Memories of a 2016/17 SAGSE Alumnus
by John Fitzgerald
I am one of the fortunate members of last year’s SAGSE exchange group. I was the proud recipient of a scholarship generously donated by Mr Hans Henkell.
I was able to get to know Mr Henkell in the weeks before my departure, through our shared love of music. Our first scholarship experience was our
induction into GASS, the German Australian Students’ Society, with the pre-departure dinner. I quickly realised that GASS was a tightly knit community
of friends and nothing but welcoming.
I arrived in Germany to stay with the Schüsler family in a small country town called Weißenborn in Thuringia. I worried slightly about my location:
a state that nobody knows about, in a town that nobody has heard of, and in the former East Germany! But what I experienced was the most warm and
welcoming family and town I could have imagined. Our front door was broken so guests would simply let themselves in and I would wander downstairs
to greet them. I loved my interactions with those visitors, which made me feel not only part of my family, but part of my town.
I enjoyed much of my time at school. Analysing the nuances of the French Revolution through the German language shed new light on the history I love
and Franz Kafka in German class made for better reading than Shakespeare! But I struggled through year 12 biology, knowing that I hardly understand
biology in English, let alone in German! I adopted a seemingly fool proof strategy in school of replying to anything I misunderstood with “ja”,
which worked flawlessly until I was asked if I would like to sit a ninety-minute maths exam.
I managed to visit nine different Christmas markets including in Dresden, Leipzig and Göttingen. It was difficult to miss home when surrounded by loud
and laughing Germans celebrating the Christmas period, and when tucking into a steaming hot Baumstriezel – a tube of baked pastry covered in sugar
and cinnamon. I put on seven kilos in Germany and I am certain that Christmas was a major contributing factor!
Winter camp soon followed and was an inspirational show of GASS spirit as trains full of Germans and Australians converged on a small town called Biedenkopf,
which probably didn’t quite know what it had signed up for.
Immediately after winter camp came free travel. My group of six intrepid explorers set out on an ambitious itinerary, travelling from Frankfurt, to
Heidelberg, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Salzburg, and then Munich – all in five days. A highlight was our visit to Salzburg castle where we were
blessed with cloudless panoramic views of snow-dusted Austria, Germany and the Northern Salzburg Alps. Each of us brought home souvenirs from free
travel, but none were as powerful as the friendships and memories we made.
By the end of free travel, I was homesick for my host family. We had two weeks with them before Berlin Camp, and I choked back tears as I waved my
host mum goodbye from the train. Berlin is alive with culture, history, and excitement with so much to do day and night, it’s little wonder that
we only managed to see a fraction of what the city had to offer in the 5 days we spent there.
Germany had an unforgettable impact on me and I have already booked my next trip!
I thank SAGSE, the sponsors, and GASS for giving us these fantastic opportunities and wish this year’s Stipis the best of luck.