Pennridge partners with German school for cultural exchange

Pennridge High School students say farewell to visiting German students and teachers. News-Herald photo — DEBBY HIGH

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Perkasie News Herald
Published: Friday, November 22, 2013

It’s not uncommon to hear about arts and language programs being cut in high schools. Increasingly, these programs are being considered more expendable than the curriculum of math, science, reading and writing.

But at Pennridge High School, the language program is still thriving, especially for students studying German. There are 22 Pennridge students participating in this year’s German-American Partnership Program, a biennial exchange program with students attending Peter-Vischer-Schule in Nuremberg, Germany.

Each Pennridge student was paired with a Peter-Vischer-Schule student over the summer. Those 22 German students spent three weeks, from late October to mid-November living with their Pennridge pairing, following them throughout the school day and taking field trips together.

Click here to see a photo gallery from the farewell dinner.

Reflecting on the three weeks the 44 students have spent together, learning about each other and their cultures, Pennridge student Laura Krause said she was surprised at how easily they all got along.

“What really stuck out to me is how fast we all clicked and became friends,” she said.

The fast friendships were the work of program co-advisers Leanna Goodrich and Mike Garrison, both of whom are German instructors at Pennridge High School. Goodrich and Garrison select Pennridge students to participate in GAPP based on their application and interview.

Then, when the Pennridge and Peter-Vischer-Schule students have been selected, Goodrich and Garrison have students fill out personality profiles.

“We sat down on the floor one day in July and just tried to pair everyone up,” Goodrich said, adding that the advisers look for similar personalities and perspectives to make sure the students will be compatible. “We partner them based on similar hobbies, interests and preferences, and hope for the best.”

It certainly worked out for the students this year. Several participants, both German and American, said they would be lifelong friends because of their GAPP experience.

Pennridge student Ilise Wanamaker said she will miss her German exchange student, Lorena Kolm, and the close bond they now share.

“I’m an only child. Having Lorena here was like having a sisterly figure. Now that she’s leaving, I’m going to miss that feeling. I’ll miss having her around. Who am I supposed to hang out with?” she joked.

Goodrich said that Pennridge student Brody Minor and his exchange student had also become like siblings. When asked what he would miss about his exchange student, Niclas Kossyk, Minor gave a very brotherly response.

“I won’t miss waking up extra early to use the bathroom, that’s for sure. He spends an hour on his hair every morning,” Minor said. He later admitted that he would also miss having someone to spend time with and take to Taco Bell.

Of all the possible things to miss, Kossyk said with certainty that he would miss Perkasie’s fine cuisine the most.

“I love Taco Bell and Wendy’s,” he said. “The food here is so great! Maybe I don’t eat very well, but it tastes so good.”

The German exchange students did encounter moments of culture shock, during field trips and even during a regular Pennridge school day.

“We went to Cabela’s, and saw that it is very easy to buy a gun here. It is not like that in Germany,” Peter-Vischer-Schule student Ronja Lilienweiss said. “School is very different, too. Students and teachers have a closer relationship and talk more. There are more games, not just lectures and writing.”

Peter-Vischer-Schule student Samira Kabri said she was surprised to see how much driving Pennridge area residents do.

“In Germany we do not use cars very much. We go by bikes or public transportation,” she said.

The students took some longer trips to nearby cities, including Washington, D.C., Baltimore and New York City. Kossyk said that New York City impressed him the most.

“I was surprised by the big buildings,” he said of the city’s skyscrapers. “It was impressive to see the buildings lit up at night, and Times Square, with the huge marketing advertisements.”

“Everything is big here,” German student Caroline Schultheiss said. “The school is big; the New York City buildings are big. Everything is much bigger than in Germany.”

Pennridge students will get their turn to experience a new culture in June, when they will travel to Nuremberg to reunite with their exchange students and spend three weeks in Germany.

“I’m going to have my birthday over there. It’ll be exciting to celebrate that in a different country with the people I love,” Wanamaker said, in reference to her German friends.

Goodrich said that the program helps widen the students’ world view and changes their perspective.

“The students come back changed,” she said. “They’re more mature, with a better understanding of international relations and the world. This one experience has been so influential to Pennridge alumni. A lot of them come back and tell me about how this changed the direction of their lives. Some of them go back to Germany more often than I do, and some of them go on to study international relations.”

“It broadens their perspective and helps them understand different cultures, which is important in a globalized world,” Garrison added.

Follow Erin Weaver on Twitter @ByErinWeaver.