In summer 2018 I was in Year 12, having never left my family for any longer than a week, only a fascination for the German language and a burning desire to explore the world. After seeing this amazing opportunity to stay with a German family for an extended period of time I was determined, although a little nervous, to get involved.
After being informed about my successful application I was put in touch with St. Benno Gymnasium, whose friendly foreign exchange leader gave me details of a host family, who I started getting to know via WhatsApp. After frequent emails between myself, the family, the school and the Dresden Trust, I arranged the transport, travelling alone. Although this aspect alone initially felt daunting to me, I am glad to have done it on my own, since it gave me such a huge confidence boost and a sense of independence. I flew from Luton Airport to Berlin Schoenefeld and then booked the Flixbus to Dresden, using the same route on my return; if I could have done it differently, I would have just used the train from Berlin, since it would have been quicker and more punctual than a bus.
I arrived late (approximately 22:00), but was greeted by my incredibly kind and considerate host family, who offered me Schwarzbrot (a new favourite food of mine) and cheese before I settled in for my first night.
The next day I was completely thrown into the deep end. First thing in the morning I had my breakfast and was told that I was going to be cycling to school with the children (something I had never done before). On the first day I got my first glimpse of the true beauty of the city. I cycled over a bridge over the river, with a fantastic view of the Frauenkirche and other parts of the Altstadt (this was one of my favourite parts of the school day).
I was put into the ‘year 11’ class, and was quickly introduced to a group of energetic, enthusiastic boys who became my group of friends that I hung out with and am still in contact with today. There was a sense of camaraderie and community at this school that you don’t really see in English schools which I loved. The first week was the most difficult, but I soon settled in because everyone was so accommodating.
Outside of school, I did something different with my host family almost every day: jogging, cycling, visiting museums, a tour of the breath-taking and historically fascinating Frauenkirche, kindly organised by the Dresden Trust, shopping, exploring the city were all things I did after school. Weekends were also incredible fun; on the first week I went canoeing in the Spreewald, then went to a street festival in a lively district in the city. On the second weekend I went to a family friend’s party and visited some interestingly decorated buildings in the Kunsthof, as well as visiting the science museum. On the third we travelled to a family owned farm in the countryside, then hiked through the Saxon-Switzerland nature reserve before returning home. These were but a few of the many things I did in my time there.
The Dresden Scholars’ Scheme has provided me with one of the best experiences of my life. I have met countless new people who I will stay in contact with for a very long time, I have become more open minded and learned so much about the culture, and of course I have massively improved my fluency and confidence with the German language. If I could have changed anything about the trip, I would have stayed longer, in order to gain a better experience of everyday life and to explore Germany even more.
St Benno Gymnasium below