A closer look into the German Exchange Program students took part in this summer.
BY EMILY AYARS ’24
In 6th grade, the six weeks of German classes required by the school were meant to draw students to the language, but it had a lasting impact on the 24 students who took learning the language to another level this summer.
The German American Partnership Program, otherwise known as GAPP, started up again this summer after a delay brought on by COVID-19.
“It’s a cultural exchange between [UAHS] students and students at our partner school and it involves a homestay and a school experience,” German teacher and American co-coordinator of GAPP Emily Alaudini said.
On June 22, UAHS students boarded a plane for Frankfurt, Germany, suitcases in hand as they chatted amongst themselves. In the midst of everyone was junior Harrison Carlisle.
“To start off… I didn’t want to go because I didn’t like the idea of doing an exchange and staying in somebody’s house,” Carlisle said.
Christy Charlton, a German teacher at Jones and the other American co-coordinator of GAPP, adds to this sentiment.
“You do need to have the type of personality that is willing to take some chances, that’s willing to communicate with other people,” Charlton said. “But for some kids, even the shyer kids, it helps them come out of their shell a little bit…”
The trip lasted about three weeks, including a trip to the city of Heidelberg. The three days students spent there were without their exchange students and Alaudini notes how they intended for it to bring UAHS students closer together.
“One thing we always notice is that the Americans also build friendships within the Upper Arlington group so you connect with friends,” she said. “You meet new people that maybe you otherwise wouldn’t have met because maybe they’re not in the same extracurricular activities as you or maybe they’re not in the same classes as you or maybe they’re not in the same grade level.”
In addition to separate grade levels, this year’s trip included seniors from last year whose 2020 exchange was canceled.
“Some of the American students that went, I got to know them and it was really cool because I’ve known some of these people for a while but we’ve never talked,” junior Elizabeth Saint-Jacques said. “But we’ve become friends and we hang out a lot since we’ve gotten back…”
UAHS students were also taken to a handful of surrounding cities with their host families.
“I visited I would say within the realm of probably 10 different cities other than the town that we were in,” Carlisle said.
The exchange community of Bad Bergzabern is located right near the border of France, allowing access to multiple different areas.
“My exchange student took me to Switzerland, and a bunch of different cities in France and a couple of different places in Germany, which was really cool,” Saint-Jacques said. “So we had a mixture of supervised time and then freedom throughout the city.”
Throughout the trip, students gained the privilege to explore independently and experience Germany in a new light. Charlton views it as an opportunity to expand students’ freedom and teach them responsibility.
“There are times where we’re not with [the students] and so you learn to be a little more self-sufficient. You learn to do things that you’re not comfortable with and that can just help in the long run,” Charlton said.
Junior Natalie Yurkiw agrees with this, explaining how that freedom could shape up to be useful in her future.
“It kind of was a college experience per se,” Yurkiw said. “I really enjoyed being able to walk around the city with my friends and kind of have the freedom to, like, see the city and to interact with Germans.”
The majority of the trip was the two weeks spent shadowing the German exchange students in their community. UAHS students spent 10 days following their students’ school schedule each day to grasp an idea of how their education system works. Occasionally, students would present slideshows on different topics in classes and serve as a native translator in English classes.
School was also a beneficial way for the students to practice the German language.
“I think it’s really interesting: these students have been in German, some of them for several years, and they learned about the culture and they learned about the everyday. This is their opportunity to experience that, to live that first hand, things that they’ve learned about in class,” Alaudini said. “It’s a very authentic learning experience.”
Yurkiw had a similar observation with her exchange student and the lifestyle in Germany.
“I think it was an eye-opening experience,” Yurkiw said. “I got to experience everyday life in Germany.”
The German education system runs very differently from what Upper Arlington provides. The school year lasts year round, with longer and more frequent breaks.
“It’s a lot more, like, split up and I feel like people enjoy going to school there a lot more because it’s less strict,” Saint-Jacques said.
Along with this, schedules are more personalized with subjects students pick and choose to take. School days also vary in length depending on these classes.
“So sometimes they’ll be done at 11 a.m. or they’ll be done at 3 p.m. … and there are periods that are… an hour instead of 45 minutes,” Saint-Jacques said. “So it’s a little more, like, involved because you’re not going through the same seven classes over and over and over again.”
But school wasn’t the only part of the trip these students got to experience. Building a relationship with their exchange students was an objective for Alaudini throughout this exchange.
“I mean, that is probably one of the main goals, to build bridges of intercultural understanding,” she said.
Each of the 24 UAHS students was paired off with a student from Gymnasium im Alfred-Grosser-Schulzentrum, the German exchange school. Students lived with their exchange families and built connections throughout the community. Saint-Jacques bonded admirably with her student before they met and even more so after.
“[My exchange student] used to describe us as being like sisters and best friends forever because we did everything together and we like the same music and the same TV shows and it was just like a perfect match to, like, find someone like that,” Saint-Jacques said.
Charlton can relate to this extremely well, along with understanding the students’ experiences, as she found herself in the same position as them 40 years ago and still to this day stays in touch with her student whenever they visit.
“I was an exchange student at this same exact school when I was 16 for three weeks, and obviously it made an impact because I’m a German teacher,” Charlton said. “More than that, it just opened me up to [that], ‘Oh wow, there’s a whole world out there that I know nothing about and I want to find out about it.’”
The influence this program had on her clearly struck the current students in a similar way. When Carlisle was asked if he would recommend this program to future students, he responded with confidence.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I mean, it was definitely life-changing.”