The whistle was blown, the basketball was dropped and we began to realize we just lost the game that would’ve brought us to the All-Ireland Finals. But not only did we lose the Midlands Final, we lost the last game of the season, the last game I would ever play in my Irish team.
We went into the changing rooms. No one said a word because we were all crying. We wanted to make this season something special, we wanted to beat Portlaoise so bad. We were disappointed not in our team but in ourselves that we didn’t make it. Emma, our coach, came in and said: "Alright girls, it’s not the perfect end of the season but you know what? I am proud of you, of every single one of you. It was my first season as a coach and you couldn’t have done better. Remember the Easter tournament we won? Remember the first time we won against Portlaoise? Those are the memories I’m taking out of this season…" That was when I looked back at the time I had in Ireland and everything I want to remember forever.
When I arrived in cold and rainy Athlone in early January I had my bag packed with music sheets, my camera and my basketball. I was so excited to start this adventure because I wanted to see something new, something I didn’t know anything but stereotypes about: Irish people are proud of their country, they eat nothing but potatoes and chicken and drink nothing but tea, they are all ginger, they love their pubs and they are proud of their nation. Seeing it now, yes some of that is true, but most of it isn’t.
My host family and I have a lot in common and they became my second family really fast. I always ended up with my Spanish host sister Andrea in our room watching movies or talking until the sun rose. Shopping, going to the gym or school and meeting friends, we became literally inseparable. On my second day in Ireland she was really homesick, cried and I hugged her really tight and told her everything’s gonna be alright and she smiled at me and said: "You are so going to be my sister." Another night we went to an Italian restaurant with some friends because some were leaving already. We all laughed together, cried together and realised that we made the best of our time. That’s what our exchange is all about.
The first thing I do when I get home from school is going to the back garden to play with my 9 year old host sister Aoife and my 5 year old host brother Jack. We’d play on the trampolin or kick the football or we’d be on the swings or running around until it’s time for dinner. I’m glad I got to celebrate both of their birthdays with them and it’s incredible how much they grew in those 5 months I’ve been in Ireland. When we are alone at home Jack would mostly miss his mom and I’d go with him to bed, read a book out loud until he’s asleep. We’re playing a lot Playmobil together and when I’m sad he’s coming to hug me. Yeah, he definitely has my heart.
Aoife and me both play basketball and piano. I went to a lot of her games to take pictures to remember this beautiful time and when we got home she’d hug me and thank me a thousand times for the pictures. When she had a piano exam I practised with her day and night until she was ready for it. I left school early to support her on her exam day and she passed it. I’m so proud of her!
When the chocolate is gone it’s either Paul‘s or my fault. My host dad and I just love chocolate and watching sports. So every now and then when we have chocolate in our house it has to be hidden or it’ll be gone. Sinead, my host mom, knows all too well about that by now. But it’s nice to joke around the whole time.
My camera is the thing I’m known for in school. When I was supporting a friend at a debate I had my camera with me to take pictures and the following day my principal asked me to be the school’s photographer. My job was to capture everything about our old and new school building and be at every event I could go to. This is one of the best experiences I’ve made! I collected all the pictures in a photo album and gave it to the school and everyone who saw it was amazed. That is a feeling I’ll always take with me.
My friends and I are always on tour with basketball or in town. Some special events took us to the All-Ireland Final of Irish Debating, the War Horse musical, the Junk Couture Final, the University of Galway or the Dublin Zoo. I got every opportunity to explore Ireland in all different ways and I am glad that I can laugh and cry with all these people knowing they’ll always be there for me. I did not only meet Irish people but Spanish, Swedish, French, Finnish, Polish and other German people. I found out a lot about their country and culture and I’m really looking forward to meet them in their country one day.
I’m smiling again and I know what to say. Emma left the changing room and I find the courage to encourage us: "I’m so proud of us girls. This has been the most amazing time I’ve ever had and I’m so glad to have met you. Next year you’ll get them I know that and never stop believing that. You are the best team someone could ask for and I’m glad to call me one of you." I’m crying again but only tears of joy. I hear some "Aww"s and "Laureen"s when I‘m finished talking. Niamh gives me a present from all of them. It’s a frame with pictures from games and an Athlone basketball jersey. I can’t fight the smile that’s creeping up my face. I embrace everyone in a hug and I can’t be more happy that I made this exchange.
What I learned about Ireland is that yes the people love potatoes, chicken and tea and are proud to be Irish but I also learned that they are the most friendly people I met. When you meet an Irish person and talk to them for 2 minutes you feel like you’ve known him/her forever. They’re always smiling and you can always have great craic. They show you their culture and their beautiful country when you want them to and you can be a part of the Irish society. Everyone is so different from one another and I found people that care about me wherever I am and whatever happens. I’m glad I made the decision to go to Ireland and I can’t thank Ireland enough for having me.
"She could write a 21st century sequel of Heinrich Boll’s "Irisches Tagebuch"." That’s what I heard about my blog that I wrote to keep everyone updated. Well, maybe I’m going to do that next. Let’s see what the future holds.
My time in Ireland showed me a lot about life and it made me understand a lot of things easier. It has been a rollercoaster with a lot of up and downs and it has been tough at times but I do not regret doing this exchange. I learned a lot about myself, my life, friendship and all that kind of stuff. It helped me realize whom I can count on and what’s important for me to do. But I also found myself somewhere on that journey and I’m glad I know who I am today.
There are a lot of differences between Germany and Ireland although it seems very similar. All those small and big things, like drinking tea day and night or driving on the left hand side. It has been amazing to get to know another culture and especially this country. The landscape is beautiful and the people are so friendly and kind to one another.
I don’t know what to say but THANK YOU because I had the time of my life and I enjoyed every second in Ireland. I want to thank every single one I met, whom I am friends now and those of you I just know, but every single one made my time incredible and I don’t want to miss a single person! You are such amazing people and I’m really looking forward to be friends till death with all of you because our bond is very strong.
All in all I learned that life isn’t about all the big things but about the small ones that make you smile. I am happy to say I "know" Ireland but I’m also happy to say I am back home.
Thank you Ireland for having me and thanks to everyone for that great experience! I will always remember that.