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, SAGSE and GDANSA. 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 mattered! 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 now! 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.