Foreign exchange students find common ground with their Carmel High School counterparts
By Maggie Smith
Eighteen students from Germany spent three weeks during October attending Carmel High School and living with host families in Carmel.
The high school’s participation in the German American Partnership Program started in 2001 and involves a mutual exchange program. German students travel to Carmel and live with host families in the fall and in the summer CHS students stay with the family of the German student who stayed with them, said Angelika Becker, a CHS German teacher and coordinator for the German American Partnership Program.
While both the American and German students sharpened their foreign language skills, the cultural education and deep friendships that were formed were the most valuable part of the experience, according to two CHS students and two German students.
Jochen Streiben, who stayed with the Inman family, was surprised by the friendliness of Americans, the popularity of American football and the celebration of Halloween.
“My first impression was that all the guys over (in Carmel) are very hospitable because everybody wanted to know more about me and Germany, especially in all the different classes. That was very surprising for me because in Germany it is not always the same,” Streiben said.
He also was surprised by the dedication Americans had for supporting high school sports.
“It is incredible to me … that everybody loves football. The games at Carmel High are such a big event and organized by students and that is so cool. Before I came to the U.S., I didn’t even know one player or all the rules. But now I am smarter,” Streiben said.
Exploring their differences
The exchange students’ visit coincided with Halloween, and Streiben thought the trip to Indy Scream Park was quite an adventure.
“Very cool was the Indy Scream Park. In Germany, Halloween is not so big, and we drove there with a 17-year-old American and four guys in the back of the car – which was not very safe (the driving age in Germany is 18). But it was an adventure for sure. The park and all the ideas to scare the people are so smart and cool,” he said.
For Andrew Inman, Streiben’s host, the experience taught him how different German culture is from American culture.
“Germans’ lives are pretty different than Americans’ lives. They are definitely more serious about school. Sports aren’t as popular like they are here. In fact, you have to be part of a club if you want to do a sport. It’s not part of the school like it is here,” Inman said.
He said it seems like German schools are much different than American schools.
For example, students stay in the same classroom all day and the teachers go to the different classrooms, he said.
“There may be times that a subject might be taught for a very long portion of the day – it just depends on the teacher. The day begins at 7:30 a.m. and ends whenever the lessons are finished. Also, most kids ride bikes to school…or take mass transportation,” Inman said.
He also said that the German students have much more time for lunch and the freedom to go home at lunch time.
“Kids do not talk in class or have their phones out. That would be disrespectful. That would never happen there. Here, it’s not supposed to happen, but it does all the time,” Inman said.
Finding common ground
CHS student Madison Ross said she feels like she gained a sister by participating in the exchange program.
“It’s almost hard for me to explain how we became best friends, but we did. Since I am an only child, she’s the closest thing to a sister I have,” she said. “Sure we went to Chicago and we went shopping and did all sorts of things that a typical American teenager would do, but that was almost unimportant. The most important thing was the time that we spent together.”
Ross uses Skype to stay in touch with her German “sister,” Tanja, and they use a smart phone app that lets them text internationally. Additionally, Ross said her mom has become friends with Tanja’s mom, and the two of them email almost every day.
“The only major difference that I noticed, culturally, was … the levels of cuss words. Other than that, all of the German teenagers acted just like American teenagers,” Ross said.
She said that it seemed to her the German students didn’t understand that some swear words were worse than others.
“In Germany, essentially, all bad words mean ‘crap.’ They don’t have levels of bad words like we do in America so sometimes you would catch one of the Germans saying a really bad word in English in front of a teacher or something like that, but they thought they had done nothing wrong,” Ross said. “This was hilarious for us Americans to watch.”
‘I hope I can give it back’
“I never thought that American teens would come together to talk about God, Bible study and still all are taking this so seriously. That was pretty cool and I enjoyed this time,” said German exchange student Christian Stracke.
Stracke had previously visited America when he went to New York City with his dad in 2012, but the culture in Carmel still surprised him, he said.
He said the most valuable experience of the trip was spending time with his host family.
“My family was so wonderful to me, and they had such a great talent to take care about me. It was that being part of family, is what really impressed me,” he said
“I said that I play basketball and I really like this sport. And then we went to an NBA game! Just saying the phrase, ‘I like basketball very much,’ led them to take me to an NBA game with the Pacers,” Christian said. “I hope I can give it back to my exchange student when he is in Germany.”
Streiben also was appreciative of his host family, the Inmans.
“I was so lucky that I had such a friendly host family,” he said. “They accepted me and did as if I was their own child.”
To participate …
Monica Inman’s advice to parents considering the program: “Do it! Without a doubt, you will experience positive gains from this opportunity. We’ve never regretted doing this, and look forward to doing it again. Do not worry about little things. These kids are so happy to be here, having this experience, and do not come to judge us. They are grateful, appreciative, and endearing.”