Text and photos by Katharina Quakernack

First of all, I gotta say that it was right what everybody else always said to me before I went to the USA to live there for a year: It was the best time of my life so far!! But not because it was always great and because I was never sad; but because I made so many experiences that were negative and positive.

Meeting my host family at the airport was honestly kinda awkward. It was weird for me to understand that I would live together with a family I didn’t know at all, that spoke a different language and that might have completely different perspectives of family–life than I have. And I have to admit that in the first 3 weeks of living there I felt like I didn’t know this language at all. I mean for sure I had had English as a class for five years, but the Oregon accent was quite different than the German–British accent our teachers have in German schools. But nevertheless, I made many friends especially in the first month of living there. I was surprised by the kindness and out-going way of the people I met. But I was also lucky that my host mom had signed me up for the Cross Country team a long time before I even got to the States. That made it very easy for me to get to know a lot of people that also went to my high school. Moreover I had a host sister that was my age, so I got to know all her friends that were also in my grade. I also had two younger host sisters that loved to take me to their soccer games. So I never really got bored even though school hadn’t started by the time I got there. I had about 4 weeks of vacation right when I got to Redmond. So I spent most of my time with going to the daily-doubles of Cross Country practice what got me really exhausted.


But as soon as school had started I got to know so many other people because my high school was huge. We had about 2500 students and so many activities, clubs and sports. Choosing my classes was quite fun. I had five classes a day and 3 trimesters a year. That meant that my schedule was the same every day for one trimester (about 2 months). Some of my classes were College English, Theater, weight lifting, Basketball, American History, Cooking, Ceramics, Jewelry and sports medicine, and I got to choose new classes every trimester. Even though my classes were in English, school was very easy. I never had to study for any tests or exams and still got ace. On the one hand, the atmosphere in my classes was very relaxed. The students were allowed to listen to music with their Ipods, go outside for a walk or even text during class. All that counted was how you did on your exams. But on the other hand, school life was super strict. We had security and cops running around the whole campus that had weapons and walky-talkies. Moreover, there were drug tests every month. So cops with dogs came into the school building and we got locked away from our stuff and bags. I was surprised that  the police arrested students that brought weed and other drugs to school every single time. In addition, we had many practices in school about how to react if a fire breaks out, an earthquake happens or a student runs amok, because that had happened every year at my school. So high school was very different compared to here.


After the first trimester and season I started with my winter sport: Basketball. Since that was the reason why I went to this school I was stunned about the support and practices of my high school. But I also had hard times especially during this season because my host sister also played on my team and the same position as I did. Our relationship started to tighten up when I got to play starting five instead of her the first game. And I also felt like nobody really liked each other on the team. That wasn’t what I had expected at all. Practices with this team were hard. Everybody fought for their playing time of upcoming games and sometimes there were arguments between players or even fights. My coach supported me a lot and he was actually the guy that picked me out for Redmond high school because they needed good Basketball players. But his practices were hard. We had to keep on practicing even when we were sick and we had to run for every game we lost. It happened quite often that somebody fainted during practice or had to throw up because of all the ‘suicides’ we had to run. Sometimes, my coach even handed out asthma prays for everybody that felt like she can’t run anymore. This was the hardest time for me during my exchange year. Even though I loved to play Basketball, this season wasn’t fun at all compared to my Cross Country season. My host sister wouldn’t talk to me anymore because she was jealous and felt like I took away her friends and her playing time in Basketball games, and some of the girls on the Basketball team gave me a hard time because I was good and took away playing time. But still I got to know one of my best girlfriends that also played on my team. We also went to many tournaments and colleges Basketball games. That was fun and I got to see many cities in Oregon. I still was kinda glad when this season ended and I got the chance to move on. That was pretty sad though because I thought that this would be the best season because I could play my favorite sport: Basketball, and because the team was good and we finished up playing in the play-offs.


I decided to switch host families to the end of my Basketball season. This time was hard and I was glad to have so many friends around me that supported me. But I couldn’t stand being around my jealous host sister that made her family and especially her mother not like me anymore. The only reason why it took me so long to make the decision to move out were my two little host sisters had I love to death.  But after I moved out everything started to get better. My old host family broke up contact to me but I was still able to see my little host sisters. From then on the best part of my exchange year started. I got to live with a family that has had exchange students for over 20 years. Their rules weren’t that strict and I could hang out with my friends even more. I also went to New York for Christmas vacation (what my German parents got me for my birthday) and I was freaking out when I suddenly met Justin Bieber on the streets of New York and got the chance to talk to him. J  I also went to Portland which was a surprise of my host mother for me and my Chinese host brother. In Portland we watched a NBA game of the Portland Trail Blazers.


During my last season and trimester I did Track and Field. I competed in high jump and pole vault which was a huge challenge and so much fun. My Track team was almost the same as my Cross Country team which made it even better  By then though, I had a lot of friends and felt like I was one of them and not the exchange student anymore. We went to tournaments that were far away and won the district and state meet. Like I did before I made it on the varsity team also for this sport which made me feel very comfortable.


To the end of my school year I graduated from Redmond high school. This was a sad day for me what brought up all my memories of the passed year. But it was also great to get the experience of an American graduation.


For summer break I went on vacation with my best friends. One of them had a boat so we decided to drive five hours down to California where we rented a house and stayed at Shasta Lake. I have never been to a place so hot. It was crazy and the water we swam in was as warm as the water in a bath tub. So every day we went wakeboarding and surfing or tubing which was with the trip to New York the best time of my exchange year. My friends and I had so much fun together and decided to do this next year again. We went shopping and to dinner in cities throughout California and had a great time together! After 10 days we went back to Redmond. From that day on I had three more days left in the States. On those three days I wasn’t alone for one moment. Friends came over in groups of 5 or 10 people and stayed at my house and we spend my last days together.


The last day and the time I was standing at the airport with my best friend together was the worst time ever. I had decided to leave from the airport in Portland and go there with my best friend to stay the night there and spend the last day with him. When I finally had said good bye and was on the plane I cried the whole first flight over to Chicago (4 hours). But still, I was glad to see my family and old friends from Germany. But even after 2 months of being back it was hard for me to realize that I am not in the States anymore and to fit back into my old habits and ways of living here.

For anybody that has to decide about spending a year abroad: I would definitely do it all over again. It was the best experience and I am so glad that I did it. It helped me to grow up, make new friends and get to know other cultures and ways of living. I could tell so many stories about my friends in America, the things I did and experienced or trips I went on, but that would take me forever to write all this down. I will definitely go back to Oregon next summer and visit all my friends. And right now I am also thinking about going there to college after I finishing school here in Germany. That is how much I liked it in the States.


All my photos in a picture gallery.



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