Jet lag was a term I had heard of but had never experienced until I arrived at that scouting lodge in
I discovered cultural differences the next morning while getting ready that until then I had been ignorant of. Standing at the sink next to a girl from
When it was my turn, I got in the shower and proceeded to do my usual routine: wash my hair with shampoo; wash my face with face wash; put conditioner in my hair and leave it in while washing the rest of my body with soap; rinse conditioner out; turn off water. It wasn’t until I was standing at the mirror drying my hair and applying my makeup that I noticed something strange. The girls from
We had five days of orientation at this lodge before our host families were due to pick us up. There were about five Austrian volunteers who were in their early twenties. Each had been exchange students previously, so they understood what we were going through. We would break into smaller groups between meals and have lessons (in English) on Austrian culture while sitting out in the mowed field surrounded by lush trees and greenery. Over half of us were American, and the European exchange students spoke English as well as we did.
We were taught basic German words we would need to know. Philip, the handsomest of the volunteers, taught us how dialects differ in various areas of
We were instructed that during meals, proper etiquette in
During my orientation days, I also noticed one thing. I was very aware of how loud and obnoxious the majority of the American exchange students were. While outgoing, I was a lot more reserved and observant during those days. I was drawn to two Swedish girls, a French girl, and a Danish girl. We got along really well, and we would spend free time together, talking about our host families, sharing pictures, poring over maps to see how far away we’d live from each other. We knew we’d be coming back to the scout lodge about once every three months, so that was something to look forward to. We shared our fears that we would end up in a family we didn’t get along with.
On our final day, there was a different feeling as we all ate breakfast. This was it! The day our families were to come and take us home. We were all less talkative and trying to not look apprehensive, when in reality we were all nervous as hell. What if we never learned the language well enough to communicate? What if the language didn't suddenly click with us at around the three month mark like the volunteers assured us would happen? What if they didn’t like us? What if we didn’t get along? The length of a year never seemed so long before. After breakfast, we all packed our suitcases and dragged them outside in the morning sunshine to wait for our families to collect us. I sat with the Swedish girls and suddenly one of them sat straight up and smiled, and we could see that she recognized her host dad from his photos as he walked across the clearing with a smile on his face for her. She gave us a quick smile before heading off into the unknown. The same happened with my other friend a few moments later.
Suddenly a small, red car pulled up and three people got out. It was my host mom, her oldest son (age 20), and youngest daughter (age 12). I stood up, my heart beating out of my chest, and they walked toward me. With tentative smiles on all our faces, we shook hands and carried my things to their car. My journey had officially begun.