Zwetschenknödel And 800-Year-Old Towns

Zwetschenknödel And 800-Year-Old Towns
Zwetschenknödel And 800-Year-Old Towns
Zwetschenknödel And 800-Year-Old Towns
Zwetschenknödel And 800-Year-Old Towns
Zwetschenknödel And 800-Year-Old Towns
Zwetschenknödel And 800-Year-Old Towns
Zwetschenknödel And 800-Year-Old Towns
Exchange Student Shares Her Experiences In Germany

Editor’s note: As many of our readers know, we have a fair number of foreign exchange students visit the Rockbridge area each year, and some of our own students also head overseas.

This summer, one of our local students asked if she could write about her foreign exchange student experience in Germany last year, and we thought such a story would give the rest of us an insight to what it’s like to study abroad, so we gave her an enthusiastic, “Yes.”


Hallo! My name is Ana Topasna. I am a resident of Lexington and a 2019 graduate of Rockbridge County High School. I spent my senior year studying abroad in Germany on a state department funded exchange program known as CBYX.

CBYX, also known as Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange, was founded in 1983 in order to strengthen the relationship between the United State and Germany. Each year 50 students from the southwest region of the U.S. are sent to Germany and 50 students from Germany are sent to the USA. Students live a normal life with a host family, going to school, learning a new language and participating in community events, all while sharing their culture and learning about a new one.

My journey with CBYX first began in my freshman year, as I searched for opportunities to learn German. However, I was too young for the program at that time. I applied later and after going through the selection process, I was awarded the scholarship to spend my senior year in Germany. A few months after being accepted into the program, I was assigned a host family, with whom I would be living with for the next 10 months. I was excited to start my year there and I eagerly began to learn some German on my own.

The program began in August when the American CBYX group met in Washington, D.C., where we received detailed information about our year abroad, visited the city and met with several members of the State Department. After two days there, we headed to our language camp in Germany, an old castle surrounded by a beautiful village. There we would learn the basics of the German language and some important aspects of German culture. For example, we learned about the thorough German recycling and waste disposal system and how their school system works. This was intertwined with weekly classes where, on some days, we spent up to five hours learning German. However it was not all work and no play. We attended nearby festivals and concerts, went on hikes and integrated ourselves into the town. On one weekend we visited the city of Marburg.

At the end of August, language camp was over and we met our host families for the first time. My host family came to pick me up and during the two-hour drive I got to know them better. I was placed in a small town of approximately 8,000 people known as Bad Sooden-Allendorf in the middle of Germany. The town, which recently celebrated its 800th anniversary, is full of rich history such as its salt towers, East/West German border museum (Grenzmuseum) and Fachwerkhäuser (a traditional timber framed house style). The town uses its many resources to better the lives of its citizens and to attract tourists to relax in hot salt baths and spas, or to wander on the many bicycle and hiking paths along the scenic Werra River.

My first day in town and with my new family was a bit confusing as I was trying to get used to a new environment. However, after having dinner with my host family and meeting one of my future classmates, I was beginning to feel less uneasy. I was excited to start school the next day and to learn what living there was really like.

Beginning in September, I attended school and a normal daily routine began to set in. I learned alongside my classmates and became friends with some of them as we participated in a variety of activities together. I also learned how different the German school system was from the American one, and how students interacted with one another and their teachers. For example, students had less say in the classes they could take and they rarely took tests or quizzes, at most three times per semester per class. Schools also took students on trips to learn more about a variety of jobs. For example, my class went to the Volkswagen factory near us to learn what working there is like.

I also spent a lot of time with my host family, like going on hikes in the mountains, going to the movies together on the weekends or visiting local attractions. As I was learning the language and speaking with them, I had a few mistranslations along the way. For example, during my first week there, my host-mom asked me in German if I wanted dessert (Nachtisch), which translates literally to “after table.” It took me a while to realize what she was asking. After a few months, I felt confident with my speaking ability and by the end of the program I could communicate rather fluidly.

I also got to share my culture with my community as well as learn more about theirs. For example, I managed to pull off a Thanksgiving dinner for my host family, friends and members of my community. Since we had school on Thanksgiving Thursday, we celebrated on Saturday.

Although German ovens are smaller than their U.S. counterparts, I was able to delight them with a roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, roasted vegetables and a variety of pies. I also hosted a cooking class for fifth-year students where I taught them how our measuring system works and showed them how to make an apple pie and peach cobbler. I also discovered a variety of wonderful foods such as Zwetschenknödel (a plum dessert), wild boar, and döner rolls, a type of Turkish “fast food.” A town near me, Witzenhausen, is known for its cherry orchards that produce fresh fruit which is sold on the streets and road stands or is used to make delicious local cherry juice (Kirschsaft).

My host family took me to local festivals, concerts and events, helping me to get a greater sense of German culture. However, we were not just limited to our town. They often took me on trips when they could, and I was fortunate to learn more about the history and culture of major German cities. We went to nearby cities such as Kassel where I got to see the opera, visited the Brothers Grimm Museum and saw “West Side Story” with my host sister’s class.

In another nearby city, Gottingen, I visited the botanical gardens and the university, home to many Nobel Prize Laureates. I also visited larger cities such as Dusseldorf, Dresden and Leipzig. To celebrate the end of our academic year, I also went with my school class to Berlin. There we saw many of the culture highlights such as The East Side Gallery and Branden-burger Tor as well as visited museums, saw the planetarium, and, of course, enjoyed the wide variety of food available.

During the length of the program, I also had the opportunity to meet with my CBYX friends: once at the midyear seminar in Bonn and then at the end-of-year seminar in Berlin, where we visited the Bundestag and met with German representatives, among many other activities. During these times it was great to reconnect with them and to share our common German experiences.

It was sad to say goodbye to my host family and to leave behind my friends and a town that I had gotten to know so well. I had many wonderful experiences and I now have great memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life. My participation in the CBYX program was well worth it and it has taught me so much. I would highly recommend this experience to anybody and encourage prospective participants to look at the CBYX website for more information. Tschuss!

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