Over the past few days, I’ve been reading Lessons from Madame Chic, a book about author Jennifer L Scott’s study abroad trip to Paris, and the habits and traditions upheld by her French host family which she has brought into her everyday life.
Lessons from Madame Chic got me thinking about my own school exchange trip to Germany, and my own host family. The more I thought about the time I spent with them, the more nostalgic I became about the whole experience. If Jennifer could bring aspects of her host family that she liked and admired in to her life, could I do the same?
Radio in the Morning
Madame Chic would prepare breakfast while listening to the radio. Having the radio playing in the mornings had also been a staple in my own host family’s routine.
Lately I’ve picked up the habit of having the morning news on TV playing as I get ready for work. Unfortunately, I’ve tended to watch it when I should be listening to it, which means I waste time and make myself late for work. I’ve decided to listen to the radio instead, and have been switching between the local radio station, and listening to French and German Internet radio stations, to practice my languages while getting ready in the morning. It’s been a far more relaxing start to my day!
The Magic of Driving in the Dark
I spent December and January living with my German host family, which meant that the sun didn’t rise until 8AM and it was dark soon after 4PM. It took about forty minutes to drive from the village we lived in to the school in the nearest town. The drive there was soothing; there was something about driving in the morning darkness that has stuck with me ever since.
After coming home from school and work, my German host family would all congregate and have Kaffee trinken (literally, ‘to drink coffee’) together, which was basically a daily afternoon tea where we’d have coffee and hot chocolate, as well as homemade cakes and biscuits. It was one of my favourite traditions. It was nice to come home and relax for a bit, and catch up with everyone, before the rush of the evening routine began.
When I went back to visit my host family in the summer, homemade lemonade replaced the hot beverages and fresh fruit bought from a roadside seller replaced the heavier baked goods, but it was still a nice and relaxing interlude as day turned into evening.
Maybe it was because they had an exchange student with them, but it seemed like every weekend we were going out and exploring the local area. I was lucky enough to see many of the castles which dotted the countryside, climb the Harz mountains (and watch my hair freeze!), go sledding in the freshly fallen snow, and visit gorgeous Christmas markets. It reminded me of the days when Mum and Dad used to take my brother and I on Sunday drives, where we’d take off in the car for a day and stop at whatever place looked interesting. It’s a habit I should really pick up again. I don’t really do much travelling when I’m home, and I need to make it more of a priority – there’s so many interesting things to do and beautiful places to explore!
I stayed with my host family over Christmas and New Year’s. Every family has their own unique Christmas traditions. For my own family, it’s putting the Christmas tree up on the first Sunday in December, having a huge get together with my extended family the week before Christmas, baking gingerbread biscuits, singing along with my family to the televised carols on Christmas Eve, and eating so much for Christmas Day lunch that we don’t eat anything for dinner! My host family had their own traditions. They made their own carol songbooks (and included some English language carols for me alongside their traditional German carols) and brought them out several times in the lead-up to Christmas. They lit Advent candles and my host parents made an Advent calendar for each of us where we received a small toy or a chocolate every day in the lead-up to Christmas. They baked Stollen and biscuits, and visited Christmas markets. They gave each other gifts on Christmas Eve, and then spent the next three days celebrating with family gatherings.
My brother has also spent time over Christmas with the same host family (they’ve even hosted my parents!), and every year since then we’ve included German carols in our repertoire. Our favourites? Kling Glöckchen, Oh es riecht gut! and the traditional Stille Nacht.
I am so fortunate for having spent time with my host family – my time in Germany wouldn’t have been as wonderful without them. I must keep in mind what I enjoyed the most about spending time with them, and incorporate what I can into my daily routine, remembering to appreciate the simple pleasures in life.