before leaving for
                                                                    Berlin for our second and final
                                                                    camp. The exchange
                                                                    culminated in this deeply
                                                                    reflective but highly enjoyable
                                                                    camp in the capital city of
                                                                    Germany, where we met the
                                                                    Australian and New Zealand
                                                                    ambassadors, reminisced
  Group photo at the New Zealand Embassy!                           about our incredibly amazing
                                           times in Germany and shared our mixed emotions of
happiness, gratitude and newfound equilibrium. We were all changed people by then, and
simply wished to have a good time and make the most of our final few days in unbelievable
Germany! One of my favourite features of the whole trip, our stay in Berlin, was insightful,
meaningful and enjoyable. The invaluable lessons we learnt during our stays in Germany were
shared as we cherished our final moments together as fellow scholarship recipients and as
incredibly close friends, doing last minute shopping, eating our final few German meals and
visiting the iconic attractions of the magnificent city.

After arriving safely back home here in Sydney, Australia, it took me a number of days to
readjust to my original life as a Year 12 student of Baulkham Hills High School. This scholarship
has enabled me to open my mind and see life in a wholly new and more appreciative
perspective. I have come back enlightened, enriched, and refreshed, and, surprisingly, feeling
like more of an Australian. Siemens gave me this life-changing opportunity to see myself in a
clearer light, establish new but lifelong companionships, and be an integral member of a
German family during the Summer Holidays of 2009-2010. I can now never begin to fathom
how else this chapter of my life would be written thanks to the invaluable and irreplaceable life
skills I gained from my unique cultural experience. Even today, as a returned scholarship
winner, I reminisce and miss the good times I had in Germany and aim to return to Europe to
relive some of the parts of my trip which are able to be experienced again!
                                            Ryan Smith (NSW), Siemens 2009-2010 Sponsor Report
On behalf of myself and my proud family, thank you again, Siemens Australia, for rewarding me
with this indescribable trip of a lifetime.

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