“Guess what my host parents got me?” Sandra nearly shouted as she sat down at the booth. Bruna and I were already sitting with our lunch trays.
“What?” Bruna asked, making room.
“Scriptures! And it has all of the books—you know the ones? It has the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and…”
I burst out laughing. I had never seen somebody so excited about a pair of scriptures.
But the girls didn’t notice me. “Me too! I got a Book of Mormon in Portuguese!” said Bruna.
“I’m really excited about it.” Sandra said. “And for my birthday, they gave me a CTR ring.”
I smiled. CTR: Choose the Right. When was the last time I had a CTR ring?
“You guys are hilarious.” I said.
Sandra looked offended. “Why? It’s culture. This stuff is cool.”
Ahh, yes. It was culture. I should have understood from the beginning. I sat there remembering the things I loved in Germany. Schokocroissants, Kinderregel, Rittersport, and schokostreusel—AKA chocolate. In fact, chocolate was more than half of what I brought home. I still find random chocolate sprinkles hidden under the couch or inside my pillowcase. What else? Ohh yes, my eggplant costume from Karneval, journals from Oma, German history books, pins from Bavaria, Hiltrud’s wind chime, Marie’s pink bear and duck pillow, jewelry from Josa, Kulis from Lens, and over five thousand pictures. I failed to bring home a German bible.
After school, Bruna came over for dinner. She was ecstatic to see beans, rice, and chicken on her plate. My mom asked what she thought of the American food.
“The food is just different here. I never feel full, so I eat all of the time. And now look, I am fat.” She puffed out her cheeks and sank into her shoulders.
Germany’s food was also hard on me. Though I loved Schnitzel, Schwarzbrot, Sauerkraut, Kartoffelpürre, and Blumenkohl, my stomach could not handle the acid. It wasn’t until I got back and started taking Prilosec that the pains started to ease up.
I’ve heard the other exchange students talk about America.
Nele (Germany): “I like that you can drive at 16. We can’t drive until we’re 18.”
Macarena (Spain): “You can refill your drinks here!”
Sandra: “I really like the school spirit because it feels like a big family.”
I can tell that they are having fun. They try out for basketball, drill team, and the plays. They dance at stomps. They go to Young Women’s activities and make ice cream with friends. They take Driver’s Ed and learn how to drive. I can’t help but smile when I see them at school or the grocery store with their host moms.