A journey of self-discovery with Amber Barta: BASF’s 2023 SAGSE scholar
Studying abroad is an opportunity for students to gain new perspectives, learn about different cultures and customs, and challenge themselves in unfamiliar environments. Amber Barta, a Year 12 student at Caulfield Grammar School from Melbourne, reflects on the importance of this cultural exchange and the personal growth she experienced during her 10-week exchange program to Germany through the BASF - sponsored Australian – German Student Exchange (SAGSE) scholarship.
Established by a German soldier who immigrated to Australia after being seriously wounded during World War II, the SAGSE scholarship is founded on the belief that young people from different countries could avoid conflicts if they met and learned to understand each other. The program aims to provide an insight into a foreign culture and build friendships between young people in Germany and Australia, and students selected to take part must be well-rounded, good in school, and well suited to represent Australia.
Amber spent ten weeks living with a host family in Göttingen, a university town with quaint traditions, nestled in Lower Saxony, central Germany. She attended Hainberg Gymnasium for about seven weeks, following her host brother Norwin to all his classes, which included Maths, English, German, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, History, Music, Religion, Renewable Energies, Politics, and Sport. She recalls, “I’m grateful for the opportunity to stay with Norwin and being able to fully immerse myself in the German culture by attending a German school, meeting new people, and experiencing daily German life.”
During her time in Germany, Amber also had the opportunity to travel to different cities in Germany, including Dresden, Leipzig, Nuremberg, Salzburg, and Munich. She travelled with a small group of people and spent six days exploring on their own. They booked their own hostels, organised their activities, and caught trains between towns. This allowed Amber to see more of Germany and experience its culture firsthand.
Amber reminisces some memorable and funny highlights from her trip, “We did almost miss a few trains, but the memory of sprinting through Nuremberg Train Station carrying suitcases while laughing our heads off will stay with me forever.” Another interesting experience which she recalls was due to the entertaining language barrier, “I almost had to pay a market stall owner $50 AUD for a punnet of blueberries! While traveling, we ended up at a hostel where they told us the wrong bed number and a 30-year-old Polish man walked in to six Australian teenagers (us) sitting on his bed together watching TikToks.”
She also once accidentally told her host brother that she didn’t get along with his friends, and in her defence, she remarks “the verb ‘to get along’ (einverstanden) is very similar to the verb ‘to understand’ (verstanden), I thought that he was asking if I understood his friends when they spoke German.” Her standard favourite phrase of response quickly became “Nein, ich verstehe nicht, mein Deutsch ist sehr schlecht” which translates to “No, I don’t understand, my German is very bad” in English whenever she couldn’t understand Norwin’s German.
The exchange also gave Amber the chance to try traditional German foods, including soups, meats, and different restaurants.
Some of her favourites were a döner shop, a sushi restaurant, a hot chips place, and the Christmas markets where she savoured Nutella crepes, bratwurst, and potatoes cooked in every way imaginable.
Her favourite part of the exchange she exclaims, “were the small moments, such as eating lunch with my host family, helping my classmates in English class, having snowball fights, building snowmen, and just sitting under the Christmas tree. These events to me serve as a valuable reminder that even small gestures can make a big impact and create meaningful connections.”
To have had the unique experiences and learn about German customs and traditions also made Amber realise that being Australian is a significant part of her identity. This is a common experience among exchange students, as “they often gain a greater appreciation for their home culture and country while living abroad,” Amber recollects.
Upon returning to Melbourne, Amber is thrilled to have made a new group of friends on the other side of the world, as she will miss them most. Most importantly, the biggest lesson she learned is to truly be herself. Amber's experience with the SAGSE scholarship is a testament to the benefits of cultural exchange and the importance of embracing new experiences and perspectives. Her takeaway she states is “to be yourself and not get caught up in the little things. I’m truly thankful for this once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget.”