My German experience unfolded as such:
Day one; touch down Hannover; greeted by a group of smiling faces; twin host brother and sister of similar age, host father airport worker, host mother retired postal worker. Welcomed into a cluttered yet cosy home, I was jetlagged yet invigorated by the newness of it all.
Day two; opened my curtains to a winter wonderland as overnight snows had transformed a dreary landscape into something quite beautiful; surprise that there was no shower and only a bath shared between five people; conversations with my host brother (the only family member conversant in English) alluding to a somewhat unstable family from which he had been ostracised after having a relationship with the previous female exchange student.
Day three; serious suspicions about the mental stability of my host mother (God bless her); 60 cigarettes a day, sleeping on the couch til 3pm, yelling insanely at anything that woke her- not good signs.
Day four; first day at a tough school, forced to ride an undersized girl’s bike, complete with basket and dodgy chain, through a flat and uninspiring landscape, my mode of transport invoking conspicuous insults as incomprehensible as the spate of bad luck that had delivered me into this terrible reality.
Day five; confirmation of my host brother’s earlier warning that my host sister would report my every move to my host mother; a seemingly innocent trip to an Internet cafe during my school lunch break subsequently forbidden without reason; communication with friends and family from this point on only under the watchful eye of my host mother.
Day six; the beginning of household chores; feeding 40 pet rabbits (yes 40!) late at night in sub zero temperatures as the crazed, confined creatures would surge toward a momentary opening of the hatch, sending icy water over my already benumbed hands, their bloodshot eyes making me wonder if my pre-trip immunisation list had been comprehensive enough.
Day seven; the alarming realisation the so called ‘support network’ provided by my exchange organisation consisted of little more than one uninterested area coordinator who was unwilling to provide any assistance; incredulity at the hysterical outrage of my host mother after my host brother neglected to consume the remnants of week old bean soup.
Day eight; the terrible realisation that the dilapidated caravan in the front garden would serve as a relative cage in which I would be spending the entirety of all my school holidays. Family photo albums revealed a grey, dreary, desolate Danish beach, which was indeed the antithesis of the cultural adventures I had envisaged when applying for this year abroad. Hopes to visit my Grandparents in England quashed, replaced with my host brother’s stories of sleeping four abreast within the tiny caravan, leading to nightmares of my host-mother snoring whale-like only inches from me as I suffocated in a stench of cigarettes mingled with the aroma of polluted North Sea fish and her cheap perfume! This vision provided the catalyst for an intensification of an escape plan I had already begun to formulate on day three.