ALPENA - Four German students came to Alpena through Friendship Connection, a foreign exchange program, and got to experience northern Michigan and classes at Alpena High School for the past month. German language teacher Judy Cooper said she has worked closely with the small company for the past four or five years, so different families and students can experience the positive aspects of the program.
"This is a feel good thing that puts Alpena on the map. Students that do come are so excited to be here and everyone has a blast," Cooper said. "There are hundreds of exchange students in 20 states. Alpena is the furthest north that they go, but we host around four to six people a year here. Bigger cities like Detroit host less, which speaks volumes about our community."
According to Cooper, most host families continue communicating with the students that they hosted, and plan different activities to make their visit to Alpena memorable.
News Photo by Emily Siegmon
From left to right, Rebecca Walter, Ashley Krawczak, Sanja Freihabe, Sabrina Olsen, Aaliyah Bley, Rhiannon Meyer, and Shelia Bischof look at a book at Alpena High School while discussing towns and homes in Germany.
"We filled out an application to come here, a lot of people in Germany want to go to America. I think around 5,000 students applied, but 10 got accepted from my school," Shelia Bischof said. "It was a good feeling to be chosen for the experience. I was really excited that I got to be here."
Aaliyah Bley agreed and said coming to Alpena was a good experience.
"Alpena is pretty small, but it's nice. There's a lot of nature and there's beautiful landscapes, plus I got to do a lot of things I haven't done before," Bley said.
During her stay, Bley said she and her host sister Rhiannon Meyer went four wheeling, to a hunting camp, and played football in the mud.
"It was my first time four wheeling. I was so afraid, it was so fast, but it was really exciting," Bley said.
Bischof said that she also had the chance to experience new things with her host family when they went to a Tigers game, and spent some time in Detroit.
"The Tigers game was the best. There were five home runs in the game, I didn't really know much about baseball before, but I learned fast and had so much fun. We also went to a big church where we were the only white people, it was really cool," Bischof said.
AHS student Ashley Krawczak celebrated her second time hosting Rebecca Walters' stay in Alpena, and said that experience has been positive. Walters agreed and said she enjoyed her time here last year and plans on coming back again.
"This program is a lot of fun, it's a great way to meet other people from different cultures," Krawczak said.
Sabrina Olsen agreed and said being a host is a fun way to meet new friends.
Alpena host families and German students had an opportunity to learn from each other over the past month, and found similarities and differences between the two areas.
"School is a lot different here. In Germany we don't have the same schedule every day, instead we have about 14 different classes. I think having the same classes every day is easier," Bley said.
Bischof disagreed and said high school class schedules are easier in Germany.
"Ours are way easier, especially when it comes to getting homework done. We don't have to worry about doing it right away, instead we have a couple of days to get it done," Bischof said.
During the month that the German exchange students visited families in Alpena, students claimed that German classes got easier and the language became less foreign.
"My German got a lot better as soon as they got here. Now, I'm planning on going to Germany for a month this June," Meyer said.
While the visit lasted for a few weeks, many of the German students plan on visiting again or exploring more of America.
"I definitely want to come back. I like this country and want to study or go to college here. This experience was really good for me," Bischof said.
Both students were able to learn from each other during the month-long visit, but Cooper said the experience could not happen without the support of the community.
"If it wasn't for our great community, parents and students opening their homes and hearts, we wouldn't be able to do this," Cooper said.
Emily Siegmon can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5687.