From Your Counselors, in Review

July 16th, 2019

By Jan Nowak, Maddy Keating, Svenja-Maleen ten Hove, and Caro Böhme

Now that everyone has returned home and settled back into their routines, we hope that all of what you have experienced during the time we shared in Germany will continue to have an impact on your everyday life. We have learned from each other that the way a person views global events greatly depends on one’s political and cultural context, and that there is never just one correct interpretation.

These past weeks, as impactful as we hope they were for each of you, also presented an amazing opportunity for us to get to know all of you; for that we feel truly grateful. As counselors, we had envisioned the kind of community we hoped would develop, but it was each of you that helped uniquely shape this group’s identity. It was one with undeniable character and wit, filled with diverse thinking and reasoning.

We all hope you will continue to stay involved in AFS’s global community and we hope that you can continue to integrate your skills in understanding and finding the truth into your everyday lives.

In whatever comes next for you, we wish you way more than luck.

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By Amy

July 13th, 2019

After two incredible weeks our time in Cologne came to an end. Our final day began with a classic hostel breakfast full of bread, cold cuts, and fruit. We all acknowledged that though we had complained about the repetitive meals during our stay, we would miss this routine that had become normal. Following breakfast we headed to the workshop room for our final DIVE session. We broke off into small DIVE groups where we discussed what we had learned and gained from this program. The counselors emphasized the importance of reflecting on this experience. They encouraged us to implement what we had learned, both in and out of the classroom, into our daily lives back home. This time of discussion and reflection was much needed after such a busy two weeks. We all had the chance to grow a little more and get the most out of the program.

When DIVE ended we headed to the first floor for the very last hostel meal. Lasagna, salad, and blueberry yogurt was served for lunch. As always, the hot meal was appreciated in between the meals of bread.

Similar to the morning activity, our afternoon was more time for reflection. Each of us wrote a letter to everyone. The letters ranged from simple sentences about what we thought of each other to lengthy confessions of love. Regardless of what was written, everyone had the chance to reminisce on their time in Cologne and the importance of the people they had spent it with. The letter writing lasted for hours as a total of five hundred six letters were written.

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The schedule was empty until our goodbye party at 7:30 so we had a few hours of free time. A group of us headed to the city center for one last time. We got to the tram stop just as the tram did so we got on without checking that it was going the right way. All of us figured that eventually we would end up where we needed to be. We realized that this was not in fact true when we ended up four stops away in the wrong direction and had to go back to where we started to get on the right line. Ironically, this was the last time we were using the public transportation and the first time we had gotten lost. Nonetheless, we arrived at the cathedral and went inside for the first time. We were amazed by the building, but what we really wanted to do was take the stairs to the top. We asked a tour guide where to go for the stairs and she directed us to the side of the building. She also warned us that it was closing in five minutes and we needed to hurry. Rushing to the stair entrance we made it just in time and began the steps. The spiral staircase lacked any ventilation, and the masses of people making their way down forced us to walk on the inner corners of each step. After ten minutes of nonstop stairs, many complaints, and an asthma attack we made it to the top. The view at the top provided a perfect view of all of Cologne. It was a poetic moment as we could see everything we had done during our time in the program. We headed down the steps and back to the hostel just in time for the goodbye party.

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The goodbye party was full of food, music, and lots of picture taking. We all received certificates for completing the program (and Milka bars). After our ceremony we headed to the Kölner Lichter firework show that happened to land on the last day of the program. What was supposed to be an eight minute walk turned into fifty minutes in an attempt to get us the best possible view of the show. However, the walk was made more bearable by early 2000s music being blasted the entire time. When we finally picked a spot we all spread out our blankets and waited for the show to start. We watched the sun set over the city and enjoyed full cultural immersion by being in a crowd full of locals. The fireworks were amazing and made the walk worth it. By the time the fireworks ended it was well beyond our normal 11:30 bedtime. Regardless, we stayed out a little longer enjoying some rides at the carnival we had walked by earlier. It was an experience that was unlike anything else we had done in the past two weeks. For our last night, everything we did was certainly memorable.

