Grade: Junior in high school
World traveler, adventurer, artist, and top-notch student can all be used to describe Cameron Dion, and she’s only a junior in high school! Cameron is already living her life to the fullest, and we wish her the best as she continues to live as an exchange student in Germany, discovering a new culture and a new view on life. We had a chance to ask this amazing young lady some questions, and her passion is evident in her responses.
We were told that you’ve traveled Europe and are now a foreign exchange student. Where is your favorite place to travel?
Last Spring I went on a school trip to Italy, France, and Spain. It was the first time I had ever been out of the country and was a spectacular trip. We traveled through Rome, Florence, Pisa, Vatican City, Nice, Monaco, Nîmes, and Barcelona. Getting a small taste of different cultures was such a cool experience.
I am currently studying abroad in Germany for my junior year of high school. I have been here for four months now and have loved every minute of it. Germany is a beautiful country; everything is so fresh and green with so much character. I can’t wait to see more throughout my next few months here. I live in northwestern Germany only a few minutes from the Netherlands, making it easy to hop across the border for day trips.
Germany will always have a special place in my heart considering I have built so many relationships and made a life for myself here, but I would have to say that so far Italy has been my favorite place to travel. I had always fantasized about one day potentially visiting Italy, but I would have never imagined that I would have the opportunity so soon in my lifetime. I had created a picture in my head of how I imagined Italy would be, but it exceeded my expectations by far. I was hypnotized by the artistic roots winding through the cities that I visited. It was amazing to see the artwork and statues that I have always learned about with my own eyes. Although the bigger cities such as Rome and Florence were alive with history, vendors, music, and people, I enjoyed spending time in the smaller, more remote and personal towns. It is definitely a goal of mine to go back and explore the rest of Italy.
What city or country do you recommend as a “must see”?
The Vatican city is any art lover’s sanctuary. I was blown away by the Sistine Chapel and the works of Michelangelo. St. Peters Basilica was also remarkable. The church was elaborately lavished in marble and mosaics. The museums were decorated with statues and paintings that you could stare at for hours. Every inch of the city was held together with history and art. I was totally mesmerized my entire visit. I would definitely encourage others to add the Vatican City to their “to-do” list.
What made you decide to become a foreign exchange student?
I wanted an experience that would change my outlook on life. Although I was only 15 when I applied for the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange scholarship to study abroad, I had a burning desire to see the world. I wanted to learn about culture, food, language, people. I wanted to see and know more than Waxhaw, NC, the town I have lived in my whole life. When each day is spent in the same house, the same school, the same town, it is easy to get tunnel vision and forget that there are other cities, states, countries, cultures experiencing life. When I learned about this exchange scholarship to Germany, I leapt with excitement thinking that I may have a chance to experience another culture firsthand and finally find answers to my multitude of questions. I knew it was a big risk being absent my junior year of high school, but I was (and still am) excited to have an adventure that I would remember for the rest of my life.
What is your favorite subject?
I have always loved math because it challenges me. Math has never been very easy for me, but I like seeking out a method and working my way through a problem until I have the correct answer.
Do you have any hobbies?
I horseback rode for eight consecutive years, from when I was 5 to 13 years old. All I ever wanted to do was go to the barn and be with the horses. We ran into some financial issues when I was in middle school but were able to make a compromise with the barn owner so I could work two days a week in exchange for riding lessons. Once I started high school, I found it really difficult to stay involved with such a time-consuming sport, so I decided to take a break.
As one door closed, another opened when I soon discovered another hobby that struck my interest. I took studio drawing I and II in school and found a love for art. I had never realized that I have artistic talent until I began putting time and effort into painting and drawing. My host family here in Germany owns three horses, so I have once again the privilege to ride. I take an art class here in my city every Wednesday evening that helps me keep up with my drawing and painting.
Considering I came to Germany with only a basic foundation of the language, learning German has also been a hobby for me lately. I also spend a lot of time introducing my American culture to students here in Germany. It’s always exciting to do crafts, play games, sing songs, give presentations, and baking “typical American” sweets with young students to give them a little taste of where I come from. I have also started blogging often to keep my friends and family back home up to date with my life here in Germany. I try to write a post each weekend, but it can be pretty time-consuming, so I also keep a personal journal that I write in almost every day.
What does a normal day in your life look like?
Since I have been in Germany, I have yet to have one “normal” day. Each day is filled with something different and new. All the newness used to intimidate me, but now the unfamiliarity is what excites me the most. Each day is a new learning experience, and I often find myself in totally uncomfortable, awkward, and crazy situations that always make for the funniest stories.
