Imagine packing as much as you can fit into one suitcase, saying goodbye to all of your friends and family, and boarding a plane to go to a foreign country where you will stay for the next few months. Here, you will have to speak a new language and adapt to a new culture.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of foreign exchange students do just that. Larissa Sydekum is one of these students. She came from Hanover, Germany, to spend a school year in America.
One of the toughest things for exchange students to adjust to is speaking a new language. “In the beginning you’re just struggling with talking in a different language and trying to come up with the right words,” Sydekum says. It gets easier, though. “Over time you just get used to it.”
Sydekum says the culture can be very different. “You can’t go shopping on Sundays in Germany,” she explains. Transportation is not the same either. “At home I would just use the bus to get somewhere. The bus is free, even on the weekends, because I’m a student. Here, you have to rely on your parents to bring you everywhere.”
Germans celebrate many holidays differently. “I was surprised ... that you don’t celebrate New Year’s that much, and that Christmas was so big.” In Germany, December has one more holiday. “We have St. Nickolaus day on the 6th of December. You basically just clean one pair of your shoes the evening before and put it in front of your door, and then the next morning you have small presents in there like chocolate.”
While Germany does celebrate Christmas, they celebrate it at an alternate time. “Christmas is on the 24th. We open presents in the evening.” However, there are some similarities. “The bad ones get coal,” Sydekum recalls.
New Year’s Eve is celebrated differently as well. “We have fireworks and a longer meal, fondue, and we just eat. We normally play games or watch ‘Dinner for One.’ That’s typical. It’s a skit that’s like 10 minutes long. You can see it on the TV the whole day.” At midnight, Germans celebrate very much like Americans. “You count down the last 10 seconds and when it’s midnight we normally drink sekt, which is like champagne. We toast. Then we go outside and watch the fireworks.”
Sydekum explains that while there are many differences, there are also many similarities. Besides the language barrier, going from one country to the other wasn’t that hard for her. It’s been more like a fun adventure. Sydekum says she feels more independent now, and is thoroughly enjoying her time in the United States.