Two teenagers from Johnson County spend the school year in Germany, thanks to the American and German governments. Emma Anderson from Olathe and Anna Miesner from Shawnee received the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Grant to study in German high schools.
Each lives with a host family and takes courses in German. Emma is in Bottrop, a town about 30 miles east of the border with the Netherlands. Anna lives in Kefferhausen, in central Germany, about 120 miles west of Leipzig.
Most of the 250 U.S. participants do not live in large cities, as families in less populated areas typically have more room to accommodate exchange students. It also helps them to live life in a more uniquely German way.
“Living in a city, like New York or Los Angeles, doesn’t necessarily represent the standard American lifestyle,” said Katie Pfohl, grant programs manager for the Council on International Educational Exchange, which administers the program in 18 states. . “It’s easier to immerse yourself when you’re in a small town. “
Participants do not need to know German when they apply, but they receive intensive language training before starting school in Germany. For Emma, it was probably an easier transition. She has been studying German for four years at Olathe South High School.
“I still don’t think, even though it took me four years, that my German is amazing. It’s intermediate, and it gives me confidence that I will do well in school, ”she said.
Emma was also president of the German club and a member of her school’s German honor society.
While at Shawnee Mission North High School, Anna had never learned German, but she was eager for the challenge. She started her German studies this summer with Duolingo.
“The more I think about it, the more I say to myself, ‘This is a crazy thing that I decided to do.’ But also, I’m really just excited. No matter what kind of experience I have, it’s a test to see if I’m ready for more independence, “Anna said before going overseas. “I have wanted to travel all my life.
Although Emma has been looking forward to the program for years, the pandemic has made her want more.
“I think being locked in my house for a year really made me want to have something new and have an adventure,” she said.
Emma recently graduated from Olathe South and said her friends called her a “super senior” because she would be going back to high school. Students can participate in this program as long as they are between 15 and 18.5 years old on August 1.
Anna has just completed her junior year at Shawnee Mission North and plans to transfer credits to have the year in Germany replace her senior year here.
Last year’s group couldn’t do their exchange in person and had to settle for a virtual experience with webinars and German correspondents. This year, the students left at the end of August.
Normally, the program starts with a sort of summer camp where all the fellows are together while they do their intensive language learning. This year, the students went directly to their host families and did this language learning online.
Except in an emergency, the program does not allow them to return to the United States until next summer, at the end of the academic year.
Anna said she was delighted to be immersed in a new culture.
“I feel like I can start a new life for 10 months. … I kind of need that, to try something new and not feel like I have to stick to what’s comfortable, ”said Anna.
One of the goals is for students to return home speaking at least one conversation, if not fluently, German, but there is more than words.
“I think they are going to have a better understanding of German culture and also of their own culture as they look at their own life and experiences from a different perspective,” said Pfohl.
“They will also gain a lot of independence and maturity throughout the year. Being away from home and having to make decisions on your own is something that really helps you understand who you are as a person.
German students are also studying across the United States through the same program this fall.