About Us

Home > About Us > News & Event
News & Event

German Exchange

German Exchange

By Edward Zhou

In a traditional German cabin near a small hill surrounded by bushes and sycamores, live my host family and I along with two lovely hounds. I came to northern Germany as an exchange student, dwelling in a small region with a population of only around 25,000. Throughout the typical winter days here, one of my most profound experiences in this ordinary place is the way we make ourselves warm during the harsh winter of Continental Europe.

My host father and I are in charge of making fires for the house’s fireplace. We fetch branches and logs at the foot of the hill and have to split the chunkier ones with axes. It’s all outdoors, and dry, piercing winds will howl and roar wave after wave into my face. Lighting up fires in the grate is also tough and time-consuming, with the smokes assailing both my eyes and nose for tears and snot. Until the fire generates enough heat to warm the house, which usually takes several hours, I sometimes shiver and sneeze in the unheated room, and that’s a double toll on my poor nose.  During the process, I barely talk with my host father as if the gale muted all other sounds, while my heart has been rolling over and over.

To me, life in the previous winters contrasts starkly with that in my exchange year. My family and I would be in a city in Central China, where even the coldest days are not nearly as comparable as in Northern Germany. We would turn on heat radiators readily powered by natural gas to quickly warm our rooms so that I could lay on a sofa with a blanket cozily. As such, I had some hard time adapting to a new climate and my host family's somewhat harsh ways of living. During my first several weeks here, I was frequently sick with a cold and fever. I couldn’t help to wonder why we’d have to go through such hardships. Considering my host family’s affluence, heating services by gas or other fossil fuels should easily be a comfortable choice over the primitive acts of harvesting firewood for a fireplace One evening, I eventually shared my thoughts with my host father after some deliberation.

Earnestly, he told me that they are part of the Germans who intend to live closer to nature, because humans are suffering from an unprecedented energy crisis: Germany's coal stockpile is depleting, and all factories that rely on fossil fuels will run out of business over the next few decades. “Even though fossil fuels are important, there are other sources of energy that may be better suited for some applications.” He believes that we need to change some of our ways of energy consumption in order to make it more environmentally friendly and sustainable. My host family recognizes the value of living sustainably and harmoniously with nature because they live close to it for a long time, and they are willing to adapt in order to make a difference on an ongoing issue despite the fact that it means a somehow less comfortable life. While there are also many families choose to stick with fossil fuel-powered heating because they can still afford it despite the rising prices.

In retrospect, as a long-term city dweller, I feel separated and disconnected from nature, having understood how my host family has been connecting with it. The hustle and bustle of urban life over the years have been widening the distance between me and the natural environment. I easily take all sorts of convenience and comfort for granted, forgetting to think through their costs other than money. Financially affordable choices could potentially incur environmentally unsustainable costs on our planet, like energy supplied by fossil fuels.

This exchange experience provided me with a completely different environment to live in, as well as an entirely fresh perspective think about issues I failed to notice before. It’s probably normal for us to be confined by the environment to which we are accustomed. Now that I have to adapt to a new lifestyle, I am then able to jump out of my box and take a closer, more down-to-the-earth look at environmental issues that previously seem distant and little more than awareness slogans and appeals. There really are actions to be taken and work to be done, practical ones.