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The plane slowly descended from the clouds. In my hand was a letter entitled, “Open on the Plane over to Germany.” It was from my sister, the first of a series of ten letters that I was to open throughout the next eleven months. I slowly opened the envelope and pulled out the document inside. On the back of the paper was a Game of Thrones quote: “’Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’ ‘That’s the only time a man can be brave…’” In the letter, my sister poured her hopes, dreams, and excitement for me onto the paper. She told me how proud she was. “The decision to leave behind everything and everyone you know isn’t easy, but it’s the hard decisions that make us into who we are,” the letter stated.
I was standing on the edge of a great adventure, and all I had to do was leap. As the wheels of the plane smacked down at Frankfurt Airport, I folded up the letter and slid it into my backpack. The adventure had finally begun, and I was ready to do as my sister had told me: take the leap.
In 9th grade, I was an adventurous girl who was desperate to see the world. I somehow decided that boarding school was the answer to all my woes. My father recognized my plan and knew that I needed a distraction. When he mentioned the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange, all my thoughts concerning boarding school flew out the window. Jointly funded by the United States State Department and German Bundestag, CBYX sends 250 high school students over to Germany each year and vice versa, where they live with a host family, learn the language, and attend a local school. I channelled all my energy into the application. My father’s distraction had worked. I was selected for an interview, but my father was still confident that I would not be accepted when competing against high school seniors.
Then, in March of 2013, I was accepted. My father shocked and my mother less than pleased, they knew they couldn’t deny me this opportunity now. My dream of escaping was taking me much further than boarding school. It was taking me to Germany. Living abroad proved to be challenging at times, and learning German proved to be difficult and often embarrassing.
Early in my year, I was at a bus stop after school. As I waited for my bus, I decided to take a leap of faith and have a conversation in German. I attempted to convey my frustration with the bus system, and how I could never find the buses. “Ich kann die Bussen nie finden,” I told a girl next to me, unsure of my grammar. The girl stared back at me, suppressing laughter. In perfect English, she told me, “Do you know what you just said? You said you can’t find the boobs.”
Yet as the year went on, with a few more bumps along the way, my language skills progressed. I held conversations, participated in class, and grew close to my host family. I introduced them to a Thanksgiving meal and we improvised carving the turkey with garden shears when we couldn’t figure out how to do it properly. I went to Berlin and met with the United States Ambassador to Germany, and corresponded frequently with a Bundestag representative. The most impactful experience, however, was my decision to volunteer as an English teacher for a fifth grade class. I designed lesson plans that the students eagerly devoured, proving their desire to learn. Germany became a huge piece of my identity. Every decision that I make to this day is influenced by the lessons that I learned abroad. I became the independent, assertive person that I am because of my decision to face what intimidated me. I followed my sister’s advice, and I took the leap.
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