By Dennis Kong Ming Hong (YPscSH16)

It all started back in 2015 when I listened to a talk at school held by Kaylyn Goh, an AFS returnee from Germany. It inspired me so much that I applied for the programme and when I was accepted, I was so excited that I was literally jumping up and down when I read the congratulatory email. I felt then that my whole life was about to change and I embraced the opportunity with an open mind and heart.

One would not have guessed it but Germany is a country full of cultures to learn. I was lucky that I was placed in the state of Cologne. Cologne is most famous for its Cathedral and its entertainment scene. The iconic Cathedral was built in the year 1248 and still stands strong today. Cologne is also famous for its football club called FC Koeln which plays a big role in the local people’s lives. Theatres also abound in Cologne.

The biggest challenge for me was adapting to German Culture. It is a culture that is totally different from Malaysia’s. For one thing, we Malaysians are reserved whereas in Germany, people are outspoken and say whatever they want without filters. I was a very quiet person during the start of my exchange year, preferring to observe and learn instead, but I slowly grew to become a more talkative person as time passed. I was soon able to speak German fluently and that was when I could engage and bond more with my German family and friends.

In my Koeln Chapter, we usually have meetings every once a month and activities such as visits to Christmas Markets, tourist attractions and many social activities. We even went on a trip to Munich and took a picture outside of Allianz Arena which is the pinnacle of joy for all Bayern Munich fans. Koeln is a well-organised chapter and the AFS staff and volunteers there are really helpful and are very good listeners. They are always there to guide you if you have a problem with any aspect of your stay.

The favourite moment of my exchange year is when my host family allowed me to cook Malaysian dishes for them so that they could try our Malaysian Cuisine. I cooked Nasi Lemak, Sambal Belacan Udang and made Sirap Bandung. They liked the meal so much that they asked for more after that night. I also did cook Chicken Rice for them and they really loved it. I went on three short exchanges in Berlin, Trier and Hamburg while I was there and as a result, gained three extra host families!

AFS pronounces, “Send us a student and we will send back to you a Change Maker.” I believe that I grew a lot during my time in Germany. I learned about the German way of life, different outlooks on life, a new language and culture and I learned how one should not be quick to judge others. My intercultural experience has made me feel more like a citizen of the world rather than a citizen of just one country. I truly feel I have grown tremendously during my AFS exchange and that the experience will stand me in good stead in the years ahead.