Several students to experience German life in new exchange program

For the first time in Dripping Springs history, seven high school students will have the opportunity to travel to Germany and experience all of the culture, food, activities, and so much more this coming summer.

Senior Tabitha Kelley, junior Jessica Gallardo, sophomores Clay Patterson, Jack Rodrigue and Alexi Warkentin, and freshman Megan Wolter will be participating in the new student exchange program with German sister school Phoenix Gymnasium from June 16 until July 7. They will be traveling with German teacher Jillian Besemer and will stay in Germany and attend school for three weeks. These students will have the opportunity to be completely submerged in a foreign country and experience its unique culture. The exchange program runs through the German American Partnership Program, otherwise known as GAPP, which is a nationally recognized exchange program that focuses on the cultural connections made via traveling the country as a whole rather than just the tourist attractions.

Dripping Springs was entered into the exchange program this year thanks to  Besemer, who created an online profile for Drippings Springs on the GAPP’s official website where schools from each country can apply for and select sister schools to visit.

“We had a lot of choices of schools to partner with, and I picked this school in Dortmund because it’s a pretty good sized city,” she said. “They have a pro soccer team, and I knew there would be stuff for us to do in that area.”

In order to allow the students to experience the country and its culture authentically for themselves, Besemer will only be with them for limited amounts of travel and sightseeing.

“The way that it works is that we will fly together to get into Frankfurt, and then we’re going to Heidelberg and spend a night there and do some sightseeing, and then we’ll travel from Heidelberg to Dortmund where they will stay with their host families there, and I will stay with an English teacher,” Besemer said. “So she’ll be like my host there as well. We’ll see each other at school and do some day trips together but were not going to be together twenty-four seven.”

Several of the students that will be traveling to Dortmund, such as Jessica Gallardo, Megan Wolter, and Clay Patterson, have only been in the German language program for a year.

“I am super excited to travel to Germany, and I’m honestly surprised my parents are letting me go,” Wolter said. “I’m a little scared to be traveling over with the little experience that I have, but I’m confident that I’ll learn a lot.”

While some of the newer students are nervous about traveling to a foreign-speaking country, others like Gallardo already speak another language and have traveled to a different country.

“Well, I already speak Spanish, so I’ve gone to a foreign country and been able to speak that language with native speakers,” Gallardo said. “Since English is my second language, it’s easier for me to learn other languages. And so far, German has been, not a breeze per say, yet definitely easier, so I feel pretty confident about going into Germany this summer.”

Beginning with this summer’s exchange, the schools plan to host a student exchange every other year, so this year’s seven students will begin the tradition that will continue in the future.

“I’m really excited,” Patterson said. “I’m getting to travel to Germany for about three weeks which is really cool. I get to live there. I get to go to school. It just looks and sounds really awesome. I’m excited.”

Besemer says that while she has faith in the students’ abilities to handle the foreign language and settings, they will, no doubt, be unprepared for the culture shock that comes with living in a foreign country.

“I think, for them, the biggest culture shock will be that students in Germany have a lot more freedom,” she said. “For example, most students go off campus for lunch, and you don’t have to ask permission to go to the bathroom, and parents are generally not super involved with their student’s education. There’s a lot less of the ‘helicopter parents’ stereotype, and students, for the most part, are in charge of getting to school on their own, whether by taking the subway or walking, so I think that they’ll feel like they have a lot more freedom than they do in the U.S.”

For the students themselves though, they have stated that they are simply excited to have the chance to travel and fully experience Germany as one of its own.

“My dream is to travel around the world and go to as many places as possible, and I thought this would be one of my best chances for the next several years,” Wolter said. 

To make the students’ transitions as easy as possible, the chosen host families all have students who are upper level English speakers, and vice versa for the German exchange students who will be visiting Dripping Springs in October of the 2018-19 school year.

“Next October students from their school will be coming here, and for the most part, it will be the students that hosted our Dripping Springs students in Germany that will be coming here,” Besemer said. “So, the hope is that our students that traveled to Germany will have gone there, stayed with the host family, and made friends with the people that they met and the high school students that they met over there, and then a few months later, they come here, and we see them again, and we will essentially exchange roles.”

Most of all, Besemer is excited to begin this cultural exchange and hopes that it will continue for many years to come as well as help the students understand and experience new parts of life.

“I really hope that the biggest thing they take away is that the world is really big and that there’s so much you can see and so much that you can do that it can almost be intimidating,” Besemer said. “When you go to a foreign country, you mostly just focus on the foreign part, but the nice thing about GAPP is you get that experience of travel but also get to meet people and develop relationships and see even though the world is so big, and the students get this opportunity to see it. There’s also ways to meet people from that area and make friends and experience what real life is as opposed to what sightseeing is.” 

The objectives of this exchange are not lost on its participants.

“My goal is to learn as much as possible and just soak the feeling up,” Wolter said. “I’ll be able to recall this experience when I get older, so I want to make lasting memories too.”

Written by Jade Berry

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