Trading places: Sacramento native Jonathan Gutmann is studying abroad in Germany while German Tammy Ondrey studies in America



Leaving home for a year- it sounds scary. There might be expenses. You need to leave all your friends behind. The language might be new to you. What other excuse could stop you from doing a year abroad? For senior Jonathan Gutmann and junior Tammey Ondrey, there is none. Gutmann spends this whole year in Bocholt in Germany, with the program ‘Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange’ that is fully funded by the government. Ondrey spends the year in Sacramento at the house of distant friends of her American father. Before, both students had neither been to the other country nor met the family they are staying with.To portray the differences they have come across or things they are struggling with, we have run an interview.

Senior Jonathan Gutmann:

What are significant and/or surprising differences that come to your mind about Germany?

The Germans have a very different sense of humor. A lot of Americans think Germans have no sense of humor, but that’s not true; it is just different. I’ve found that they think out-of-place things that are hilarious, which makes sense because they have a very structured culture. In stores, all employees have nametags with their last names on them, so instead of asking Anna where the shoelaces are, you have to ask Frau (Mrs.) Gentschenfelde.


What are things that you have struggled with or that you are still struggling with? Or things that annoy you?

Seat belts are not as much of a priority here, which makes me a little uncomfortable, but I still always wear mine, regardless of what other people are doing. Something that annoys me is the fact that many Germans think they know everything about American politics, and they cannot fathom why I do not think Obama is the best president in the history of the United States.


What are things that are new/different about school?

One of the funniest things happened on my first day here.The teacher walked into the room and said, “Good morning, everyone,” (in German of course). The kids immediately responded in unison “Good morning, Mr. Pohlmann” in a slow, depressed-sounding moan reminiscent of half-asleep funeral durge. I literally could not stop myself from laughing, but I managed to hide it in a cough. The students say this at the start of every class, every day, with the exact same mournful intonation, and it still gets me. Another difference is that the teachers here rotate classes, so they don’t have their own turf to spread out their materials. We also have several long breaks per day during which no teachers are present in the classroom, so some interesting things have happened.


What do you like most about your experience?

I love the fact that I get to speak so much German, so I am learning really fast. It’s also awesome for me to be living exactly the life of a normal teengager from another country, living with a German family and taking completely normal classes at a regular German school.


What is something you have in Germany that you will miss when you return?

Kinder chocolate. I don’t know how I’ll leave it.


What is the funniest thing that has happened to you so far?

Well, it wasn’t funny at the time, but I look back at it and laugh. I had baked a cake for a trade fair we were hosting at my school, and I was riding my bike to school (everyone rides everywhere in my city) while carrying the cake in a cake-carrying apparatus. While riding along the river, the apparatus broke, the cake fell whipped-cream-side down into the mud, and the pan rolled down the hill into the river. That was fun to explain to the teachers.


What is your favorite memory so far?

That’s really a tough question. I really liked spending Christmas with my host family. I’ve never celebrated Christmas before, and it is certainly a special time for families, especially in Germany. At that point, it was clear that I was part of the family, and we had a lot of fun giving presents and spending time together.


Have you had a really bad moment/experience?

One day, right when I was in the midst of college apps, my host family got mad at me because I forgot to say good morning, and then at school, I was having trouble doing an assignment, and everything just sort of compounded into a bad day. Obviously, though, for every bad day there are a lot of great days to go with it, and, overall, my experience has been really positive.


Do you feel like the last half year has changed you?

Absolutely. I have definitely learned to become much more independent, and I think I have also become much more adept at sensing other people’s feelings and responding accordingly. I have also learned not to dwell so much on small details but instead focus more on the big picture. In terms of habits, it’s probably going to take a while before I stop impulsively saying “Guten Appetit” before I eat with other people.


How is your experience with your host family? Is staying in touch with family and friends hard?

Overall, really positive. Like every family, sometimes we argue or disagree, but we have a lot of fun and we care for each other. It has been hard for me to stay in touch with friends because I am so focused on doing things here. Write me an email, though, and I’ll respond!


What do you miss most about America? Do you feel homesick at all? Is it hard to adapt?

While I have yet to face serious homesickness, it is hard to help missing America from time to time. Something I miss about Americans is that we are very socially open in that we open up and have long conversations about the most random things. I also miss activities at Rio like mock trial, Civitas, and band. That being said, adapting has certainly been manageable because I have opened myself up to accepting different ways of doing things. Life here is quite different, but the differences make it fun and exciting.


What is a funny/surprising thing you miss?

American restaurants. I don’t mean fast food; I mean good, normal restaurants we have in California. If anyone would be willing to send me some Chinese food, that’d be great. Something I don’t miss: Senioritis. I’m doing new and exciting things every day, so I really don’t have any.


Did you start thinking in a different language? Is it confusing to speak in a different language all

the time?

Yes! Unlike Tammey, I didn’t speak any German until about a year ago, so making the transition to speaking it virtually 24/7 has messed with my brain. However, it has totally been worth it. One phenomenon I have noticed is that my English is significantly worse, and sometimes I can only think of the German word for something. Alles klar?


Will you repeat the school year after this?

