29th November 2023
Writing: Eshwar Tewari (Year 10)
Editing: Divit Kelmani (Year 12)
This was it - the moment was finally upon us. We arrived at Liebfrauenschule girls school in Bensheim on a crisp winter evening. After many weeks talking on the phone, we were all going to finally meet our exchange partners in person. As I looked across at my fellow Challoner's companions, I could tell there was a mixture of nerves and excitement! Once we got past the inevitable awkwardness, we managed to string together a few words and soon enough the conversations were flowing, finding myself quickly whisked away by my exchange family to their home. Once home, we exchanged gifts, I explained the British etiquette of how to dunk a chocolate digestive into tea and they prepared a typical German dinner which consisted of bread with spreads and cold meats (I would later discover that most German dinners are always cold). I later settled into bed thinking about the adventures that awaited over the coming week.
Waking up at 6 a.m. the following day for school was no mean feat (especially still being on British time) but with an early breakfast and a packed lunch, my exchange partner and I set off for school, hurrying to the bus stop in the dark morning hours. Sitting on the bus and listening to the conversations of German people around us was slightly surreal and, for the first day, I sat glancing at people wondering where they were going or what life was like for them. We made it to the library where we sat down for the “ice breaker” - learning about the other exchanges’ hobbies, free time and much more. At this point we knew much about the exchanges, but not much about Bensheim. So, we were put into groups and completed a rally around Bensheim, including finding facts, dates and names, and also asking residents of Bensheim for help, which most of the time ended in success! After an entertaining morning, we returned home in the afternoon and I spent the rest of the day roaming the beautiful, picture perfect town of Heppenheim.
Another 6 a.m. morning call left many fatigued, but this feeling was soon replaced with excitement as we realised we were taking a trip to Heidelberg - a city which overlooks great hills and perched beside a river. It is also twinned with Cambridge! Upon arrival we marvelled at the old architecture, the beautiful creeping winding river, the picturesque bridges and most importantly, the impressive and imposing Heidelberg Castle. The teachers managed to sneak in a brief history lesson, with some of the highlights including a 2000 year old elder tree. The trip back to Bensheim was swiftly followed by the Liebfrauenschule Adventsfunkeln, (a Christmas Fair) in which football was played, Kinderpunsch (a hot spiced drink) was drunk and carols were sung.
On the weekend, my exchange partner and I ventured to the Weihnachtsmarkt of Heppenheim to open up our Christmas stall. My job was to smile and handle the money (they obviously didn’t trust me with communication!) but I decided to try and open up dialogue with the locals, and I’m glad I did! Communicating with native speakers allows you to learn so much about accents, abbreviations and slang! Later that evening we went to a waterpark which was such fun. Sunday morning was spent at a local church and it was great to meet different people after the service. I managed to meet a French family, a family who moved from Amersham and the pastor. After that we spent the rest of the afternoon travelling around small towns, throwing snowballs, watching a brass band and generally having a great time. However, conversations with my Challoner's friends suggested a wide range of weekend activities from sledding to bowling, and visiting museums to visiting relatives. Everyone seemed to have a great weekend.
On Monday, we took the train with our partners to Frankfurt and had an interesting tour of the city, learning about the bombing of Frankfurt and how the city was affected. In the UK, we’ve grown up learning about World War II in several history lessons, but I found it fascinating to hear a bit about the German perspective. There are always two sides to a coin and I think this is something we should always remember. A visit to an incredible cathedral followed, and then free time in the Christmas markets - and whilst we all started to warm up inside, we were treated to the sight of heavy snowfall outside! Our excitement peaked as we ran outside to have snowball fights and even the teachers couldn’t help but join in. We had been on our feet all day, and so a seat on the train was appreciated as we made our ways back home.
The last day trip in Germany was to the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart. Excitement rang around the group as we entered the museum and saw hundreds of Porsches, all with their unique stats and designs. The most popular activity, however, was the Porsche racing simulator, in which we were desperately trying to finish a lap! After leaving the museum we made our way to Stuttgart town centre which had an art museum, a Ferris wheel and of course, a huge Christmas Market! After we were done with our delicious churros, we sat back and enjoyed the two-hour coach ride back to Bensheim.
Alas, our final day in Germany. Upon arrival at school you could see everyone had mixed emotions. Happy to be heading home, but sad to be leaving our German families behind. We had a huge breakfast with the girls and watched videos of our trip to reflect over the past week. The sombre goodbyes were made and slowly yet surely we made our way back to the coach. Flying back from Frankfurt gave us time to reflect: what did we achieve and how had our German improved? Our German had improved drastically and, more importantly, so had our life experiences.