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Jasmine & Moritz: Just Do It!

During assembly on Monday, March 2, International Week kicked off with our exchange students, Jasmine Brown from Ghana and Moritz Habermann from Germany reflecting on their experiences ... thus far! Their prepared remarks follow:

MORITZ HABERMANN

This exchange year has been an amazing time for me. I learned, I lived, I found friends. I have created a life here in the U.S., here in Saint Louis, here at Burroughs. This school and everybody connected to it has given me so much and I — or better we, Jasmine and me — wanted to give something back and share our experiences with you during this week.

An exchange year is something amazing, something abstract, something that people talked about and that I have never imagined for myself. It was far away and because my family was not able to spend this huge amount of money that is necessary to do an exchange year, it was like a dream for me. Until one day a friend of mine came to me and talked about an application that she was doing for a scholarship for a year in the United States as an exchange student. Of course, I was interested in it. I decided to apply — without telling my family. The time frame was very tight and I had only two days to fill out forms, write certain essays and get the application process done. These two days were the most exhausting ones in my life. Two weeks later, I got an invitation to an interview. I was surprised because I had not thought that I would get into the next round. Then I got another invitation to talk with my representative and I was thinking that I should start telling my family about it. So I did — and they were a little overwhelmed. However, I had a good talk with him and I finally got the scholarship.

So, there I was, sitting on a plane, on my way to the U.S. I can’t remember a lot of what I have done from there on, but what I can remember is, when my host family picked me up to drive me to their house the first time. When we arrived I saw the German flag that was hung there by my host family. I looked at it and I was shocked. Nobody would put the German flag in front of their house in Germany without being considered a nationalist. My host father turned around and told me that they bought a flag and hung it for me. “Well, thank you, that is interesting.” That is what I said. All the people who know me now, will know what that means. Back in the situation, my family was just happy and I was too excited and too careful to say anything. We would have these talks later. As a German, I did not understand it. I did not understand pride for a country, how you can admire institutions, history and people that were randomly born in the boundaries of a country. I have been questioning it since then. I asked myself if I could be proud of Germany, could I be proud of the things that people in my country created.

Could I feel pride for a country …
That killed more than 6 million Jews
That killed the people of the Herero and Namas in Namibia in a genocide
That supported colonialism
Put itself into two world wars
And for people who said that they are the superior race
You can’t
You simply can’t.

But I have learned that I can concentrate on the things that are in front of me and make sure that something like this will never ever ever ever happen again. Now Germany is included in many treaties and unions that guaranteed safety and peace for centuries. One example of that is the EU, in my opinion, one of the best international projects of the 20th and 21st centuries. I can be proud of a country that reunited themselves in a peaceful revolution after years of division. I can be proud of a country that provides amazing social programs for its population. I can be proud of a working and strong democracy in which a person shall be treated with dignity and is valued. I am proud of a country that leads in climate actions in the world and tries to find solutions in international conflicts while accepting the boundaries. And I am proud of a country that has a woman as its leader and is so close to equality.

I had to learn pride, but I did. It is much easier to do it when you are in another country like the U.S. and you are able to compare countries. There is still the questioning from the beginning but I have started understanding it. By coming to the U.S., I have learned about my own country and my feelings for it. There are so many things that I appreciate now about Germany and the U.S. as well. For example, there is the American diversity. I grew up without knowing what diversity means or that it even exists. Actually, I really think that the stereotype of a typical German was created in the village that I was born in. However, so many cultures live together and celebrate themselves here in the U.S. This is refreshing for me, vital and interesting. Stories come together and get shared, food, music, languages. All these things come together in the U.S. Of course, there are challenges that go with it, but you, the people of this country, never get tired of trying to find solutions. You talk about the issues that you have, you advocate, you speak up. I admire this attitude and my hope is that everybody in this country will hold on to it.

But there are certain things that I miss and that have challenged me. For example, there is the independence of transportation. For me, it was an awkward experience sitting next to a person that is younger than me and is able to drive but I am not. I got used to it, well, I had to. During my exchange year, I always had to ask somebody for a ride. This has never really been the case in Germany, because our infrastructure is just so different. However, figuring out who is driving me when to which place has become a part of my daily life and I have to thank all the people that help me get from A to B. There are two other things that I miss. The first one is bread. I know that this sounds kind of interesting to everybody, but oh my goodness. I am sorry, but American bread is just not comparable to what I used to have in Germany. If you have not had German bread yet then you do not know what I am talking about and you should definitely go to a store that sells it and buy it. The other things that I miss are the people that I left behind. My brother and my sister — the two most wonderful people that I know, and my unique friends who I love. Valuing relationships has become essential to me. You know that you love them, when you have them, but you know that you need them, when they are gone.

During my exchange year, I gained many things. I made fantastic memories. I got wonderful friends who I appreciate every day. I found a new passion and have to thank my art teachers for this. I went on many trips, had my first snowstorm in Minnesota, my first and last homecoming. And I have gained an amazing new family. And I really do love them. They have made me confident about all the steps that I have taken, supported me when I needed it. I can laugh about and with them and they never get tired of explaining new words to me. Without them, I don’t know where I would be right now.

