Ahead of their own trip to Germany next June, Upper Arlington High School students and their families recently wrapped up a stint as hosts to German students visiting as part of a long-running exchange program.
For 32 years, the German American Partnership Program has allowed high school students from Upper Arlington and the rural German town of Bad Bergzabern to visit each other's homelands and learn about their respective education systems and cultures.
Twenty-five German students visited Upper Arlington for more than two weeks this fall, with their trip culminating Oct. 4.
During their stay, the students lived with Upper Arlington host families; the favor will be returned in June when 25 UAHS students will make a three-week trip to Germany.
"GAPP is a unique opportunity for students to get to know another culture through personal experience," said Emily Alaudini, a German teacher at UAHS and the school's GAPP coordinator. "The students experience school and family life as no tourist can.
"GAPP fosters cultural understanding and also helps students improve their second language skills."
Alaudini said GAPP is particularly valuable because it integrates students into everyday life in a foreign country, including school.
On the most recent exchange, field trips throughout Columbus, including tours of the Ohio Statehouse and the Ohio Supreme Court were worked in, and German students met Upper Arlington city leaders and visited the Ohio State University campus.
They also took in Ohio State's football game against UNLV.
"German is the most widely spoken native language in Europe and is one of the three official working languages of the European Union," Alaudini said. "Germany is an economic powerhouse and German companies are global market leaders.
"The German language and the cultures of the German-speaking countries are very rich and interesting. German is the language of inventors and innovators and is an important language in academia."
As the German students and two of their teachers prepared to depart from Upper Arlington Oct. 4, they reflected on their visit.
Some noted differences in the scholastic cultures of the two countries, with some German students saying they appreciated the friendlier dynamics of relationships between students and teachers in Upper Arlington versus their homeland, where teachers were viewed more as authority figures.
Others enjoyed the school spirit displayed at UAHS through athletics teams and school mascots, as well as the local appreciation of history and heritage.
"Being proud of being American," said German student, Nelly Sachs, 17. "That's something I really miss in our schools. Because of our history, we are not really able to be proud of our history."
Sachs' sister, 16-year-old Mira, was excited by the Upper Arlington district's "One2One" technology program, which outfits all students in the district with tablet computers.
"We have less technology," Mira Sachs said. "We don't have MacBooks and aren't allowed to use mobile phones."
While the younger Sachs saw research and problem-solving benefits of the technology, she wondered if they weren't being used as a learning crutch by some students.
Beyond the classroom, students from both countries said they enjoyed the experiences the program provided because they got to learn more about each other's cultures.
Some UAHS students said they look forward to traveling to Bad Bergzabern in June, in part because it offers many hiking opportunities and a landscape dotted with forests, mountains and castles that many of the German students admitted they take for granted.
Smaller things, like differences in popular foods and eating customs, fascinated others. Brianna Barrett, a UAHS senior, noted that 16-year-old German student Leonie Meyer "doesn't drink her water with ice."
GAPP also sparked political discussions, the students said, both about the United States' current presidential administration and the German model.
"Not only did we talk about (President Donald) Trump, but we also talked about how different our political systems are," said Will Geletka, a UAHS junior. "In Germany, there are many political parties.
"Also, it's interesting how a leaning-right person in Germany could be totally left-leaning here. I feel like the spectrum in Germany is totally different."
Others were pleased simply to make connections with people they didn't know a month ago and to gain new perspectives on everything from education and entertainment to politics and tradition.
"I think it's cool just to meet people from different places," Barrett said. "They view things differently and have different insights. It's fun."
Dana Frank, a 17-year-old German student, echoed those sentiments.
"I think, in general, it's a great opportunity to meet new people and get new experiences," Frank said.