Learning cultural awareness through foreign exchange


Jocelyn Leal, Editor-in-Chief

Reaching outside of students’ comfort zone is a main theme for those who participated in the German American Partnership Program (GAPP) that organizes foreign exchange. Here at Manatee High School, there were 11 students who were hosts of the German exchange students over the past three weeks and many say it was one of the best experiences of their lives.

“It’s really cool that you can establish a bond with someone and show them your culture and then you can also go see their culture and just learn about the world,” said Manatee High junior Remy Lonzo, who is participating in the GAPP program.

In all, 29 exchange students came to Florida this year through the GAPP program and they were spread throughout the county; primarily at schools like Braden River High School, Manatee High School and State College of Florida Collegiate School (SCFCS). The official partner school in Germany is the Max-Planck-Gymnasium in Gelsenkirchen. The program was founded in 1977 by Ronald Reagan to foster better relationships between American and German students. It was introduced to Bradenton in 2002 and has helped students learn about different cultures that they just cannot get from facts on a computer screen.

Connie Klaesener, manager of the GAPP program in Bradenton and Germany got started in the program in 2001, after her American students told her they wanted to visit Germany after learning that was where she was from. These students helped spark her love for working in foreign exchange programs, and that was how the partnership between Manatee High and Max-Planck-Gymnasium was founded.

“The main focus is to teach students cultural awareness. In a globalized world it is so important for young people to learn more about other cultures. The GAPP students experience another country and another culture not like tourists do it but they live in families and go to school in the other country,” explains Klaesener about the main purpose of the program.

Both German and American students alike are sad to be saying goodbye. The German exchange students stayed in Manatee County for three weeks and were crying when they left. “GAPP is often the beginning of a lifelong friendship,” says Connie Klaesener, a manager of the GAPP program.

The GAPP program taught students a lot about the differences between German and American culture, including contrasting school systems, food and religion.

“They teach a lot different structures, like they only have one building and it’s a very long building and they all have the same classes together. They really don’t have like class periods like us,” says Allie Jacobsen, a sophomore at Manatee High who also hosted a foreign exchange student.

Both Lonzo and Jacobsen also talked about how the German students that they hosted both enjoyed cooking and eating pizza, something that they had never done in Germany.

Klaesener also said that, “Many students visit their GAPP partners not only once but GAPP is often the beginning of a lifelong friendship.”

If a family wants to get involved in the GAPP program or would like to learn more about it, students can contact the GAPP coordinator, Kirstin Goodard. The email address to reach her is [email protected] or they can contact Klaesener at [email protected]