Opinion

A ‘Spaniard’s’ travels to Germany a telling visit

GUEST COLUMN

Editor’s Note: Grant Clarridge and fellow Bremerton Rotary exchange student Adriana Alexander each appear in the Bremerton Patriot every other month.

I’m writing my column today not from Spain, but from Germany. My school in Melilla offers a two-week student exchange to Ludwigsburg, Germany each year and what a great chance to see more of Europe! A lot of my Spanish friends planned to go and told me it is always a lot of fun — so here I am. A few people have told me they think it is quite odd to do an exchange within an exchange, although I look at it as another fantastic experience.

Luckily, I don’t have to learn German due to the fact that nearly everyone here speaks English quite well. Nearly all the Germans I’ve met are bilingual, and many are trilingual. Aside from the widespread ability to speak more than one language, there are a few other differences I’ve noticed, even though I have only been in Germany for three days. The difference that most easily comes to mind is the difference in the computer keyboard. Although it isn’t too different, the “Y” and the “Z” have switched places which is making me have to use the backspace key quite often while writing this.

Not all the differences are as small as this however. The people here are much more environmentally aware, and much more conscious about the amount of energy they use. Instead of having a handle to flush the toilet, which normally uses a large amount of water for each flush, the German toilets have a two-button system. One button starts the water flow and the other stops it, allowing you to use the minimum amount of water necessary. This seems to me a very easy and logical adjustment that could help save tons of water if people in the United States switched to this system. Frankly, I find myself appalled at the fact that I have never seen a toilet like this in the U.S.

There are a few other differences as well. The style of clothing is quite different, which is something I wouldn’t have expected because the clothing style in Spain is almost exactly that of the U.S. The traffic lights are also slightly different. When you are stopped at an intersection, the signal light, instead of going directly from red to green, first goes to yellow for just one second. At first I thought this to be unnecessary. However, I now see it is used to prepare drivers so they are ready to start up the instant the light turns green. This is yet another small, but more efficient way to do something.

The final difference I’ll mention is the German school system. The German school system blows the United States completely out of the water. Math, for example, is much more advanced and taught at a more accelerated pace. Also, the programs for foreign languages are quite impressive. After learning Spanish as a third language after just four months, many of the German students here are able to speak Spanish better than I was after two years of Spanish at Bremerton High and I was one of the top Spanish students.

I still have yet to see all of the subjects they teach here as I have been quite busy visiting some of the famous landmarks such as the Ludwigsburg Castle, though I’m confident many will be equally as impressive as their math and foreign language classes. Fortunately, despite my very busy schedule, I was able to catch the inauguration speech of President Obama. Not surprisingly, the U.S. elections were quite a big deal here. According to my host mom, it would have been a landslide if the U.S. election had been held in Germany. She believes 99 percent of the people would have voted for Obama. Having Obama as our president makes me proud to stand up and say I am an American while traveling to foreign countries.

I noticed that in the hour leading up to Obama’s speech, the reporters spoke about the weather many times. I note that the weather here in Ludwigsburg is very similar to that of Western Washington. It is cold, there is frost on the ground, and rain is not exactly rare here. It was below freezing today and already I miss the fantastic weather of Melilla.

This year and the experiences that have come with it have awoken within me a desire to travel and see the world. This is something I suggest everyone try.

Tschüss (German for “bye bye for now”).

Grant Clarridge’s next column will appear in the Bremerton Patriot the last Friday of the month in March.

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