Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/gilbert/articles/1010GermanZ12.html

Teens soak up Americanisms - German-Mesa exchange
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 10, 2003
Mel MelÚndez

They're German teenagers on a first-time romp to the United States.

But thanks to a German-American student exchange program, the high schoolers know they share countless interests with the American teens they hosted in June.

Still, there's much to discover for the 11 students who recently traveled 16 hours from Lueneburg to stay with host families in Mesa. During their three-week visit, the students will attend Skyline High School for a week and socialize to soak up American culture. A tour of Arizona, including stops at Sedona and the Grand Canyon, also is in the works.

All were introduced to American life at a potluck dinner hosted Monday by Lori and Steve Brinjak, whose daughter, Alison, stayed with a German family this summer. Barely 24 hours in America, the students swiftly reconnected with the American students they'd bonded with back home thanks to the German-American Partnership Program.

As often happens at parties, much of the conversation gravitated toward food. The adult German chaperones said they longed to try authentic Mexican food. German student Tim Meier, 16, rhapsodized about his latest culinary discovery - doughnuts.

"So tasty. Fantastic," said the 11th-grader, as the Americans promised to treat him to some Krispy Kremes. "I want more."

Matthias Schroether, 17, also of Lueneburg, discovered a new soda flavor.

"I tried the root beer. It's good," he said. "But it tastes a little like toothpaste."

Several students commented on the weather, since they were greeted by rain in Charlotte, where they caught their connecting flight, and later encountered overcast skies in Phoenix.

"Where's the sun? I hear a lot about the Arizona sun, but there is no sun," said Schroether, an avid fan of Star Trek Voyager and actor Keifer Sutherland.

Suenja Essing, 16, said she preferred the rain to the weather back home.

A little shy about her English at first, Essing said, "This is good because when we go home we'll have schnee (snow)."

Most of the German students spoke nearly flawless English because they're required to take seven years of a foreign language, and many choose English. It was easy to understand why, as students discussed their favorite American imports, including the music of rappers 50 Cent and Eminem and Fox's television drama 21.

In June, their American counterparts stayed with them near Hamburg. The U.S. students attended the Johanneum Gymnasium High School, and toured Berlin, including the Berlin Wall and Bergen-Belsen, a former concentration camp.

Students paid about $1,200 to participate in the exchange program, with several receiving partial scholarships to participate.

Still, the excursion nearly got the ax because the organizer routinely includes an alcohol disclaimer that would have allowed students to drink while abroad.

German kids as young as 16 can drink beer and kids of any age can legally drink alcohol with a parent present. The disclaimer was yanked and students signed a form stating they would abide by the school district's no-drinking policy.

Skyline German teacher and chaperone Gloria Gillilea said her students upheld their end of the bargain.

"They were so mature. I was very impressed," Gillilea said. "They knew that if they messed up the schools first out of country excursion would be its last."

American Andy Pitstick, 17, described Germany as laid-back with friendly people who drove upscale cars on quaint cobblestone streets.

"Nobody drives junky cars," said Pitstick, an avid motor head. "Even the taxis were all new Mercedes Benz's with black leather interior."

Practicing his one-year's worth of German often proved problematic.

"They'd hear my accent and respond in English to speed things along," he said. "Still, I learned so much about the culture there, that it was totally worth it."

Attending a German school resulted in some culture shock, Pitstick said.

"They have student smoking lounges, and they can smoke outside with teachers, which seemed odd, " he said. "But even though they can drink and smoke, they can't drive until they're 18.

"They don't abuse the drinking though because they seem to have more responsibilities and were held to them. (German) parents are strict."

Pitstick listed some of the activities he'd planned for house guest Schroether. On the agenda are Friday night football, a car show and paint ball, which is forbidden in Germany because kids can't use pellet guns, he said.

A trip to San Diego or Huntington Beach also is a priority.

"I want to show him some of those California girls they only get to see in music videos," he added with a grin.

Reach the reporter at mel.melendez@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-7758.