High School Scholarship
Bad Doberan

GASS Vorhängeschloss © Jackie de Pont

Free Range

High school student Jackie de Pont sets her own direction on a ten-week scholarship to Germany …

Right at the start of my exchange in Bad Doberan, I would have written a completely different article but after seven weeks here my perspective has changed. I’d now say that learning and growing have been the main themes of my time here. What the exchange offered me was a chance to see exactly what life is like in Germany, not just the highlights. It’s made me realise that everyday life isn’t like a holiday - it’s challenging, and sometimes stressful. But you have to challenge yourself to reap the rewards.

Bad Doberan snow Me and my exchange sister outside her school in Bad Doberan. By the way, “Bad” isn’t as bad as it sounds: it means “spa” in German place-names. | © Jackie de Pont Taking charge
In my time here, I haven’t once been told what to do or think. In the first couple of weeks, no one compelled me to do anything, (except go to class – turns out even exchange students can’t get away with wagging) and I could have easily sat on my bed feeling tired and homesick because school was hard and I hadn’t made any friends yet.

But it was up to me to make the most of my time. I had to step out of my comfort zone and start conversations with people in my class despite the stern looks from my strict German teachers, go to that drama improvisation class even though I can barely improvise in English, and pick up the phone when it rang at home and run the risk of spending twenty minutes talking to a German grandma!

GASStronauten Astronauts Jackie and Mia before a party with all the exchange students in a youth hostel in central Germany | © Jackie de Pont The Bad – and the Good

The freedom of the exchange was not something I was used to. After five weeks with my host family, I was given time off to travel Germany with some of the other exchange students, completely independently. Back home, my mother or my teachers always take charge, but here I was booking my own hostel accommodation, catching trains and getting lost in Hamburg’s inner-city at 11:30pm.

Adventures in Munich Finally in Munich after an unbelievably long train ride. | © Jackie de Pont As German speakers, we didn’t feel much like tourists, despite managing to make all the touristy mistakes. We adopted the motto “a bad experience is better than no experience” – which is what we kept telling ourselves, as we took wrong turns, sprinted up sixteen storeys to the top of St Peter’s Tower before it closed in Munich, and forgot to reserve seats on a nine-and-a half hour train ride. But the freedom to make mistakes meant that we learnt a lot, and realised we were a lot more capable than we would have thought in a foreign country.

Mulled wine at the Weihnachtsmarkt © Jackie de Pont New Directions

The biggest takeaway I’ll have from this exchange will be my newfound confidence; to speak German with anyone and everyone, and to trust my own social abilities, whether it be making friends or dealing with the unsmiling receptionist at a youth hostel in Munich. With this experience behind me, I have the confidence to pursue my dream of moving to Germany in the next few years and starting a life here.