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By the time we arrived back to the hostel it was nearly 2:00 AM. The majority of us had not even begun packing and were scheduled to leave in only four hours. The remaining time was spent packing, enjoying our final hours, and sleeping for a few moments.

Before we knew it two weeks were gone and it was time for everyone to depart. Though we only knew each other for a fraction of our lives, the friendships and memories we made in this short period of time will last for many years to come.

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AFS Glued to a Screen

By Luz

July 12, 2019

A wonderful day began with a chilly morning. The unique workshop, Video Games and Social Media, gave us all the opportunity have an understanding of our generations fascinations. The last workshop of this Two Week course reminded us that even if we all originate from different cultures and places, the commonality in preferred platforms and games is strong. In the workshop, we played video games and spoke about the genres. What other way to grasp the attention of teenagers than to let them further explore what they already like! The assorted amount of games provided time for us to bond as a group one last time even if we became rivals while playing them. Allowing us to expose our creativity, the leaders of the workshop asked for us to create an “ideal” video game.

On the social media aspect of the workshop, we were surprised with the amount of similarities amongst us. It was in that moment that we realized that everyone was on Instagram and Snapchat which is a huge turnover from the past Facebook generation. Furthermore, we put our abilities to use and made impersonated social media accounts. The activity that followed consisted of tasks like commenting and posting on those posts.

After an intriguing workshop, knowledge about Germany’s and the U.S’ popular platforms was imprinted onto our minds.

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The AFS group worked wonders during the workshop and deserved a relaxing break. The tiredness and exhaustion didn’t stop us from going to a Cinema in Cologne. Because we all have different tastes in movies the group split into the choice of two movies, “Spider-Man: Far from Home” or “Aladdin” both of which were great. We have our amazing mentors to thank for this lovely opportunity.

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Kevin’s Take on Hate Speech

By Kevin

July 11th, 2019

Today in Cologne, we were able to sleep in a bit since the workshop started at 10:30 and took place here in the hostel. The workshop was focused on the idea of hate speech and how to detect it. The first part of the workshop focused on defining the term “Hate Speech”, where we find it, and whether or not we’ve personally received any sort of hate speech. We were divided into 6 groups, each with a question that the group had to answer and discuss. We then came together to discuss these questions as a group. Some of the questions were: “Why do people publish hate speech” and “Why do we need to talk about hate speech”. Towards the end of the discussion, one of the them, bravely shared her experience with receiving hate speech just for responding to a comment about refugees being baby machines. We then had an hour for lunch before heading into part 2 of the workshop. During the workshop we watched the following video, from No Hate Speech:

After lunch, we picked up from where we left off. This time we were put into different groups, given an image and the task of determining whether or not the image was a form of hate speech. We had to decided whether it’d be legal or illegal in America and Germany, and if it was hate speech or not. My group decided that our comment wasn’t hate speech and  it’d be legal both in Germany and America. This was because there wasn’t any game involved or targeting a specific group. After this the group went around sharing their thoughts about the image they’ve received. Finally, we had an activity to close off the workshop. This was to make rules for the internet to counter hate speech, with the idea that anything is possible. With our same groups we had to come up with 6-10 rules for the internet and present them to the rest of the groups. 

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Finally, we thanked them for taking the time out of their day to do this workshop with us. We had a few minutes to rest before we went out as a group to get ice cream. We raided an ice cream shop near the hostel and then walked around following our counselor. We then decided to go a movie night before we scattered around Cologne. As the sun set, we gathered around the DIVE room and voted on a movie. As chaotic and loud as we were I managed to solve the situation by saying one word: “Deadpool”. Everyone was on board and so we got comfortable not the floor and enjoyed the movie. A great way to end the day.

