How One Year Abroad, Turned into a Lifetime of Passion

Ella Wilson, sitting in her Ofice at Nacel Open Door's National Office, her host famly never far from mind.

I had dreamt of studying abroad since I was little, and I was absolutely delighted to participate in the 2012-2013 CBYX High School program and have that dream come true. I was a 15 year-old city girl who didn’t speak a single word of German, and I was placed in a large family in the tiny village of Niedermehnen (NRW). Between my four amazing host siblings and the best host parents I could have asked for, the twenty something cats that wandered around the Hof, my wonderful friends, and an immersive experience studying at a Gymnasium, my year was full of unforgettable experiences. To name a few:

Helping my host family build their annual corn maze! If you’ve never sat in the middle of a sunny field pulling six inch corn stalks out of the ground, you should definitely give it a try. I had so much fun helping my host family think of a fun design (that would also look cool viewed from the top of their windmill), and it was great exercise to boot.

Playing with the cats. My time abroad really made it seem like a quintessential part of rural Germany is the cats. By the time spring rolled around, we had 16 kittens – let alone the fully grown ones – running around, which made for endless fun.

Spending Friday nights drinking tea and playing board games at a local library with my friends. While it seems like a pretty tame way of spending a Friday night, I made so many memories in the Lemförde Bibliothek (and what better way is there to spend your 16th birthday than declaring victory in a game of Settlers of Catan?).

Baking with my host sister. Early on in my exchange, my host sister, Gela, and I bonded over our shared love of baking, and created the tradition of Schokolade Donnerstag, or “Chocolate Thursday.” Every Thursday we would bake a new chocolate-based recipe, or recreate one of our favorites. By the end of my 10 month exchange, we had developed an entire repertoire of chocolate creations, and Gela gifted me with a homemade recipe book when I left so that I could bring them all home with me. 

Aside from the amazing people I met, the memories I created, and the language skills I developed, my time in Germany solidified my love of study abroad, and clearly shaped the direction of my life. In my senior year of high school I hosted a German PPP student, and got to experience international exchange from the point of view of a host sister. In college, I spent semesters in Irkutsk, Russia, and Munich, Germany, in an effort not only to further my language skills, but to help quench the seemingly endless thirst for travel that my initial year created. Now, I work as a Student and Host Family Advisor at Nacel Open Door, helping today’s foreign exchange students navigate their own international experiences. The passion I bring to my job comes directly from the memories of my own year abroad. And if things ever get difficult, all I need to do is look at the picture of me and my host siblings that I keep on my desk to remind myself why I do what I do.”