One month away from home with totally random people may seem daunting at first, but being able to explore a completely different world with some of the most diverse people I’ve met have truly been amazing.
Our first stop was Frankfurt, where we started to learn the German language and explore some parts of the city for a few days. It was a great start to getting adjusted to Germany and the people around you. Next we went to our homestay in Bavaria, each person having their own homestay family (and each of us lived in different towns/neighborhoods). During the homestay, we attended our host sibling’s school, visited Deggendorf and Munich with them (along with the other Experimenters and their respective host families), and had a group BBQ to send it off. Specifically for me, I was about to try things I would never do during my free time, such as cooking apple-cinnamon pancakes, sewing wallets, painting, and hiking at the Egg! At first, it felt scary trying to communicate with a family that spoke minimal English, but I felt that in the end, it helped me learn a lot of German, and there were great dinner conversations about "how to say this in German", or "how to say this in English." German culture is so different from American culture on many levels, and I am so glad I can say I lived like a Bavarian for a while!
Then we visited Luxembourg, Luxembourg for a few days (one of the most beautiful cities I've ever visited), and made a short stop to Schengen to learn about the Schengen Area and its vitality to the EU. Then we visited Brussels, Belgium (my favorite part of the trip), where we truly started to immerse ourselves in the workshops and fun activities such as the European Parlament, where we got to role-play as members of the Parliament and debate on important issues. During our stay in Brussels, we also were given a lot of free time to explore the city and hang out with our friends. We then made a short stop to Cologne (back to Germany!) and visited the famous Cologne Cathedral. During Cologne was my favorite memory of the trip, where I and some of the Experimenters bought pizza, and talked while watching the sunset along the Rhine River—a memory I will never forget!
Our last destination was Berlin, where the thematic focus of the EU and international relations was really emphasized. I fell in love with Berlin the minute I stepped out of the train; its beautiful graffiti (in which we also participated in a fun graffiti workshop and got to make our own artworks via spraypaint), greenery, and delicious food sold me. We attended many meaningful workshops such as a city tour of Berlin through the lens of a Syrian refugee. This specific workshop really opened my eyes on the struggle and pain refugees carry with them every single day. I and the other Experimenters were now able to understand that it is not just the ordeal of escaping, but the hardship of trying to assimilate into a totally unknown country. This specific workshop moved me in unspeakable ways, and now I am passionate about learning more about the migration crisis and what I can do to help refugees. To me, this workshop was the most rewarding part of the trip, because I truly felt like I got something out of visiting Germany for a month, and I could actually apply what I've learned to actively help others in need.
I think what truly made the trip unique and special were also the other kids I was with. At first, I was intimidated and scared to become friends with total strangers who I had nothing in common with, but as I got to spend time with them, I realized that we are all the same, and it became a lot easier to be myself and just have fun. I still keep in contact with my friends on the trip because we all have made such a strong bond with each other. The counselors were also amazing—I didn't feel like they were bossing us around at all, they just felt like a part of our group as friends, too.
If I had the time and opportunity, I would definitely go on another Experiment trip again because I was able to learn so many lessons that could not be attained in the classroom. Being able to travel to another country, not knowing the language, the culture, and the people's way of life, and coming out of that country in a month's time feeling so experienced and different, is such an indescribable emotion that I think everyone should go through once. This is the first summer abroad program that I have ever done, and I loved it! I truly feel like I have changed as a person, and that I know so much more about the world around me. Anyone who is interested in IR, the German culture, or just wants to visit a place they've never been to should definitely consider this program! Thank you so much Experiment!