Connecting via Google

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Do you ever have random thoughts when you wake up in the middle of the night? In my case my random thoughts tend to be sort of a running to-do list. After being influenced by watching Barack Obama in Berlin and getting a few Facebook requests from long-time friends yesterday, this morning at about 3am I woke up and thought, “I wonder what ever happened to my host family?” Back in 1994 I was a foreign exchange student in Cologne, Germany, actually Erftstadt-Liblar. Out of all of my high school (and probably college too) experiences, being a foreign exchange student was definitely the most memorable. The person who left for Germany was a very different person than the one who returned. In many of those not-so-obvious or we-don’t-notice sort of ways, the experience really shaped who I am today and my thoughts on the world. When students ask me for advice on high school or college my first recommendation is find out how you can be a foreign exchange student.

While I had a fantastic time and phenomenal host family (I have since learned how lucky I truly was!), I lost contact with them when I returned to the United States and focused my attention on attending UC Davis. Its something that I have always regretted even as pictures and mementos given to me by my host family surround the desk where I am currently working.

When Kelly and I moved to Sacramento one of our first new acquaintances, Erik, informed me that he was taking German classes for fun at the Sacramento Turn Verein. At one point in time my German was pretty darn good. Conversationally, I could communicate with most people. In Paris I found it easier to ask for help in German than to attempt my limited knowledge of French. When I watch the German News Service I am suprised how much I still understand. However, after 14 years of living in California with limited opportunities to speak German I have lost many of my skills. When I try to help Spanish-speaking students in my class I find myself accidentally substituting in German words for Spanish words I don’t know – its a very bizzare experience, but I think shows how our brains process language. In September I will be attending German classes with Erik and I’m hoping to regain many of my lost skills.

So back to the title and purpose of this post. As I mentioned I awoke to the thought of seeing if I could find my host family. Initially I thought I might be able to find my host brother on Facebook using his very unique name. He didn’t appear to be on Facebook, but I did find someone using Google with an identical name near the town where he grew up. After a little more searching I found few newspaper pictures to confirm I had the correct person (he owns a bar/restaurant) and an email address. With the help of Google’s English to German translation service and my own feeble memory (to make sure it wasn’t giving me crazy words) I crafted an email in German identifying myself and an attempt to reconnect. It would be cool to find out what happened to my German hosts. Hopefully, I’ll get an email soon. Oh and the picture? That’s me, all of 17, in the German Alps near Oberstdorf with my host brother.

Joe

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