A Journey to Castle Drachenburg

By Salvador

July 10th, 2019

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During our final week abroad, we had to pay tribute to the beautiful monuments in Germany by visiting the renowned Castle Drachenburg in Bonn. The sheer beauty of the castle made all our feelings of exhaustion from waking up so early quickly diminish. Our trip on the train to Bonn was plagued with sleepy heads and droopy eyes; however, our eyes immediately lit up at the sight of the enormous castle and the vibrant nature surrounding it. We had to travel up on a miniature train to reach the castle since it was so elevated. All of us had an amazing view of the city of Bonn and beyond from the apex of the castle. 

After our tour of the castle and nature in the surrounding area, we went to grab a bite to eat at a burger place near the city center in Bonn. We had an amazing time bonding during our lunch hour and recorded more memorable moments down in our hearts. After a few hours of time on our own exploring the city as we wished, our journey continued as we had a DIVE session in the park back in Cologne followed by an exhilarating game of mafia. There was no mercy in the hearts of our townspeople as they continued to kill our precious innocent civilians. 

Regardless of the fact that today was one of our final days together and our program is quickly coming to an end, I believe that today was the day our bonds became that much more meaningful and we ultimately realized the value of our shared time with one another.

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Berlin to Cologne

By Khadijah
July 9th, 2019

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Today we went to the U.S. embassy and learnt a lot about how their system works. When we went to the embassy, we had to go through a serious scanning. Our phones were taken away because of strong restrictions on filming and we weren’t allowed to bring in any drinks with us inside. After we went through the security system, we were taken to a room where the diplomat was introduced to us.

We were able to ask a lot of questions which she answered very politely and confidently. One of the questions that I found pretty interesting was about the reason behind the high security outside and inside the embassy. We were told that the American embassy in Germany is safe, however countries like Yemen have went through some serious situations. People often attacked the embassy in such countries because of the anger they had for the nation it represented.

We also got to learn about the importance of social media and how it can be positive and negative. Around the room, everyone was asked what types of social media they used, and surprisingly, very few people use Twitter. Afterwards, fake news became a topic that we discussed and the U.S. embassy prevents it by posting on their social media. This helps people know what the embassy is up to which clarifies a lot of confusions. Moreover, we were mostly on the positive side because the social media accounts of the German U.S. embassy leaves a very positive impact because people from around the world are able to see their system. Later, we asked some more questions and then said good bye to the representatives of the embassy. We received our phones back from the security and continued our journey towards the train that leaves for cologne. After 4-5 hours of the train ride, we reached cologne. Although everyone was tired, the day never ended as we continued with dinner and then our dive session.

Blast From The Past: AFS Learns the History of Film in Berlin

By Kenyatta

July 8th, 2019

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Today we took a bus tour of Berlin and went to the Film Museum. On our tour of the city we discovered so many nice landmarks and the East Gallery of the Berlin Wall. Down below you will see one of my favorite paintings on the wall. I like this painting because of its light and vivid colors; the message of the painting is beautiful because it represents innocence and the pure happiness of a child. Above is a group picture we took in front of the famous mural known as the Fraternal Kiss (Bruderkuss).

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Apart from our amazing tour of the city, the film museum was the highlight of our day because we got to learn the history of certain films and the techniques they use to spread the message they want in their films. During our tour we had the opportunity to see the different types of cameras directors have used in their movies throughout the history of film making.

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Above all else my favorite exhibit was about the actress Marlene Dietrich. I was so fascinated by the way she sings and moves. She embodied elegance and poise. When she walked through the crowd of American soldiers she supported, she did so with confidence and power. I was not only impressed by her demeanor but also her work in the community because she was a member of the U.S.O (United Service Organization). In this organization  she supported the military by singing at their fundraisers to raise money for war bonds. For a woman in her time period, being that involved in the community is very unheard of. She nonetheless made an incredible impact with her talents on the war.

Today was a remarkable learning experience with our AFS group.

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