No, it’s off to college for me. Now I just have to see which one.


Extra Note: I never pictured myself doing an exchange year in high school, but I have benefited immensely from this experience, and I urge you guys to look into it. I firmly believe that one year abroad is worth several at home, just because you face so many unique situations and learning experiences. My program, called the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange, is fully funded by the government, and there are other reasonably-priced programs out there, so even if you have just an inkling of interest, I encourage you to look into spending a year abroad.


Junior Tammey Ondrey:

What are significant and/or surprising differences that come to your mind about California?

In Germany we need to be 18 to get our driver’s license, so it’s amazing how all my friends here can drive. I feel like American people are a lot more outgoing than Germans, which is great because meeting new people is easier. You feel welcome right away. Unfortunately making beds and going grocery shopping takes a lot more time here because we basically just use comforters in Germany and American supermarkets are twice as big as German ones. The money is different of course which really confuses me.


What are things that you have struggled with or that you are still struggling with? Or things that annoy you?

The first thing that I struggled with was the noise of the air conditioner going on in the middle of the night. Then I was really annoyed with how American showers work, because why would you have to turn the water up all the way to get hot water? It seems wasteful to me. Something that was hard to get used to was math here because the way equations are solved looks a little different, the number ‘1’ is written differently and decimal numbers in Germany are separated by commas instead of periods. Plus we don’t use feet or inches as units. At first it was hard for me to find the right class because math in Germany is not separated into Algebra, Calculus or Geometry but everything is kind of mixed up.


What are things that are new/different about school?

The whole German school system is different, but first of all we don’t use terms like “freshmen”, “sophomores”, “juniors” and “seniors”. So that was new to me. Then I had my first locker ever and joined a newspaper team which we don’t even have. I was super surprised when I had my first rally and my first Friday festival, because the only time we play music on campus in my German school is right before the seniors’ graduation. All the offered clubs exceeded the number of clubs my school had and I don’t think we ever had a day where all the clubs announced themselves on campus. Also my school in Germany didn’t have football teams, cheerleaders or school dances. A lot more classes were required per semester and we had a different schedule every day.


What do you like most about your experience?

I love the fact that I’m getting to know people from all over the world and get to be on my own for a whole year. The fact that I need to figure everything out by myself makes me more independent and my English also got real good.


What is something you have in America that you will miss when you return?

Mexican food. We don’t have that at all. And Californian Oranges. I know that I will really miss the school, my friends here and my host family. I also liked the hot summer more than the temperate climate in Germany. And I will miss riding my bike to school here because it is amazing to see the sunrise every morning. In Germany I just live too close to my school to be riding my bike.


What is the funniest thing that has happened to you so far?

For some reason my water bottle keeps leaking. And somehow I always drop it accidentally so that I leave huge puddles everywhere I go. Another funny moment was I had to do a French accent in Drama and instead mixed up Spanish and German words inside my head.


What is your favorite memory so far?

It’s hard to choose one moment as my favorite, but I really enjoyed Thanksgiving because I’ve never celebrated that before. My host family had a huge dinner with friends and family and after that we all turned on music and danced. I also went to Disneyland with my host family, which was great.


Have you had a really bad moment/experience?

I think the worst experience I had was when I stayed in a motel with my mom before we went to meet my host family. I saw a lot of poor people and a homeless person that was so sunburnt that his skin was peeling off. It kind of scared me. The size of Sacramento and how the huge streets are connected with the freeway was also very intimidating at first.


Do you feel like the last half year has changed you? (opinions/habits/interests)

I realized that I really enjoy acting, and it feels like I am more open to trying new things that I’ve never really done before, such as baking, breakdance or pacific island dancing club. I think leaving for a year and going out of your comfort zone teaches you a lot about yourself. When I come back I will probably be small-talking a lot more than Germans normally do.


How is your experience with your host family? Is staying in touch with family and friends hard?

My host family has become like a second family for me because they make me feel like I’m one of them. For instance, I was part of their Christmas card, and I know that I can always talk to them. Even though there are nine hours of time difference, keeping in touch with my own family at home is not that hard. And one year is not that much, considering the many years I will be home again after this.


What do you miss most about Germany? Do you feel homesick at all? Is it hard to adapt?

I actually found it fairly easy to get used to being here, mostly because my host family took me in so great. Sometimes when I think about home too much I start missing things, but I’m really grateful to have the chance to be here and I wouldn’t want to go back before the other half of the year is over.


What is a funny/surprising thing you miss?

I miss riding on trains. They are fun, cheap and all over the place where I live in Germany, so that you can get everywhere even if you can’t drive yet. I also crave German bread and chocolate. And autumn in Germany is really pretty, so I miss that too.


Did you start thinking in a different language? Is it confusing to speak in a different language all the time?

It’s not hard for me to think and talk in English because I have grown up with both languages. At some times I can only think of a German word, though, or I try to say something and suddenly throw in words that are not even English because I forget what language I’m thinking in. But it feels like it’s even worse when I try to speak German now. It’s really confusing and I can’t figure out if I actually think in English, because apparently I spoke German in my sleep one time.


Will you repeat the school year after this?