Expanding Horizons

Eve Nguyen, Staffer

This summer, 28 LASA juniors and seniors entering the German four and five classes stayed in Berlin, Germany with German host families. During this time, students experienced German culture and were able to practice their German skills. This October, their exchange partners, from the Johann-Gottfried-Herder-Gymnasium school in Berlin, came to stay in Austin for three weeks as part of the second half of the exchange program.

LASA junior Sachin Allums is a part of the exchange program and spent three weeks this summer living with a host family in Germany. Allums said he had a great time in Germany. He, his host family and other LASA students went on daily excursions, visited popular attractions and spent time in local parks and shops.

“My time in Germany was amazing,” Allums said. “I went with a group of small friends and we rented bikes and we biked along the rivers in Dresden. In general, it was just really fun to see a bunch of attractions in Germany, to experience the culture and to eat the delicious food that they had to offer.”

LASA junior Liam Boone was also a part of the exchange program. He said he enjoyed being a part of the exchange because it allowed him to take part in things he isn’t normally exposed to. One of the day-to-day differences that stuck out to Boone was the use of public transportation in Germany.

“They rely a lot more on public transportation than we do,” Boone said. “They said they have taxes they have to pay on cars that are really expensive to have a car. Most of them either didn’t have a car or had one car. In America, we act like we need cars, but there they were fine without having one.”

Allums said he recognized that German and American societies are quite different. Despite those differences, he emphasized how his host family made him feel very at home.

“My host family was really nice,” Allums said. “They were super accommodating, and they understood that the Americans had slightly different needs than the Germans had.”

Allums and Boone also said that staying with host families was an experience that allowed them to get a more immersive experience of true German culture, as opposed to just being exposed to the more touristy parts of Germany. Boone said that being completely immersed in German culture helped a lot with his ability to understand and speak German more fluently.

“My German skills definitely improved a lot more than I thought they would just from having to talk in German,” Boone said. “The need to talk in German in order to communicate made me think more about just fluently speaking instead of thinking of how I can say a sentence and then saying it.”

German teacher Christopher Parks said that this three-week exchange greatly improved the students’ abilities to speak and understand the German language. Even though Parks has only been teaching at LASA for a few weeks, he said that he notices a difference in the students’ ability levels.

“Everybody who actually went to Berlin has a much higher confidence level,” Parks said. “Even though it’s only three weeks in Berlin, especially because they live with Germans, they get that sense of confidence to not worry as much about making mistakes and to just speak freely. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed, especially with German four and German five students here, because in a lot of ways, they have the confidence level that most students have at university in their junior or senior year at university.”

Parks is focusing on planning and organizing local excursions for the German students who are visiting Austin and staying with exchange partners. One of the German students staying with junior Olivia Gilbert is Varvara Peredkova. With her group of foreign exchange students, Peredkova has gone swimming at Barton Springs, visited UT and shopped at the Trader Joe’s grocery store.

“I think that the city, in general, is really pretty,” Peredkova said. “It’s just cool, all of the things you have…. We’ve been to the capitol and the University of [Texas]. That was really cool. The campus is huge. I’m really surprised. It’s really big.”

Peredkova said that she was excited to spend a day at the Austin City Limits Music Festival. The festival was one of the planned outings for her and the other German students. Aside from visiting local Austin attractions, the group of exchange students spent their second week in the United States by camping at Big Bend National Park and stayed in New York for a few days before going back to Berlin.

In addition to these outings, the foreign exchange students have also been able to dine out at local restaurants and spend time around Austin. Allums said that he took his exchange partner and several others to Billy’s on Burnet so they could try classic American burgers. Although Allums said that it was a lot of fun for both LASA students and their exchange partners, he felt that entertaining his partner can sometimes be challenging.

“It’s been slightly stressful trying to make sure that they’re having a good time,” Allums said. “But so far, when we’re with them in the moment, it’s extremely fun.”

Allums said that the program has been both a fun and insightful experience. Parks said he feels content with the exchange program because of its benefits for the students from Austin and Berlin.

“[What is] most important I think [is] to have the daily experience, on both sides of the exchange, of living with native people so they’re not staying at hotel rooms,” Park said. “They’re staying with their partner at home and seeing so many things from daily life, whether it’s breakfast or homework or what you do after school [and] learning how different it is so we can hopefully understand each other better as cultures.”