Germany: Making the Most of a New Move
It's November 2013 when Dad calls us from Afghanistan, where he has been deployed for the last year. After he comes back next month, we aren’t going to stay in Hawaii for another year like we thought- nope, we’re moving to Germany! It’s not that I particularly liked Hickam AFB, or the school, or was sad about leaving friends behind - I cried and grieved for something else. In Germany, I would have to stop surfing. The military was taking away my addiction.
After we got a house off-base, in Scharnhausen, Ostfildern, things started to look a bit better. No, I couldn’t surf, but I think I learned a good life lesson from that - don’t get so addicted to something that you can hardly live without it. We lived near Kelley Barracks, which was 45 minutes away from Panzer, the place where the DoDEA school was. In order to avoid long bus rides and to have the experience of learning the language, our parents enrolled my brother and I in German public school. We had done Rosetta stone prior to moving there, so we knew some German, but not nearly enough, obviously! German middle/high school differs from American school in that after students graduate elementary, they are put into different schools based on their academic level, the lowest of which is Hauptschule, highest of which is Gymnasium (no, not a Gym- that’s a “Sporthalle”), and the middle level being Realschule. Instead of the “No student left behind” propaganda, they recognize that some students won’t make it into college, but that’s okay. Germany prides itself on its strong middle class.
For my first year I went to the local Hauptschule, to learn German as a second language with other non-native speakers (mostly immigrants). The school didn't have a 6th grade, only grades 7-10. During that first year, I was gradually put into classes with regular 7th grade German Hauptschüler. Upon discovering Hauptschule was too easy for me, I was interviewed and received high recommendations, from my German as a second language teacher, for Gymnasium. The next year, I went to 6th grade in Otto Hahn Gymnasium, much more academically challenging than Hauptschule. I was a year behind because I hadn't taken French before, and my German still wasn't perfect, but in Germany being a year behind in a better school is often seen as better than being in the right year at a lower school. After 2 years of Gymnasium, I moved to Japan. I went to the on-base DoDEA high school and skipped 8th grade, because German Gymnasiums’ 7th grade was equivalent to 8th grade in America. Summary for those who couldn’t make sense of that paragraph: I went from 5th to 7th to 6th to 7th to 9th grade!
If you are smart, the German education system is amazing. Gymnasium is basically what would happen if you took all AP classes- but if the homework was sort of optional. I made Bs and Cs, not just because my German was subpar compared to a native speaker, but also because free As aren’t given out like at some American schools. I learned so much in German school, but at the same time we got out at noon or 1 o'clock most days- so I also had a lot of free time. In Hauptschule, I was bullied by a kid, but in Gymnasium I actually made an amazing group of friends, some of whom I am still in contact with today and I hope to see again. In Germany, schools don’t do sports much. Sports are more often done in a “Verein” which is connected to your city or town, not your school. I joined one of these for track and field the last year and a half I lived there. Besides that, I also took up mountain biking in the hills behind my house, something I forgot about in Japan, but have started doing again during the coronavirus season. Though these could never replace surfing, there was something that could: snowboarding in the nearby alps.
In short, I dreaded moving to Germany, but after living there for a while, I fell in love with it. When I moved to my next station, Yokota, Japan, I missed Germany. I missed the hills, farm fields, and forests that were intermingled with city streets, a stark contrast to the huge, gray, city of Tokyo. I missed the great group of friends I had, and playing soccer with them, even though I was trash. I missed the cafeteria that was more than just edible- it had to sell quality food to compete with the pizza places, doner kebab, and other places we had the freedom to go during our hour and a half for lunch. I also miss our international church ICF, which had people from all over the world, including Brazil, Hong Kong, and India, making for amazing potlucks. Traveling around Germany and the rest of Europe was also amazing. We could go to Neuschwanstein Castle, or Rhinefalls, or Strassbourg in just a couple hours. There was an international fireworks festival over the valley behind our backyard, and we had free apples, cherries, blackberries, rasberries, and plums, from trees and bushes around our house. Ich vermisse es auch, jeden Tag Deutsch zu sprechen. Ich möchte meine Sprachkenntnisse nicht verlieren!
Embrace wherever you end up moving to- it’ll make your life a lot more enjoyable. It may even end up being the best station you’ve ever lived at- and might have lasting effects on your future. Ever since I lived in Germany I’ve wanted to go to college there. Germany provides education of equal quality to that of US Universities- but it’s basically free (just a few hundred euros a semester). That will hopefully become a reality this fall when I plan to start studying mechanical engineering at TBD (Weird thing about German colleges is their application period is very late: May-July). If I had continued grieving my withdrawal from surfing, I probably wouldn’t be the German-speaking, STEM enthusiast, and versatile person I am today. Military life is fluid- it changes all the time, and we must change with it too.
It’s not so much about where you live, but the synergy of you with your surroundings. Military children have to be able to adapt to a variety of different surroundings, which will likely help us in our futures living in a 21st century work environment- where things change fast. Whether you’re just moving one state away, or to a whole new country- be optimistic, and try to enjoy that station to its full extent- whether that means getting heavily involved in clubs at your high school, or immersing yourself into an entirely new culture- you’ll be surprised at what this can do. Also- if you really are unhappy at your new station, even after trying to love it- trust that God will get you through it- you will likely move again soon enough!