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 Heide Roling
My year at Blue Mountain College, New Zealand 2010/11

Lots of people are arguing about whether an exchange year benefits teenagers or not. I can only say that I had a great year and I would recommend it to everyone who gets the opportunity to go abroad.

Why did I come to New Zealand? I had seen a few documentaries about this beautiful country and its wonderful landscapes. I wanted to encounter new experiences, learn more about another country and its culture, become more independent and overall improve my English skills. I found this challenge very tempting from the first moment my dad told me about this idea.

My aim is to pass the IELTS test (International English Learning Testing System) at the end of my stay, which is the key to get into universities worldwide. It would be good to have in my curriculum vitae (CV) too.

So how is life here different from life back in Germany? It all starts with my host family. In Germany I am an only child living with my parents and grandparents. Here I am living on a farm in the countryside and the most interesting part is that I have three host sisters. It is never quiet in the house; someone is always around. When I came I was not used to that because in Germany I am usually alone at home and my parents are back from work late at night. Now if I have enough of the noise and fighting, I just go to my room for some peace and silence.

I have two dogs at home - so does my host family, but they also have about 500 milking cows, a few hundred dry cows at the run off, three horses, 10 chickens, three cats, a rabbit and a guineapig.

My host family is from the Netherlands so I do not experience too much of the kiwi culture, which is not sad because it is really handy to be able to learn two languages at the same time and, because in Germany I am living close to the Dutch border, very useful.

When I first came to New Zealand I had no idea about dairy farming.

I quickly learnt, as a dairy farmer you need to be quite skilled because you have to do lots of different jobs and when something breaks you need to be able to fix it by yourself. I have learnt how to milk cows in a 50-bale rotary shed, build different types of fences, plant trees and my host dad taught me how to drive a motorbike and his big tractor. I learnt all these things, which I would never have experienced in Germany. I really enjoyed feeding the calves last winter even if it was hard to teach the new ones how to drink sometimes.

Let’s talk about the school system. In Germany I had just finished year 9 here I am in year 12 and even year 13 for maths. A very big difference is that I only need to do 6 subjects here. However, in Germany we study up to 14. My subjects are: English, Maths (Statistics), Biology, Physics, ESOL and one study period. Although I am doing Maths in year 13 it is the easiest subject for me.

In Germany we have three different secondary schools. After primary school all the children get tested to be able to decide what secondary school they should be put in.

The two lower schools finish after year 10, while the third and best one finishes after year 12 and only those students can go to university. Those students who finish after year 10 go straight into the workforce and start earning their own money.

In general all three schools are doing the same subjects, but the two lower schools are doing more practical courses whereas the top school is more academic. The lower schools are only teaching German, English and French as an option; my languages are: German, English, Latin and Dutch. I could choose more if I wanted to, but I decided for myself that I had enough with those because we have exams in every subject.

At home school starts at 8.00 am and finishes at 4.00 pm, but then I still need to do my homework and study for tests and exams coming up. Here school starts an hour later and is finished already at 3.15 pm and after school we hardly ever have any homework, a much better school life here then in Germany. New Zealand students can spend more time on socializing, sport and a lot of other fun things.

Another thing I like about the New Zealand schools are the school trips and activities. In my second week of being in New Zealand I already went on the snowboard camp with the year 12s and 13s. It was the first time snowboarding for me, which was a great start in my exchange year. I had so much fun and it was a good opportunity to get to know some people although I was at least a whole year younger than everyone else.

Events like the Performing Arts Festival and the school production are really important for New Zealand schools. I had not been part of any thing like that because I am not musical at all, but I enjoyed watching a lot. I think my school in Germany should start up some musical things and encourage the students to perform their talents in public. My school is academic orientated only and shows no understanding for those who like to act, sing or dance, which I think is a pity.

For us seniors, the years 11, 12 and 13, the formal is a night every girl is really excited about. A few months before, the formal is already often a conversation topic for the girls. Who to go with? Where to get a dress? What type of dress? Where to get hair and make up done... I was so nervous because it seemed to be a big thing here. I had my partner, dress, hair and make up all sorted and had an awesome night. We had good food and music and afterwards a sleepover at a friend’s house. German schools can learn a lot from these “kiwis”.

After school I tried some new kind of sports. I played basketball and volleyball in a team, soccer for the school team and badminton with my host dad. Because I could play those at home as well, I gave squash and netball a try. Netball we do not have in Germany and squash I had never heard of. I enjoyed playing and meeting new people.

During my year I went on a North Island and a South Island tour. These were organised tours (NZET) for exchange students, so I got to meet students in my age from all over the world. It was pretty exciting and it was good to hear about other experiences for support and advice. I relished some amazing experiences that I will not forget for my whole live. I went skydiving, dolphin swimming, bathing in mud pools, on the gondola and luge both in Rotorua and Queenstown. Those days were brilliant, even the weather was beautiful during both tours. I would recommend this organization to every exchange student in New Zealand.

What I told you there, is only positive, but it is really not that easy being away from home for a whole year at the age of 15. I came over without parents or friends; I did not know anyone at all and I could not understand the people because of this kiwi accent. The students in my year made the start easy and made me feel welcome, although I had to deal with homesickness quite a bit. Especially on days like Christmas, New Years Eve and my Birthday it was really hard for me. I had a very nice host family who made me feel part of their family but I missed my own family’s traditions a lot.

Then there were some problems with my family and friends in Germany. Firstly, my grandmother had to go to hospital for surgery on her hip, which had side effects and did not heal properly, we were really worried about her. Luckily she recovered in a rest home and after a few weeks she was home again.

Secondly, my best friend from Germany got sick. It was anorexia. It was a big shock for me and I felt helpless because I could not help her to get through such a hard time, I could not be there and I had no idea what to do. When she rang me she did not want to talk about it, she was so embarrassed, which made it even harder for me. I was happy that her parents and boyfriend were a good support.

Well, things like that can make an exchange year more difficult. Life is hard and you need to be tough to manage challenges like these. You have to get over it to be able to enjoy your stay.

One advice from me: If you feel homesick, you might just be tired or bored so find something to do and have an early nights sleep and you will be sweet again the next day.

All in all I can only repeat myself by saying that I had a great time and I would recommend it to everyone. It strengthens your character immensely, makes you appreciate what you previously took for granted, offers you experiences beyond anything you could imagine, confirms your ability to make decisions and abide to the morals and standards you were taught by your parents and helps you to realise the priorities in your life, like family and friends.