During my after school run today I couldn’t stop thinking about traveling; for 5 km I reminisced about my many travel experiences and how those experiences have impacted and shaped my life. I came home from my run to discover my mom’s cousin, Ruediger, passed away.  I am incredibly thankful that my darling cousin, Ali, just so happens to be with my German family (in Germany) right now.  Ali will be present at Ruediger’s funeral on Friday and will represent our Canadian relatives there.  I wonder if my mind and heart was remembering my travel experiences, specifically my time in Germany, during my run because of Ruediger’s passing? This post isn’t really about school or education, but rather the stories that come along with living a life outside of one’s classroom walls and country’s borders.

When I was 16 I went on exchange to Germany, the foreign land of my family and of my dreams. Growing up a child athlete, I was no stranger to traveling, but this big, solo trip launched my first of many international adventures (in this case, traveling to the States doesn’t count).

Tina and I, 16 years old, connecting in Germany for the first time!
Tina and I, 16 years old, connecting in Germany for the first time!

I went to school in northern Germany for three months and lived with a beautiful and incredibly generous family, the Dankmeyers.  I was the most spoiled 16 year old I knew; I lived in my own basement suite across from the Baltic Sea, complete with seaside promenade and a sandy beach.  My days were spent waking up at 5.55am, getting ready for school, eating breakfast together with my house family, biking to school, “studying” all day, and coming home to a delicious, home cooked meal at 2pm.  I visited Rome for a week (spring break), I visited a friend in Vienna for a few weeks (not spring break…just skipping school), I toured around many German towns and cities , I met, lived and went to school with with my “exchange student friend” Tina (who also got to come on exchange to my house and live with my family) and I shopped at H&M for the first time (still a huge novelty for me until they opened one here in Victoria this past spring…I actually lamented that I “no longer had a reason to go to Europe” – kidding, obviously!)  I learned a lot about myself during those three months, and man, did my German ever improve!  However, the greatest part of my entire exchange experience was getting to know my German heritage a bit better while being immersed in the country, language and culture of my family.

Tina is my "exchange student best friend".  We met when we were 16 and have managed to meet up around the globe six times in the past ten years!  Tina even flew from Germany to Mexico for my wedding in 2011 - now that's dedication to a friendship!
Tina is my “exchange student best friend”. We met when we were 16 and have managed to meet up around the globe six times in the past ten years! Tina even flew from Germany to Mexico for my wedding in 2011 – now that’s dedication to a friendship!

I visited Germany for the second time in 2009 with my mom, auntie and grandma – we call that trip our Family History Tour.  We traveled through Eckernfoerde (my exchange town), Berlin (my grandma’s city before immigrating to Canada), Munich (when many of my German relatives now live), Augsburg (family) and Nuremburg (friends) for about one month.  During that trip I learned more about this house:

My grandma's family home, just outside Berlin, in the 1930s.
My grandma’s family home, just outside Berlin, in the 1930s.
Three generations standing outside my grandma's former family home in 2009.  The original house (to the left) was bombed during the war.
Three generations standing outside my grandma’s former family home in 2009. The original house (above) was bombed during the war.

I had the opportunity to stand with some of the women in my family and take this picture:

My mom was a toddler in Germany when the wall went up.  Here we are standing together, each with a foot on either side of the former Berlin Wall.
My mom was a Canadian born toddler visiting family in Germany when the wall went up. Here we are standing together, each with a foot on either side of the former Berlin Wall.

I had the chance to visit Sachsenhausen and Dachau, something I’d been wanting to do for years in order to attempt to grasp a little bit more of the tragedy so many people endured:

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A painful part of history that I’ve read so much about, yet still struggle to understand…

And I got to meet some family members I hadn’t seen in years, or had never actually met in person:

I know, I know...of all delicious European cafe choices and we picked Starbucks.
I know, I know…of all delicious European cafe choices and we picked Starbucks.
Have you ever seen a cuter face?  Tante Inge passed away less than a year after our visit.
Have you ever seen a cuter face? Tante Inge passed away less than a year after our visit.
Reunited in summer 2012 with this sweetheart, who recently said she'd enjoy school more if I were her teacher (adorable).
Reunited in summer 2012 with this sweetheart, who recently said she’d enjoy school more if I were her teacher (adorable).

When I teach I tell stories.  Everyday I find myself telling students bits and pieces about the countries I’ve traveled to, the people I met along the way and the connections I’ve continued to make with my family, far and wide.  If I could leave one piece of knowledge for every student I have the opportunity to come in contact with I’d let them know that traveling is truly the best education one could ever receive.

Rest in peace, Ruediger.

I’m curious to know: where have you traveled to and through? Which place has left the most impact on you, and why?

Karley