When I was in grade ten I thought about going abroad for some time to improve my English skills. Since there are many different countries you can go to and a variety of organizations and programs they offer, I first had to gather information and then make up my mind and take a decision. Fortunately, at that time a friend of mine returned from Canada. Due to her descriptions and experiences I decided to apply for the same program with iSt and chose to go to the Belmont Secondary High School on Vancouver Island as she did.
Sooner than I expected everything was arranged, I prepared for the stay and contacted my host family. Suddenly the day of my departure came. On the one hand it didn't seem easy to leave everything behind, even though it was only for half a year. On the other hand I was totally open-minded and ready to discover a new world and for whatever there might come.
After a 10-hour-flight to Vancouver some other students and me took a smaller plane to the island, which turned out to be as beautiful as it seemed to me from the plane. Exhausted from the tiring journey and due to the 9-hour time shift (The time at destination was about the same time I took off from Frankfurt - the only measure to get rid of the jet lag is staying up until it's bed time at the destination to adapt the rhythm there) I was picked up by my host mom and enjoyed a ride over the highway and a burger she had provided. We talked and laughed a lot together because our relationship immediately was really awesome as well as those to the other family members. My 21-year-old brother Brad soon became a good fellow and let me participate in lots of activities with his friends. His girlfriend Robin and his sister Laura were like real sisters for me and I was their brother; the same with Rachel, a Korean exchange student staying with my family at that time. We all got along really well and enjoyed a happy time together as one big family.
Of course there are many new things to discover in a foreign country. Soon I became part of the social life in my family and at school, thanks to the very friendly people. Some things are just different - and I learned to accept or even appreciate that pretty fast. For instance, distances in Canada are greater, cars and fridges bigger, explained by the strong US-American influence. Indeed the US are visible from South Vancouver Island, most days you can look over the border and see the mountains across the sea on the American mainland. The countryside is gorgeous, not really comprehensible by reading a text. Especially on the Island there's so much wildlife once you leave the urban areas behind. Impressive were the sea lions playing on the beach just a little distance from me. You can also find bear footprints in the sand and in the forests, where there are huge ancient trees. Oftentimes deer came to our driveway and weren't even afraid when someone approached them. In fall I saw a spectacular natural event happening. My mom took me to a creek in the mountains, just a 15-minute-drive from our house, and we watched the salmon run. Countless fish were swimming upstream and their bodies were exhausted by fighting against the current. It appeared almost unreal to me, because this phenomenon doesn't exist here and I only knew it from TV.
A trip to Vancouver Island would be worth it for the beautiful countryside alone. However, the City of Victoria and the Greater Victoria Area, very well comparable to Bonn and its surroundings, are one of the nicest places to live in. There are some old Victorian style buildings downtown as well as a nice little harbour and a big one for cruise ships, shopping malls and everything that any modern city offers. The house where I stayed is built on top of a small hill close to a lake. The way to the High School I attended was short (for Canadians really short). My host mom drove my sister and me there every morning and usually picked us up in the afternoon. Whenever she couldn't make it, I got the opportunity to go on one of those typical yellow American school buses, which is quite an adventure and, unlike going on a bus in Germany, can be enjoyed. Life in school is very different in Canada because the system is not similar to ours. Lessons are as long as 60 minutes, you only have four courses per semester and each of them every day, one in a double block. From a variety of courses I chose Math, English, Chemistry and Physics, all but English on final grade level. In the afternoon (school ended at 3:30 p.m.) there was an infinite amount of extracurricular activities happening in and around the school, which was a meeting point for many instead of a place to abandon as quickly as possible. So we used the gym there, played soccer, tennis and did other sports on the school courts and in the facilities they have. Nevertheless, it isn't better or worse to go to school in Canada, just seems to be a bit odd in the beginning. Therefore you will definitely miss it when you leave.
Fortunately I made lots of Canadian friends during the first days already, basically since they have an open-minded and friendly attitude like most people do have there. In a way, they are just friendlier and easier to interact with than Germans - one thing I've learned for myself. For sure, when I joined the rowing club for example, some friendships became more intense. There was a strong sense of community because we practiced together as a team for our High School. The boat house was situated on a lagoon close to the Pacific Ocean. When the water was calm and weather conditions stable, we could even go out and row on the ocean, something I have never done before. It was an amazing scenery with the ocean and the Olympic Mountains on the mainland in the background. Sitting in a boat together and going to the gym for workouts together created a great sense of community and made bonds to some buddies more intense.
