Foreign Exchange Diary

Hanna Ladstaetter

     The introduction of a story is always the hardest part, but this time it is even harder. I really do not know where to start. There is so much to say, but how can I put this high school year into words anyway?

     When I wrote my first diary for the newspaper, I was very nervous. I worked on it for hours and hours, reading it over and over again, correcting all the mistakes I found. And still, the editors found tons of vocabulary and grammar mistakes. They also told me that they would print the uncorrected version of my story “to show the progress I will make during the school year.” It totally freaked me out. But now I’m thankful for it, because there’s actually a lot of progress! It’s amazing how fast you learn a language when you’re surrounded by it every day. I’m proud to say that it does not make any difference, if I talk in English or in German to people. However, I have to admit that my German is still a lot better, but I guess that’s natural.

     Being an exchange student is hard. The first semester is extremely difficult and exhausting. Looking back, I do not know how I survived it. Probably my inner feeling told me that “there is something more that you need learn and see” kept me from jumping on the next plane to Germany.

     If you have never done anything similar in your life, it is hard to imagine the life of an exchange student. It’s chaotic. It means feeling freedom and joy in the morning, crying in the afternoon, and depression in the evening. Everybody told me that I am very brave to do this. I never understood those people and what they meant by that. Now I do. I am brave. I left my safe home with my parents protecting me at the age of sixteen, to live with complete strangers, somewhere I have never been, not having a clue what would happen or how it would look.

     I learned so much this year, about cultures, languages, people, traditions and most importantly about myself. When I look at the pictures that were taken in August, I see a completely different Hanna than I see now. I’ve grown a lot and feel more mature and responsible – two characteristics that I wanted to learn while abroad. I have done and seen more things than I had expected. And I met people that influenced me in some way or another.

     Joining the high school’s newspaper was one of the wisest decisions I made in the beginning. Of course, it helped to improve especially my written English, but most of all I found true friends. Friends that have similar interests, that are open-minded and outgoing. It was stressful sometimes, but I had incredible fun. Making me part of this year’s staff was probably an experiment, since I was the first exchange student that tried an advanced journalism class at CPHS and English was only my second language. But I believe I didn’t disappoint anyone on staff. Thank you, Wolfpack, for making my school days so special!

     I will terribly miss my church youth group. What was more of a spontaneous idea in August, turned out to be a life-changing experience. Although I’m baptized, religion never played a big role in my life. In Texas religion is very important. The first semester I struggled with the seriousness of religion here. Now I understand the people at church and enjoy it to the fullest, although I wouldn’t say I myself became a true Christian. I like the Christian values and I think the world would be a better place, if everyone would follow the Bible. But inside I know, that I will not go to church when I’m back in Germany, simply because religion never played a big role in my German life. Coming here made me think about religion and my own beliefs. Discussing and learning about the Bible and religious topics every Wednesday, many Sundays and some Saturdays, helped me develop my own religious opinion. The other girls and our leader have become very close friends of mine. I can’t imagine life without them, but everything has to end one day.

     I’m so grateful to my host parents, who showed me more of America than I expected to see and opened their house and hearts and never complained about anything. Thanks to their hospitality and kindness, Cedar Park felt like home and I never got severely homesick. Looking back, they must have been very brave as well, letting strangers into their house. I hope I can return some of their hospitality some day, when they come to visit Europe.

     My host sister and very best friend here, Michelle, has been a true blessing. I’m certain that our friendship will last. We share so many memories and underwent many good and bad things together, which created a strong bond. Luckily, she lives in Europe as well, only five hours with the train from me and we will visit each other as often as possible.   

     I’m looking forward to going home, but I’m not dying to leave America. I’m sad to leave everything behind, knowing I will not see most people again and probably never come back to Austin. Life will go on, my dream is over in just a few weeks. I will miss America, English, the people, the culture, walking through the hall ways, church… the list is long. I’m so thankful for this great year. The experiences I had will help me everyday for the rest of my life. I will never forget anything and I certainly will not forget you all –

         Thank you, Cedar Park High School!