My exchange year in the USA

My exchange year in the USA

In Raleigh, North Carolina I spent an incredible year 2015/16 as an exchange student at Leesville Road High School („Home of the Pride“)!

For six weeks before my departure I was worrying about if I`d even manage to find a host family welcoming me for a year, able to help me live gluten free for the entire year.

Even though I was prepared intensively by my exchange organization AFS Germany, I obviously still was pretty excited. But of course I also was so nervous whether or not I could actually handle being in different country for a year while taking care of my celiac disease.

End of June it finally happened: a family in Raleigh said they`d love to host me, and also they were pretty self-conscious about being able to care for my celiac.

I was diagnosed when I was three years old and adapted quite well to the situation in Germany since then. Same on various trips in Europe, the USA or a Speech Camp in England-I mainly had positive experiences. Still it`s something completely different to leave your known environment and take the risk of spending a whole year at a totally unknown place with celiac.

As I´m highly sensitive to even smallest amounts of gluten I was kind of scared about having accidents or making mistakes in my diet. Therefore I added a few small food portions to my suitcase (50 pounds for a year), just to make sure I`d at least be able to spend the first week in my new home certainly gluten free.

A few days later became clear: I got incredibly lucky with my awesome host family. They were already so into my gluten free diet, even though none of them actually had celiac himself. My American Mum had already spent some time thinking about my situation before I arrived and was so well prepared!! She organized that I`d be able to take my prepared lunch to with me high school every day, and would basically have the same daily schedule as everybody else.

At the East Coast of the US you can easily find a bunch of restaurants, bars, cafe`s with gluten free food or even a special menu (they even had gf beer for adults). Absolutely no limits there: Burger, Chicken Nuggets, Pizza, Mac n` cheese, hotdogs, tortillas, corn dogs, even gf cake in the Cheesecake Factory!

In every single grocery store, many malls or at gas stations you can buy a whole bunch of gf products, even Bagels, waffles, pancakes, doughnuts or cupcakes…

Also countless items are tagged with `GF`, or you can just easily use a scan app to look them up. It`s a way bigger choice than in Germany and their offers are just so various!

But what overall actually made my year that unforgettable definitely was the awesome support by Dr. Schär. I was lucky enough to be allowed access to a monthly Care Package from New Jersey, that`s how Schär supported me during the year and gave me the opportunity to get to know the American products. I`m so thankful for that!

Even though I always just loved Schär products, their unusual offers in the USA still really amazed me. The bagels, hamburgers and hot dog buns probably were the best kinds of bread I ever had! In every package their assortment on cakes, cookies and crackers was so various and delicious! The US wrappings are similar to Europe, but I did like the kind of American style they brought in.

All the way during my stay, visiting the entire East Coast, Washington DC and New York City I could not find any seller of gluten free products coming even close to what Dr. Schär offers. I`m sure they will keep establishing the brand on the North American market, just cause at first their products just are really really good and second cause they cover every need a person with celiac can have.

This year went over incredibly fast, while I, as a Junior, was also part of multiple clubs in school (Model UN, Medical Club, Environmental Club, National Latin Honors Society), student athlete and on the school team for Cross Country, Indoor & Outdoor Track; I just got to enjoy being part of the famous high school spirit.

My life as an exchange student was so enriching in experience, I made a bunch of new friends and because of my awesome host family`s engagement I was completely integrated into the American culture and life. I now have a second family and life, apart from the one in Germany: it`s in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Dr. Schär did a lot for me, making it possible that I could experience the so far best year of my life! Thanks so much for that!

Max Birkelbach

Some impressions