Will Takes His CBYX Language Training Beyond Germany

Hey! I’m Will Thomas, a current Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals participant in Germany. Read my first impressions from the program here.

Hallo zusammen, and hey to all y’all!

My name is Will Thomas. I am a current 2019-2020 program participant with the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals, a yearlong  fellowship in Germany funded by the German Bundestag and U.S. Department of State. This is my second post providing on-the-ground perspectives on the program. If you don’t know much about CBYX yet, make sure to read my first impressions from the program here.

In this post, I wanted to share my experiences from the U.S. orientation that prepared us CBYX-ers to go to Germany as well as my experiences at language school in Radolfzell am Bodensee and how I was able to use my German language skills to my advantage.

Getting Ready to Represent U.S. American Culture Abroad

One of the important aspects of participating in CBYX is being prepared—not just by making sure you bring enough changes of socks and an umbrella, but also being prepared with language skills and an understanding of the local culture.

For the 36th class of CBYX participants, this preparation kicked off in Washington, D.C., where all 75 participants gathered to receive cultural training from Cultural Vistas and the State Department on how to be a citizen ambassador.

Through these preparations, we came to understand that, during our time in Germany, we were there to experience German culture, as well as to provide insights into U.S. American culture and our way of life. Even before departing for Germany, we knew the significance of our role in the exchange because we knew that, often, we would be the first U.S. Americans that some Germans ever meet—or, at least, those with whom they get to interact with the most.

During our training, we spent a lot of time considering what it meant for us to be U.S. Americans, what our identities are, and the best ways to share those identities.

Prior to our departure to Germany, the 36th class of CBYX participants received an orientation from U.S. Department of State officials as well as Cultural Vistas program alumni and staff. Click on the image to see more pictures from the orientation.

The D.C.-portion of our training wrapped up when we boarded the airplane, but our orientation was not over. After eight hours of sleep for some—or eights hours of mostly movie-watching and sleeping for others like me—we touched down in Frankfurt.

The next part of our orientation took place in Wiesbaden, where the GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit), a German development agency, gave us an overview of the history of the exchange and prepared us more specifically for our time in Germany. This orientation flew by, both because of all the useful information, as well as the difficulties of getting over jet lag.

I’ve already fallen asleep on a few trains and friends during my time in Germany.

Once the orientation ended, we all hugged and said goodbye to our new friends as we split into three groups to head to our homes for the next two months, where we would hammer down our German language skills.

Bonding with the “Raddy Family” During CBYX Language Training

Along with 24 other PPPlers/CBYXers, I headed to Radolfzell am Bodensee, a resort town in the south of Germany, directly on Lake Constance (or Bodensee). Our time in Radolfzell, or, as we liked to call it, Raddy, was spent at the Carl Druisberg Center, participating in an intensive language-learning program, with classes tailored to our skill levels.

Our group held a wide spectrum of German language capabilities, from my class level—C1, to A1 students who are completely knew to learning German.

The Center hosted students from all around the world, meaning we were also able to make friends from all around the world! The Center hosted events or excursions nearly every day, allowing us to de-stress and discover more of what Germany has to offer.

No, this isn’t Monaco—it’s casino night at Radolfzell am Bodensee.

Being in a school setting didn’t mean that we didn’t have any time for fun, quite the opposite actually!

Although Radolfzell was the tiniest town the PPPlers stayed in, it was full of activities and in a great location. All of us lived with German host families, giving us the perfect opportunity to use the language skills we were picking up. Living in Germany also meant it was impossible NOT to use these skills—one of my proudest moments was when a group of us walked into the Swiss town of Kreuzlingen, connected to the neighboring German town of Konstanz, and I bartered (completely in German) to buy a winter coat from a Swiss second-hand store.

My host father studied at the German university I would be studying at, and he took me and one of the other PPPlers, Josh, on a trip to see the town and give us the insider tour!

You might notice that some of the faces are covered in a few of my photos. This is another cultural difference! Germans take their online privacy very seriously, in fact—the EU has some of the strongest data privacy laws in the world.

The town of Radolfzell itself was filled with things to do, especially as we got to enjoy the end of the summer directly on the lake.

Nearly every day, we went swimming (or even paddleboarding) on the lake, a five-minute walk from our language school. A group of us cooked family-style dinners together, alternating between different host accommodations. I made my own personal habit of befriending as many of the local furry friends as possible, which helped me deal with missing my cat back home.

Bonnie doesn’t speak any English or German, but we still understand each other just fine.

From Getting Tattoos in Zürich to Saying Goodbye

The location of the Carl Duisberg language school was great. Whether it was taking a day trip to Zürich to see the city and pick up new tattoos from European artists, making new Swiss friends I’ll be visiting for Christmas, touring the European Parliament in Strasbourg and getting a taste of French culture, or hiking in the nearby Alps—the location provided almost endless possibilities, and we made good use of the Deutsche Bahn train system.

Holding it down at the EU Parliament building in Strasbourg.

The goodbyes at the end of our language school phase were bittersweet. After two months, Raddy already felt like home, and our program group felt like a family. Moving to a completely new country acted as a crucible, helping us quickly form warm and caring friendships with one another. We all hung out together on the evenings leading up to our departure, talking about how excited and nervous we felt about moving to our permanent placements, starting at our universities, and finding our internships. Even though the goodbyes were hard, we knew they were really “see you laters.” We would all be back together in January for our midyear seminar, and the amazing train system in Germany meant that all of us were only a train ride away!

Saying goodbye to Raddy and all my friends was tough, but I was ready for the next adventure awaiting me.

The “Raddy family” during the language school phase of my CBYX program in Radolfzell.

Will Thomas

Ever since he started learning German at age 11, Will has wanted to visit a German-speaking country. His wish recently came true thanks to the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals. He is a recent graduate of Georgia Tech with a Bachelor's in International Affairs and German.

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