A typical day for me here in Germany starts with eating breakfast with my host family and then starting off to school on my daily 3 mile bike ride. I’m usually running late and have to crank my bike up to gear 6 and pedal my heart out to make it to class on time. School here is very different from in America. My school schedule is similar to a college student’s schedule; my classes are different day to day. On Mondays and Wednesdays I have 9 hours of school, Tuesday and Thursday I have 6 hours, and each Friday, with only 4 hours of school, I get to go home at 12:30…. Definitely something I am going to miss when I am back in America! I usually sit in class completely clueless of the content being discussed but try my hardest to follow along.
On the days I get home from school early, I help my mom cook lunch, and we all eat lunch together. When I have 9 hours of school, I don’t get home until around 4:30, so I eat leftovers that my host mom sets aside for me. We spend a lot of time here with the hoses — riding, cleaning, feeding, etc. I have chores each day that I do just as I would have to do in America, such as vacuuming, doing the dishes, and folding laundry. I try to keep myself busy in my free time with activities like knitting, drawing, baking or even de-weeding the garden.
Every evening my host mom, host sister, and I muck the horse stalls then bring in the horses from the pasture and give them their food. After we finish with the horses, we have time to relax and watch TV. I have found myself going to bed at unusually early times, which I have concluded is a side effect of living in another country and having to concentrate extra hard each day to understand and speak a completely new and different language.
What are your plans for after high school? What interests you?
I definitely want to go into a profession in which I can work to help improve the lives of others. For years I have wanted to be a pediatric oncologist. My school back in the United States offers different academies in which you can focus your classes on a specific study, and I am in the biomedical academy. That means that my elective classes which are typically music, theater, etc., are instead medical-based, giving me a preview of the medical science field before I go off to study in college. Although I enjoy learning about health and how the human body works, my experience here in Germany has definitely changed my perspective on where I want to go in life. I have realized that I don’t necessarily have to go into the medical field to help others. I have gained a broader understanding of the world and a new set of skills that I believe I can use somewhere else… I don’t exactly know yet where that “somewhere else” is. Maybe a teacher, maybe a doctor, maybe an artist. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see where life takes me.
Tell us three interesting facts about yourself that people may not know.
1. I have no fear of the unknown; I am willing to try anything and everything. I remind myself constantly, “If you never try, you will never know.” I like to make life as interesting as possible, and for me that means taking advantage of every opportunity that comes my way.
2. I have always been one of those “quiet until you get to know them” kind of people. I never talked much in school and always felt kind of awkward trying to start conversations with people I didn’t know very well. Coming to Germany completely changed that side of me. Germans are very friendly, don’t get me wrong, but they are very different from Americans. My first day of school, I was expecting a warm welcome and tons of questions, but literally no one talked to me. I had to really step out of my comfort zone to make friends. The language barrier didn’t help either. I didn’t know any German, so it was really difficult for me to take part in conversations. This really pushed me to do everything I could to learn the language. I had to learn to be confident and just speak, regardless of how much I didn’t want to. I have really gained an appreciation for the English language and easy communication. I feel dumb for keeping to myself for so many years because I felt a little uncomfortable talking to new people. I’m excited to go back to the US with more confidence to speak.
3. I have always tried really hard when it comes to school. I have made straight A’s my entire life, and all I ever did was homework and study. I knew that spending my junior year of high school in Germany was going to bring down my grades and put me behind, but I didn’t let that thought stand in the way of such an amazing opportunity. After I arrived here in Germany, I realized that there is so much more to life than spending each waking moment worrying so much about school. I of course still value the importance of education, but I have started putting more effort into experiencing life through a different culture rather than trying to get the highest grades in my class.
Do you have any heroes? Who inspires you?
My grandfather is definitely my biggest inspiration. A few years ago he suffered from a really bad stroke. He lost his speech, much of his memory, his independence. He couldn’t walk for months; my grandmother had to do everything for him. It was really difficult for my grandmother and my family but even more difficult and frustrating for my grandfather. A speech therapist worked with him for many, many months, and with a lot of persistence and patience, his speech slowly came back. My grandfather is a really smart man and has experienced so much in his lifetime, like serving in the air force. Before he had the stroke, he was always telling some crazy story. It seemed like he knew everything about anything and all of the history behind it. As of today he has made so much progress and is back to filling the room with stories from the air force and his childhood. My grandfather is my inspiration because he never gives up. Even after something so severe, he continues to push himself each day to achieve his goals.
What advice do you have for anyone considering studying abroad?
These past few months have been the best months of my life but also the hardest. Although being away from my home, family, and friends in a totally new and unfamiliar environment is sometimes difficult, there is no other experience quite like diving into another culture and learning a totally new way of life. I have learned so much more than I would have ever imagined. Not just about Germany or the language, but about myself and where I come from. Because I have been able to look at my life in America from the outside in, I have gained so much appreciation for things that I have always taken for granted: for example, my family, school, communication. The number one rule to being an exchange student is to keep and open mind and get out of your comfort zone. You have to be willing to put yourself out there and try new things; take every opportunity. I have had some really hard days, but I have learned to push through them. I wouldn’t trade my year abroad for anything.