An exchange year is a unique experience. I hope that some of you will decide to take this step and become an exchange student. It is challenging and hard and you will cry, but you will never forget this crazy, amazing time in which you have grown so much.

Thank you for this community, for all the people who smile at me every day when we see each other, who make me laugh and who are there if I need them. Thank you for all the things that you have given to me. Have a wonderful day.

JASMINE BROWN

Students, Faculty, Staff, Hi! (OMG that is such an American thing to say) —  What I mean is, Good morning.

This is for those who don’t know me or what my purpose is in this prestigious institution. My name is Jasmine Brown (which is very American). I am a junior for the second time in my life, and I am an exchange student from Ghana. For all those who didn’t pay attention in World Civ or Geography, yes, you heard me right. I am from Ghana, not Guyana, not French Guiana and definitely not Guatemala. Ghana is located on the west coast of the African, and I repeat African, continent — not a country. And though I really want to talk about this, it is not why I’m here. I’m here to update you on my life over the past six months, 27 days and eight hours.

Being an exchange student is a never-ending job that you are not paid for in cash but in kindness and love and that is what I have received from the Taylors (my host family) and the entire Burroughs community. This job you see is an entire package so it comes with memories, laughter, fun, many good things but it also come with challenges, homesickness, sadness, anger, frustration and some more.

I have done so much more stuff during the past couple of months than I have in my entire 17 years on this earth — much of which I never thought I would ever do. Schoolwise, I have written a term paper that I don’t plan on ever writing again. I attended my first pep rally and homecoming. I have written way too many English essays on books that are not my type but made me address issues near and dear to my heart. One of them is family. Family is everything to me and I really do mean it. Growing up my siblings and I could not stand each other and then we learned to tolerate each other and now we are best friends. I remember we used to fight all the time like the wrestlers and jump onto each other and our parents would just look at us and say 'if one of you gets hurt, don’t say anything; just cry very silently.' Without my family, I wouldn’t be here. They encouraged me to do this even though it means missing my birthday for the first time and communicating only a couple of times a month. In my short stay here, I have made friends from different parts of the world — friends I know I have a home with should I visit their countries later on in my life — friends I will keep in touch with till the very end.

As many of you know or do not know back home, I attend an all-girls private school, and you know what that means drama, fights, drama, scandals, did I mention drama? But in a boarding school, your life is pretty much laid out for you uniforms, timetables, prep which I hate. Your life revolves around the demon bell which gives me anxiety to this day. You never really had free time, and if you did, you would either be asleep or doing some more studying. But when I got here — whoo was that a change. You get to wake up by yourself but early enough to make it out the door in time. You get to pick out your own clothes to school. You are allowed to drive and stay out till really late (which I never got to do). You have choices but with the ever-watching eyes of your parents whereas back home many kids my age are really independent. Because many of us have been in boarding schools, our parents believe we can make decisions of our own but 'always make sure you are back in the house before 10 pm or so help you, God.'

Being here made me realize how English was not an interesting language at all to me that is. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good we can all speak so we can understand each other but where is the fun in it. I mean since everyone speaks it, there is no way you could gossip about someone sitting in earshot. That is why I love AFS orientation camps because I know even though the first rule is SPEAK ENGLISH AT ALL TIMES, we still don’t obey and it’s fun because there's so much diversity in one room at the same time.

The last time I was here [on stage], I talked about my bucket list. I don’t remember what I said but I can say proudly that I have crossed somethings off my list:
I saw snow
I went to three different states
I qualified for a State Department workshop
Went to homecoming
Went for a women’s march and saw the littlest girls with the cutest signs
Had a photoshoot in the art museum with some friends
But I have yet to go to an amusement park. To you in this crowd who wants to make a difference in the world but are too shy or scared to do it, I say go for it. Look at me. I was just like you look where I am standing today.
There are so many people I would like to thank and if you don’t hear your name that’s because I would like to thank you in person:

To every person who worked at the dance show especially those in costumes, thank you for making it the highlight of my year. To all the teachers who have had conversations with me, thank you for understanding my accent. Madame CB, thank you for being the best advisor ever! To the Dotys, thank you for all the carpools, conversations and laughter. The Taylor family, thank you for opening your home to me and loving me as your bonus baby. Karson, thank you for giving me a heart attack every night. I really appreciate it. Thank you all who surprised me for my birthday — it means so much to me. To my partner in crime, Moritz, from the first day we met and couldn’t understand each other, to you holding my hand when we were about to meet our host parents, thank you for all the shenanigans — from causing chaos in the sculpture department to almost getting lost in Chicago. I wouldn’t have chosen anyone better to go on this crazy ride with. To the entire Burroughs community, thank you for allowing us to burst the 'Burroughs Bubble' and bring more diversity. Lastly, thank you, God, because I wouldn’t even be here without you.

So here’s to the 98 days 16 hours days I have left.