BROCKWAY — The German-American Partnership Program (GAPP) gives a group of German exchange students a chance to experience what American life is like, focusing on such activities as visiting New York City, high school, Easter, shopping, and petting a chicken.
Every year in April, a group of exchange students come to Brockway from Hann. Münden in Germany. The two teachers and their students stay with various host families in Brockway. They attend classes with their hosts at Brockway Area Junior-Senior High School, visit various locations, and fly back to Germany.
Brockway German Teacher Eric Stawecki explained that the GAPP trips are about an exchange of cultures more than language learning. For the students, this is a chance to make new friends while seeing an America different than the one they see in the movies.
“I want to come here and learn about the USA and see what high school is like compared to ours,” said German Student Max Renn. “American people make you feel welcome here.”
Johanna Schmidt had the advantage of talking to friends who had come to Brockway before.
“I always wanted to come to America,” Schmidt said. “My friends told me that it was different and a lot of fun. The whole lifestyle is different here. Everything is bigger! The food, the cars, everything!”
Aside from having bigger everything and more choices in grocery stores, the two students felt that Brockway Area Junior-Senior High School offered more to its students than their counterpart in Hann. Münden.
“The art classes have so much,” he said. “We don’t have an agriculture shop like this in Germany.”
The students spent time in Kyle Norman’s wood shop and Matt Holt’s metal shop. They also joined those two teachers on a tour of Brockway’s greenhouse and barn. Holt held a chicken for the German students to pet. Many were wary at first, but when they finally came up, they were surprised at how soft the hen was.
Petting a chicken will probably not be the highlight of their trip. Every German student had nothing but praise for New York City.
“There’s a lot of sights in New York,” Renn said. “It’s just impressive how big the city really is. You don’t really see how big the city is when you see it on TV. America is not what we see on TV. It’s great to be here.”
Schmidt and Renn had plans to spend Easter with their host families. This partnership, made up of students and their parents, often results in long-lasting friendships. Many Brockway students who have participated in the past travel to Germany as often as they can to see their German friends.
Chaperone Sven Olrich felt that Brockway was a unique community for his students to visit. It surprised him how unique the small town was.
“This is a very rural area, but you have big industry,” he said. “It’s a contrast for such a small town.”
The surroundings were a big plus for fellow teacher Andrea Holzberg. Holtzberg has been here before, but this time, she gets to ride a bike around the area, seeing sights not normally on a tour.
Easter traditions, according to the two chaperones, are very similar. One thing that most American towns do not do is the Easter bonfire.
“Every village has a big pile of wood,” he said. “They come together Saturday night and celebrate with a big bonfire. You don’t do that here.”
As the trip wraps up, the German students will head back to Hann. Münden with new memories and new friendships.
“It’s always nice to go to another country,” Schmidt concluded. “You can improve your point of view of the world because you know more people.”