The 2012-2013 school year was the most incredible year of my teaching career. I had the honor and privilege to have a German foreign exchange student in my Spanish class. Anne Weber made major contributions to the class. She made traditional German food for the foreign language club and even taught us some German. As a polyglot, she enhanced the classroom environment. Her language skills made her the go-to girl for peer tutoring. Even though Anne returned to Germany, I still keep in touch with her. I decided to interview her in the hopes her experience will help encourage other students to consider studying abroad.
You left your native Germany to attend a year of high school in Denver, Colorado; can you explain why you did that?
I wanted to see for myself how America is. To be able to make my own experiences and not have to depend on what the TV and other people said about the United States. Biases are not right, and I think the only way to avoid such prejudices is to make one’s own experience.
How was your experience living with an American host family?
It was amazing! They opened not only their house for me – a stranger – but also their hearts. I learned that Americans are open-minded, loving, and gentle people. I honestly can say that I was a part of the family, and still am. At first it was weird, to have to adapt to their way of life, their habits, their likes and dislikes, but it also helped me open my heart for new things. It is an incredible feeling to know that there is a second family out there which cares about me. In addition, I know when I return for a visit, they will welcome me warmly. It is really an amazing gift.
Are there any major differences between a German and an American high school?
Yes, there are definitely many differences. The German school system is completely different. After fourth grade, everyone can decide which kind of school he/she wants to attend. We go by class system and not by a course system where everyone can select the classes. Only 11th and 12th grade are done by a course system. German schools do not offer AP or Honor classes as part of the curriculum. There is only one level. We do not have that special High School Spirit or the possibility to choose between so many different courses. In addition, there are not any after school activities or sports teams at all.
I understand you are fluent in four languages; can you explain how you managed to acquire these languages?
The only way to understand people from other countries is to be able to communicate with them. I think it is amazing what languages and words can do, so I love learning new languages and how they all are connected in some ways.
Are there any similarities or differences between German and American teenagers?
In Germany, teens are adults by law at the age of 18. In America the age is 21. [But] Germans have to be 18 to drive a car alone and in America, it varies between 15 and 16. I think some of the laws we have to live by make us grow up faster and slower in different things. All teenagers worry about the same things, have to live through the same progression of growing up, finding themselves. In addition, they all like music, movies, and clothes. I think American teenagers care more about volunteering and playing sports. Sport is an important way to get into college. In Germany, it is mostly through good grades.
Can you elaborate on what you learned spending the year in a foreign land away from family and friends? Was it worth it? Would you do it again and why?
It was definitely worth it. I would do it over and over again. If I was able to do it right away for another time, I would. I think I got to know myself better, grow up and become more mature. I think I got a better understanding of the many different cultures I got to experience and live while I was living in Denver. Someone once said “Just because it is different, doesn’t mean it is bad” and I think that is correct. Make your own experiences, be open-minded – then you get the chance to make decisions on your own, without biases. I think this year gave me so many opportunities for my future. I love the fact that the American community I was living in opened their hearts to me. It makes me feel like I am only half-German. I feel throughout the year I became American, and mixed this culture with my native, German, one. If you know what another culture thinks, how those people live, it helps you understand them and be just like them. I think it also helped me appreciate things that I took for granted. More importantly, the experience enabled me get a different view about my own country. If you ever get the chance to go abroad – DO IT!
What are your honest thoughts on American culture?
I think Americans have a culture that encourages them to be dreamers. They believe that most things they want can become a reality. This spirit thrives in everyone in America. It appears that most people that live in the United States are proud to be Americans, they are proud to be a part of this nation. I think it is great that some people are still very patriotic. For me, the American host family welcomed me with open hearts, and they were willing to share what they have and included me as part of their family. Of course, some things are not great, but no country is perfect.