By voyage reporter Rohan Sheth
Everything about my first exchange
'Exchanges are the best way to learn a language.' That's what one of my parents' friends said, when he first heard that I had started learning German. Several years passed by and I still hadn't been on an exchange. I was too worried by a variety of potential pitfalls. What if I have a bad host family, or even worse, a bad exchange partner? What if I couldn't understand a word of the language? And wouldn't finding vegetarian food in a country renowned for its love of meat be like finding a needle in a haystack?
Thrown in the cold water
So it was with some trepidation that I stepped off the plane into Franz Josef Strauss International Airport on both my first exchange trip and my first trip to Germany. I had made the decision that the only way to improve my German was to take part in an exchange for myself and see whether I sensed any improvement in my spoken German, at the very least. This momentous occasion quickly turned into a rather ominous one as one of our party got his shoelaces caught in the escalator and almost lost his only pair of shoelaces!
First German conversations in the family car
However, my fears were quickly allayed when I got into the car of my exchange partner and started talking with him and his Dad about my interests, hobbies and so on; trying to use as many German set phrases as I could remember, to give the impression of having a polished grasp of German vocabulary and grammar (which of course, I didn't!). My charade quickly fell apart when I was asked more complex questions which I didn't understand and I didn't have any set answers to, and since my exchange's English (and for that matter, even his Dad’s English) was far more accomplished than my German, we decided to speak in English, punctuated by little bits of German whenever I excitedly realised that the subject in question was something I'd learnt about.
Warm and friendly hosts
Thankfully, however, it transpired that not only did I have plenty of interests in common with my exchange partner but with the rest of his family as well, and the tone was set for what would ultimately be an extremely enjoyable trip and eventually result in his family asking me back the following year to stay with them for a further week, an offer I could hardly refuse after their warm hospitality first time around. I was in many ways lucky to have such a brilliant host family. It let me enjoy my time in Munich and concentrate on learning as much German and doing as much sight-seeing as I possibly could, without having to worry about accommodation or food, unlike someone else from our school who complained daily that his host family only gave him Brot und Wasser for lunch every day!