Letter: Crailsheim in March

Greetings from Crailsheim, This is Skyla, your Worthington-Crailsheim Foreign Exchange Student.This month has been booked with fun! We celebrated a holiday called Fasching, which is a holiday for dressing up and just having fun. It is celebrated ...

Skyla Rautenkranz (left).

Greetings from Crailsheim, This is Skyla, your Worthington-Crailsheim Foreign Exchange Student.
This month has been booked with fun! We celebrated a holiday called Fasching, which is a holiday for dressing up and just having fun. It is celebrated one week before Ash Wednesday and originated as a pre-Lenten celebration. I marked the first day of Fasching in a village named Unterdorfstadten; this is where all my friends and classmates live, and it’s a half-hour away from Crailsheim. My friends and I were able to walk through the parade along with many other characters, and I was dressed as a Native American Indian. I had a fantastic time with my friends, which was great because it’s sometimes difficult to see them often outside of school as they live so far away.
Later the same day, I spent the evening in Tiefenbach of Crailsheim with my host family, the Kellers. We all wore costumes. My favorite was my host sister Anna’s; she was a giraffe, which is my favorite animal. We didn’t stay out too late because we knew we had a big adventure planned the next day.
The adventure we had in mind was a long trip to Austria for skiing. After only three hours of driving, we were surrounded by a land filled with beauty. I fell asleep to the general view of Germany, which includes green grass even in the winter, a bit of hills and beautiful tall trees. I woke up to a world of mountains, the sun, blue sky and - overall - just an eyeful of breathtaking beauty. I literally woke up to a postcard-perfect world.
The first part of the week involved me being enrolled in the ski school. I’m not going to lie; the first day was not my favorite. The second day consisted of challenges, some falling and (of course) fun. It’s not so bad skiing or doing something with people that are just as bad as you. We had fun laughing at each other falling but also learning to get better together. After a certain period of time, my ski instructor stopped asking if I was OK because it was so common for me to fall.
The next day, I was a bit nervous to be skiing with my host family, who had been making this trip a yearly event accompanied by a retired ski teacher and his daughter who learned to ski before she learned how to walk. After just trying to keep up and do my best all day, this was probably my best day of skiing. I often had to stop mid-slope to wait for my legs to recuperate; they were shaking because they were so tired. I’m not going to go into detail about the rest of the weeks’ skiing skills. Just know if you tell yourself you can’t - or that it’s too scary - you’ll eventually believe it. Unfortunately, I let my negative thinking get the best of me.
Other than that, this was truly one of my highlight moments here. I’m glad to have had an amazing week with my host family before I had to go. Of course, I was with them every day, but it was nice to spend time with them without the hectic times of everyday life. Did I mention there was no wifi? I almost forgot because there was rarely a time I missed it, and I definitely did not have a chance to get bored to really need it. We played games such as Uno, Phase 10, and Quelf. Yes, they have a Quelf in German - so cool! Maybe I should bring this home to my youth group; they’re big fans of this game. My host mom also made supper in our hotel kitchen every night. She always says, “Oh Skyla, this is just a ‘simple’ or ‘fast’ meal,” but seriously I don’t think I’ve ever had such good food than I’ve had living with her. (Sorry, Mom, but she’s German; what can I say? Maybe she could make you a recipe book titled “Skyla’s German Favorites.”)
Many people might not see the actual value of my year. I am learning so much more here than I could ever learn from a textbook. I’m learning culture, I’m learning about people, I’m learning responsibility and the feelings of other people. I’m learning who I am and how short life is. I’m learning how to live.
I’ve always been a hands-on type of learner. It makes things way easier to see it, live it or be a part of it in any way. It’s so much fun for me to be able to sit in a classroom and know the facts in history because I have been there. I cannot believe how far I have come with my German. Of course, I’m far from perfect, but I hear when my grammar is off, I remember which form of the word to use. I’ve even learned the things I’ve heard my German teacher in Worthington say we would need to know - things I thought would be only a dream to be able to learn.
Late in March, I also got to join the Hanselmann family. We live in Wittau, a smaller village only about tjree minutes away from Crailsheim. Tom Hanselmann and I literally did a parent swap! I have a new little brother, Nick (14), who also attends my school, and a sister, Alicia (20), who is a college student and will only be with us for a while during her short break. My host parents are Christel and Berndt. I also have two kitties to add to my new family. Our first day together was spent at a band concert that we all played in, because everyone in this family is involved in the band and other musical groups.
There were only about five days with my new family before my Grandma Jan and Aunt Jessica came to visit me. I met them in Munich and we enjoyed a few days touring the city, Neuschwanstein and a couple of places in between. It was so fun to catch up with them and honestly just to be able to talk about everything until our voices hurt. Then we headed to my second home, Crailsheim. The minute they stepped off the train, I think I can speak for them by saying they were amazed by how welcomed they were made to feel. As soon as my aunt took her first step off the train, I heard Elfriede calling her name. My aunt was maybe a bit surprised that someone in Germany knew her! Wow, the wonders of Facebook - am I right? I was in on the surprise but had no idea she knew my aunt’s name. Elfriede, her husband Wolfgang and my host father were there to greet us and give them their first Crailsheim welcome.
After a short stop to the hotel, we were already on to our first event. We had coffee at my host family’s house with the whole family including my host sister’s boyfriend and then Elfriede, her husband, and Johanna (the new exchange student) and her mom. It was so nice to be surrounded by so many incredibly friendly people. I was maybe not too good of an interpreter this day because I was too happy and distracted talking with everyone. It was nice of Johanna to speak English with my family and also with me so they could understand a little. Speaking of Johanna, I can’t wait to bring her home so all of you can meet yet another wonderful student from Crailsheim.
During my family’s stay in Crailsheim, we visited the small city of Rothenburg with Elfriede and Wolfgang. It’s a beautiful little place that I can proudly give tours and history on because I’ve visited it so much! We went shopping in Stuttgart with Vanessa Pazurek and had supper with her mom and grandma that night. Vanessa and I could only giggle at our grandmas talking to each other, not understanding a word from another until we interpreted. Oh, wait: My grandma did learn the word “Easter bunny”! Their time in Crailsheim was short but sweet as we said goodbye at the train station with some of their new German friends.
I hope you join me next month to continue to be a part of my year. I encourage everyone to get involved with the Crailsheim program in Worthington. One of the main goals when I write my letters is to help you understand how amazing this friendship truly is and how fortunate we all have been to be given this legacy. I hope you enjoy being a part of my year, and I thank everyone who made this possible and contributes to this tradition.


What To Read Next
We’ve jump-started projects across our state to replace outdated utilities systems, expand broadband, build electric vehicle charging stations, and rebuild roads and bridges.
Mikkel Pates reflects on his time as an ag journalist in a three-part series.