Ishara Fernando went on her exchange 11 years ago. Looking back, what a big deal it was to live with strangers, in a whole other family dynamic and culture. "I was met with a single long-stemmed rose", Ishara recalls when she was greeted at Hamburg Airport (see photo on the left). After finishing her studies in Melbourne and entering a graduate program at one of the big 4 banks, Ishara and her partner took a career break, traveled Europe and lived in Germany before returning to Melbourne (see photo on the right).
Year of exchange: 2009/2010
Group Leader: Valerie Rozen
School: Mac.Robertson Girls' High School
Sponsor: Mercedes Benz
Town / city of exchange in Germany: Gettorf (near Kiel)
Memories from your exchange:
Arriving at Hamburg airport was exhilarating - I couldn't wait to meet the German family I'd been Skyping with. We'd been matched just on a questionnaire. Looking back, what a big deal it was to live with strangers, in a whole other family dynamic and culture. I was met with a single long-stemmed rose which was sweet - we got in the lift to go to the carpark and my four Germans towered a foot taller than me, there I was, little Australian-Sri Lankan with a backpack taller than me and my whole new family so tall! In all my photos I'm on my tippy toes! (see picture left with my host sister Wiebke Holz).
They'd kindly packed snacks in the car for me and when we got to their place, we had 'Kaffee und Kuchen' and they thought my German was amazing because I was smiling and nodding at everything. Little did they know, I was exhausted and struggling to comprehend their fast German. 10.5 years later and I still speak to all four family members - times have changed since Skype calls, long emails and handwritten letters - now we Instagram message, Whatsapp and video call on Messenger roughly every couple of months. My host mum promised me years ago that the only reason she'd sit on a plane for 24 hours to cross the world was for my wedding. I recently called them and invited the family to my wedding - I can't wait for them to all come to Melbourne and to show them the generous hospitality they've shown me every time I've stayed with them in Gettorf!
Studies on return from exchange:
I finished high school and did very well with German language for Year 12 thanks to my time on exchange. My host family were so disciplined with explaining everything to me in German that when I returned in 2013, I was so surprised my host parents could speak English! German was the only subject I knew I wanted to study at Uni so I chose a broad double degree at Monash University - Bachelor of Commerce/ Bachelor of Arts. I continued German units for two years but found a passion for Asia during university and diverted my attention to Asian studies, volunteer work in Cambodia and in Commerce, business management.