Yamini's time in Dresden

Sitting anxiously, fidgeting with my skirt, on the three-hour bus ride from Berlin to Dresden, I was terrified of what awaited me. However, upon arriving I was immediately reassured with smiles, friendliness and CAKE! There were of course a few culture shocks: how popular sparkling water was, the early start times of school in comparison to my leisurely 9am in London, and the almost religious watching of Tatort every Sunday night; but I quickly settled in from the very first day when we went for a beautiful walk by the river Elbe, whilst learning some history about the city of Dresden.

Living in London, I was used to a long commute to school, in a packed tube every morning and so, it was lovely to get the opportunity to bike to school right beside the river, feel the wind through my hair, and enjoy the nature. From the very first day at school, everyone was extremely approachable and would make an effort to talk to me – It helped that the school was used to having exchange students and therefore, they understood the importance of having us only speaking German and helping us to pronounce tricky German words such as “Eichhörnchen” or “Grün” – no matter how many tries it took! At break times, it was occasionally a little difficult to keep up with the fast-paced slang, but soon I started to grasp the colloquialisms and even began to try some out myself!

It was also fascinating to compare the differences in the school systems between Germany and the UK. I joined the year 11 class, which was helpful because I knew most of the content in the lessons and could focus on improving my vocabulary and oral skills. However, in Germany they are required to learn all subjects up to year 11, and this meant I attended Music, Art, French and History, which I had not done for several years. Even more impressive, was the speaking presentation and research project that they had to prepare for their end of year grade in one chosen subject. I also got to experience ‘Abistreich’ – a day where all students and teachers get pranked by the year 13 students to celebrate their graduation. We all wound up soaked and smeared with red paint! What I found most interesting, was how relaxed the school seemed to be in comparison to my school in London; there was no uniform; students were allowed to dye their hair and wear makeup; and there was a more laid-back relationship between teachers and students.

After a week in Dresden, I also got the opportunity to join a five-day school trip to Munich with the year above’s Chemistry and Art Leistungskurs. It was fun to explore a different well known German city and delve into another side of Germany, while at the same time playing lots of volleyball and making new friends. Not to mention, that I was able to sharpen my art skills, visiting museums and even participating in an art exhibition myself!

To be honest, though, it was my host family that really made the trip so special. It was made even better when I found out that like me, my host family was also vegetarian! They went extraordinarily out of their way to plan activities that really suited my interests: whether it was seeing a Peer Gynt Ballet at the Semper Opera House after finding out I do Ballet; going to the open-air cinema, upon discovering I was an avid film addict; or signing us up on a tour to look at the best paintings through the Alte Meister. Furthermore, they really helped me to practice my German and teach me new expressions. Almost every day after school, I was busy investigating Dresden, hanging out with Caroline (my host partner) and her friends, or testing German sweets and playing ‘Bierball’! My favourite experience was visiting “the Fake. The Whole Truth” exhibition at the Dresden Hygiene Museum, where we even got to use a real lie detector to ask each other questions.

The three weeks in Dresden were one of the most exhausting three weeks of my life, but I have never felt more confident in my German and never had so much fun! Immersed in German culture, I gained valuable exposure to the language; learned so much about the school system; and made long lasting friendships. I am very grateful to the Dresden Trust for funding, organizing and allowing me to have this opportunity and would highly recommend this experience to anyone else!

Being pushed out of my comfort zone, enabled me to really progress quickly and I left Dresden, listening to 01099, bobbing my head up and down to the music, sitting on the bus ride home brimming with memories. If I could have stayed for longer, I absolutely would have!

You can read Yamini's Versöhnung essay here

Yamini Sivaraman 1