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Letter: A final letter from the 2015-2016 Crailsheim exchange student

This is Skyla Rautenkranz, your Worthington Crailsheim 2015-2016 exchange student, and this is my last letter. This month was full of saying goodbye. This was probably the best and worst month of my year.

This is Skyla Rautenkranz, your Worthington Crailsheim 2015-2016 exchange student, and this is my last letter. This month was full of saying goodbye. This was probably the best and worst month of my year.

Let’s start with the best parts. Many of you maybe already knew that the European Cup for soccer was this summer. Germany placed third. I got to watch many of the games at soccer grill-outs and public viewings. One of the last games was spent in Ellwangen, a city not too far from Crailsheim. My friends and I sat front row in front of the humongous screen and DJ. It was an intense game ending in celebration on the German side. There were hundreds of people, and it was lots of fun.

Another fun thing I got to do this summer was attending a reggae festival. Me and two friends camped a weekend in Wassertruedingen to enjoy the festival. There was swimming, shopping and of course the festival itself. I’m so glad my friends convinced me to go, as I was sure it wasn’t something for me. I have never really listened to reggae music and have never been to a music festival other than Life Light Christian music festival in Sioux Falls. To my surprise, I enjoyed the music, the diverse, friendly people and food including Caribbean, African and a bit of Mexican and many tropical drinks to try. All our camping neighbors asked us to join them to listen to music and hang out. The only downfall was the music never stopped! Every campsite needed to be louder than their neighbors. When the festival was closed, there were still DJs outside playing their music. I guess that’s what made it what it was. It was a great weekend of trying something new with my friends, and I’m glad I stayed open to the new experience.

Every weekend in Germany is filled with festival after festival. My friends and I attended the traditional German festivals at “seafest” in Lautenbach, Kinderzeche in Dinkelsbuhl, as well as a few other smaller festivals where I got to wear my “Dirndl” (traditional German dress), which I am always trying to find an excuse to wear. The celebrations involve beer tents, games, rides, music and fireworks to conclude the evening. One of my favorite things in Germany was there was always a new tradition for me to learn or a new festival to experience. The last one I experienced was Crailsheim's Culture Weekend. I saw everything from a bluegrass band to music-playing gymnasts (including a woman sousaphone player), a puppet show and my favorite, the Australian paint show expressing stories through song and art.

Another thing my host mom and I enjoyed in the summertime was the “open air theater.” One was located at a castle square and one was in an outside auditorium built especially for the plays, the theater, includes singing and actors of all ages. These were a few great summer evenings spending time with my host family.

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I attended the Germany versus Italy in the European Youth Cup in the Stuttgart Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which is about an hour from Crailsheim. Unfortunately, Germany lost.

In my last month, there were a few things I wanted to do before I left, such as grilling for my friends, since Germans think Americans are the “Real Grill Masters.” My friends tried new things such as banana boats, fried potatoes on the grill as well as other yummy foods. That night I got to check off another thing off my list by camping in the backyard with my friends. We made memories I could never forget. I’m giggling as I type thinking about how silly we were.

The last hurrah for the graduating class of 2016 Realschule am Karlsberg was our graduation. It was completely different than at home. We wore prom-type dresses, had a dinner, entertainment and some even sang. We had a trivia game for our teachers and finished the entire class singing a song. I saw once again how really blessed I am by spending time with members from each of my host families that were able to attend. Even sitting with my friend’s families, I felt as if I were part of the family. Our class also had a goodbye dinner for all of us heading our separate ways. At the dinner, my class gifted me a German jersey signed by every classmate. It was hard to say good-bye, but nice to see everyone one last time.

My last week was spent saying goodbye but also welcoming Dominic and Tom home! We had a donner party. Donner is my favorite food, as I mentioned in other letters. Tom missed them and was happy to have that as his first taste of Europe. We had fabulous decorations and many visitors. It made me excited for the welcome I would be expecting at home, but mostly sad to think of the days to come. I kept myself busy so I wouldn’t have to think about what was coming next.

With welcome home parties also came my going away parties. One party was in Fichtenau, the city where all my friends live. We had music, a bonfire, a homemade piñata, dozens of cupcakes made by my host mom and me, and many tears. Everyone came from friends to classmates and even the families of my friends. I was having an amazing time, and I didn’t want to be sad with the goodbyes I knew I’d have to say. I wasn’t sad until my four best friends brought out their present to me. I received a memory book that would take half my weight in my suitcase. It was from start to finish of our year together and Included every fun, happy and even embarrassing moments with personal comments filling the pages full. There was a list of facts about me, including my love for donner and kassspätzle as well as my sleeping schedule (which is all day according to them!). The last pages were letters saying goodbyes, thank yous and never forgets. I couldn’t hold it together by the end of the book. I told my friends I hated them for making me cry because I love them so much. The gifts continued, and I was so grateful for not only the things I was receiving but the relationships and memories these people gave me. I could never explain in words how much everyone from my German Home means to me or how much I will be missing them.

If that wasn’t hard enough, I had planned a second goodbye party for family and teachers. The party was at home with the Hanselmanns in Crailsheim. We had my favorite food -- Christel’s kassspätzle and tomato mozzarella salad. We had to work all morning making the huge batches of food and again the beautiful cupcakes. Again family, family friends, and teachers joined us to celebrate. My host mom also surprised me with a huge banner saying “Wir sagen Tschuss” meaning, "we’re saying goodbye" with everyone’s hand print and name. As if the party wasn’t enough, other gifts I received were things such as a personalized cookbook from my second host family -- the Kellers -- and more photo albums. This party wasn’t any easier to say goodbye, but again a beautiful feeling to know everyone was there for me. These people who supported me through my year and it meant the world.

The final goodbye was the airport. My five best friends and host mom helped with the luggage filled to the seams but didn’t seem to help with saying goodbye. We took a picture of them holding me in the air; I posted it on Facebook turned around and saw everyone looking at me with wet cheeks and red eyes. I yelled at them once again for making me cry, then hugged them for giving me something to miss. My host mom Christel makes me laugh. Knowing that I would have stood in front of my gate for hours bawling, she knew she had to push me to leave. As I rambled on to her, thanking her for everything, she hugged me and then pushed me towards my gate saying that I don’t want to be late. Even the security tried comforting me as they heard what was happening. I also had Johanna, of course, to help me through it. Although she doesn’t know the feeling yet, she tried to sympathize. We had a smooth flight and got to get to know each other a bit more.

We struggled to pull all my luggage out without the pervious help from friends, and then were welcomed with open arms by my parents who I had been dying to hug. I was home.

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Thank you to everyone who encouraged and supported me throughout my year. Thank you to anyone who read even just one of my letters. Thank you for giving me this unforgettable year and to everyone who makes this possible and contributes some way to this relationship. I have never felt so passionate about something and cannot stress how much this past year meant to me.  I learned things, saw things and met people who have changed my life forever in the most positive of ways. I hope in my letters I have shown at least one person how big this is, how far just a little kindness can go. Don’t forget this Worthington. THIS IS OUR LEGACY.

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