Author: Chloe Harthan ’21
As soon as there was an announcement for the German American Partnership Program (GAPP), my interest was peaked. It sounded like an amazing idea to be able to have a German student stay with me and vice versa. My mind was already set. I chose to be a part of the GAPP program because I wanted to be able to share the daily life of an American teen with a student from Germany and I wanted to experience their culture as well. It would expand my horizons and get me out of my comfort zone, which is a challenge I wanted to take.
The start of my adventure with my German exchange student was at the airport. My family and I brought signs and flowers to pick up Leonie Dietel. From the start, Leonie was super sweet and interesting. She had bright blue and purple dreadlocks for hair and big glasses, just like me. We immediately started to talk and it was like she was, as my parents called it, my long lost sister.
Leonie and I did everything together while she was here for two weeks, from simple daily activities to sightseeing. We started with obviously her going to school with me and sitting in on all of my classes. She got to see the goofy boys misbehave and me stressing to cram in the last minutes of study time I had before a test. Leonie came with me to club meetings also, as I brought her along to my robotics meetings. Not only did she participate in academic activities with me, but I also took her to a volleyball game and a football game as well.
At home, we hung out together and did random things I usually do in general. Since I am able to drive, one of her first days here we took a late-night trip to Target. As soon as we got to the parking lot, Leonie’s eyes were wide with amazement at the size of the store. I explained to her that it has everything you could ever want, from electronics to food to clothes. This was nothing like what she has at home, so she was excited to go in. She grabbed one of the carts, which she wanted to push herself, and we started to explore the store. After an hour inside, we ended up coming out with several different fruits, tee shirts, and face masks to do later that night. On the way home, we stopped to get ice cream and sat in my car listening to music and watching the sunset. It was a great start to the two weeks she was here.
For meals, of course, we had to hit different fast food places. After school in the first week, Leonie was here, we went to Whataburger and got the classic cheeseburger and french fries. Soon after finishing, she concluded that it was quite good for fast food, but she also wanted to try more places. To do so, a few days after that we got breakfast at Chick-Fil-A and sweet tea, which she thought was better than the burgers. Then was the finale. Late at night later that week, we were both hungry and needed something to eat. The first thought was Sonic, which she had not been to yet. We hopped in my car and drove over to Sonic where we got obscene amounts of slushies, tater tots, and burgers from there. As we sat in the stall listening to the blasting music, Leonie confirmed that Sonic was the best place so far.
Not only did we do simple things like late-night runs to large stores or eating, but we also went sightseeing on our own. On the weekend, we drove to Boerne, Texas to get a taste of a more country town opposed to San Antonio. We started off the day at a pumpkin patch. We got a wheelbarrow and sought out the best, most round pumpkins there. Leonie and I struggled to grab the large ones and giggled at the tiny ones. Eventually, after an exhausting walk to the car with several large pumpkins, we made our way to Main Street since there was an antique car show that morning. We walked through the cars and admired especially the bright blue ones. Once we finished looking at the cars, we went in and out of the stores and spent the most time in the thrift shops. Leonie and I admired the old grandfather clocks and china, and both of us bought some old clothing.
We did several other things while she was here, from going to art museums to watching movies at my house, but our two weeks was over too fast. By the time we were heading to the airport to drop her off for her flight back, Leonie and I both commented on how two weeks simply was not enough and it would be weird to be without each other. During her time with me, I learned how interesting and enriching learning about other people’s cultures can be. Living in the United States and especially in Texas, diversity is more limited and it is harder to deeply learn and experience aspects of the cultures that aren’t in my community. Leonie taught me about the differences between her world and mine, and it opened my eyes to the bubble I am living in and how there are so many things outside of what I am familiar with. Immersing yourself and learning about other cultures and perspectives is immensely important because it opens you up to a whole different mindset. Living with your own opinions and ideas sets you back, and from Leonie, I was able to grow and learn. I am tremendously excited to fully immerse myself in her culture and way of life when I travel to Germany so I can fully experience the many things she told me about her home.