Additionally, there were many opportunities to get to know interesting people, and hence I automatically built up a great social network very quickly. Contributing to this I could always do something with my brother and his fellows who took me with them whenever I had the time. Lots of them were interested in Germany, our culture, way of life and of course our cars and the famous "Autobahn". In exchange, I could always learn a lot about Canada from them and slowly became a Canadian myself.
Unfortunately, there were some really nice exchange students at my school, too. However, it was a great gain to get to know students from many different places in the world and an opportunity to have some really interesting conversations in which everyone could learn a whole lot about the other cultures. Even with the other Germans, among them really nice dudes as well, we spoke English because there were always Canadians around and it would have appeared impolite and stupid to speak German then. Together with the other exchange students we made many trips to several regional sights, among those were trips to Vancouver and ski trips. I made many good friendships with many students there, some of them I will meet in Germany again. The trips themselves would need an extra article to cover them. All the interesting and impressive experiences I made cannot be described appropriately here. I will restrict myself to saying that Vancouver is definitely one of the most beautiful spots on earth. Another highlight were the ski trips I made in the winter which was so full of snow; particularly the trip to the famous ski area Whistler, where the 2010 Olympics will be, was a great experience for me as a passionate skier. That extraordinary winter, there was a hell of a lot of snow even on the Island, which caused trees to crack under the enormous weight and fall down onto the power lines. So we had several power outages. In contrast to the strong winter we had an awesome hot summer lasting almost until Halloween. I personally have many good memories left by a number of events such as beach fires, house parties, regattas and many more.
Very interesting for me as a German (although I had almost become totally Canadian at that time) were special occasions like Halloween, Remembrance Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Eve, simply because celebrations are done differently there or not at all in Germany. Typically were the big feasts we had with the family, usually a big circle with many relatives and friends. Although my host mom's cooking has always been amazingly delicious, it had its peak in the great turkey dinners.
On Halloween my brother and I constructed a tunnel all the way up to the front door, called the "Tunnel of Terror". Stuffed with frightening accessories like glowing-in-the-dark skeletons, spiders and ghost masks, it was supposed to scare the kids traditionally going through the neighbourhoods collecting candy. They had a blast and were given tons of candy by my host mom once they overcame their fear and managed to pass the tunnel.
Together with my brother I also worked on cars. As a mechanic he could teach me a lot and there was always something to fix or to tune on either his cars or those of his friends. I helped him out a lot of times and could learn for myself by taking things apart, for example once we took an entire engine apart, brought it into shape and put it together again. The garage was my brother's workshop, hence you couldn't take a step without stumbling over tools. He also helped me with ideas and technical support for my Physics projects I had to do for High School like constructing a catapult or a mouse trap car. After the work was done, we usually went out for a ride, sometimes together with many other cars, and checked if everything we did on the car performed properly. (The stereo definitely did) Since gasoline is very cheap there, we often just enjoyed driving around with friends.
When I was so used to life in Canada, I simultaneously had to accept that the day I had to leave again came dangerously close. Saying goodbye to the many people I met, some of them meaning a lot to me, was the hardest challenge and streams of tears did flow. Although connection can be kept easily via internet, it's a difficult farewell because it's for an uncertain time. I am a hundred percent sure though, that one day I will return to meet all those friendly people again, especially my family there, and to show my parents and my sister where and how I lived for half a year. In the meantime I stay in touch via chatting and email and wait for some Canadians to visit Europe, of course they have to come over to my house then.
To sum up, studying and living in another country for a while is a great and unique experience. Learning the language is just a small matter rather running in the background, there is actually a lot more to discover and to benefit from by getting to know a different world. Through the perfect organization of everything by iSt you don’t need to bother with a lot of administrative things and can simply enjoy the great experience of your stay abroad
Personally, I did indeed benefit a lot from the five months I stayed on Vancouver Island and I can only recommend to everyone who has the possibility to go abroad to do it since it will always be a gain for personality.
Belmont Secondary School, Victoria, British Columbia
August 2006 – Januar 2007