German exchange students share their experiences in America
April 13, 2023
One of them lives in the countryside near Stuttgart. Another comes from a small town called Sontra in Werra Meissner Kreis, Germany. The other lives an hour away from Frankfurt. All three of them journeyed across the Atlantic Ocean to experience the American lifestyle: Till Ney, Anna Bachmann and Aurinia Breinlich.
“We got informed about the exchange shortly before Christmas,” Breinlich said. The exchange program is her first time experiencing the U.S.’ culture in-person.
“My mother already did an exchange to the U.S. so I always wanted to do it too.”
Bachmann and Ney are no strangers to the American way of life. Bachmann visited the U.S. in 2019 and “fell in love” with the country. Ney, on the other hand, learned about the differences between the U.S. and Germany during his trip to the U.S. last year.
The trio planned to arrive in the U.S. on Monday, March 27. However, due to the flight strikes in Germany, the exchange students touched down on American soil the following day.
Upon their arrival in Altoona, Pa., the three were partnered with AAHS students: Ney was partnered with freshman Julian Pringle, Bachmann was partnered with senior Rachel Lucas and Breinlich was partnered with junior Mira Sparacino.
Weary and exhausted, Ney, Bachmann and Breinlich attended school that Wednesday–unprepared for what would occur.
This whole exchange was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. — Aurinia Breinlich
This whole exchange was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
— Aurinia Breinlich
At 9:15 a.m. that morning, head principal Andrew Neely declared a lockdown in response to active shooter threats intercepted by the Pa. state police.
“My biggest problem was for the first 20 minutes, I was just confused and didn’t know what was happening,” Ney said, describing the incident. “For the rest of the hour, I was just thinking, ‘how do I stay awake?’ because I was jet-lagged and I was very, very tired.”
Students stayed in lockdown for approximately two hours. At roughly 11 a.m., the student body and parents were informed that the call was a hoax. Ney, Bachmann and Breinlich had never experienced such a thing before. Ney’s closest experience was a wrongly called fire alarm at his school in Germany.
“I couldn’t even tell what I felt. There were just so many new impressions. And it was something, not just specifically the lockdown–everything,” Ney said, reflecting on his first day in Altoona. “It was something I’ve never experienced before, being that far from home and meeting new people you’ve never met. You’re kind of on your own, but, of course, you’re integrating yourself. But I was really looking forward to the next day.”
Since that Wednesday, the three have experienced several new things. Bachmann enjoyed fast food and tried spinning for the first time; Ney joined the local rugby team and participated in the AAHS Track and Field activities, which is something the sophomore had never done before; and Breinlich tried new food and took part in chorus classes, which are structured differently than the junior’s lessons in Germany.
In addition to trying new things, the exchange students viewed different sights. Bachmann and Breinlich traveled to Washington, D.C. separately to view the nation’s capital.
“My favorite experience was traveling to Washington, D.C. on Thursday, March 30. It was very pretty, [especially] the cherry blossoms,” Bachmann said. The junior had the opportunity to view the Natural History museum.
“I liked seeing Washington D.C.; it’s very beautiful.”
Breinlich’s trip to Washington was her favorite experience during the exchange so far. The junior hopes to return and take a peek into the Air and Space museum; she didn’t have tickets during her first visit to the city. The experiences you have here are once-in-a-lifetime experiences. You normally don’t get any opportunities like this again. — Till Ney
The experiences you have here are once-in-a-lifetime experiences. You normally don’t get any opportunities like this again.
— Till Ney
“My favorite [part] was also our trip to Washington, D.C. We got to visit the Smithsonian, and of course the greatest part was visiting the White House gardens,” Breinlich said.
Ney’s most memorable moment on the trip has been getting to know AAHS students and building connections with them.
“My favorite experience so far has been just meeting the guys here and getting to know them, going to school and seeing new faces everyday, to earn new friends,” Ney said.
Through their time spent in Altoona, the exchange students have noticed differences between the U.S. and their home country. For Ney, this includes school schedules and sports teams.
“The [American] school works very differently. For example, the school has [sports] teams. In Germany, at my school, we don’t have teams in school so, if you play for a team, you play for your hometown. They have teams in any kind of sport: soccer, for example,” Ney said. “The school day in American schools repeats every day. Every day is the same. In Germany, it works that every week is the same. Every Monday we have the same schedule [and on] every Tuesday, and so on.”
For Breinlich, the time zone difference is the biggest change she’s noticed.
Before the exchange, Ney, Bachmann and Breinlich had mixed feelings about the experience that awaited them.
“I was just looking forward to getting some new experiences because those experiences you have here are once-in-a-lifetime experiences. You normally don’t get any opportunities like this again,” Ney said. “And I was looking forward to just breaking out of my normal schedule and my normal days. After a longer period, when you haven’t been going anywhere else, you just feel like every day feels the same, and you always see the same people. It was nice to break out there and see something new.”
At first, Bachmann didn’t expect to get into the exchange. When she did, she was worried her English wasn’t the best.
“I first got a rejection, but then I got a call that I got to go on the exchange,” Bachmann said. “I was very excited to meet new people, except that I have my eighteenth birthday here, and my family is in Germany. But I think it’s a nice experience that you get to get out of [Germany].”
I would come back to the U.S. for sure. — Aurinia Breinlich
I would come back to the U.S. for sure.
— Aurinia Breinlich
Breinlich also didn’t expect to be accepted into the exchange program.
“So I was on the waiting list first, but then I also got a call that I was in it,” Breinlich said. “I was very excited for it, but also scared when I came here. I just hoped that I wouldn’t do anything wrong.”
One week into the exchange, Ney, Bachmann and Breinlich each have a word to describe their experience.
“I would just say ‘a lot’ because there are so many impressions and so much new stuff, new people, so much stuff I’ve never done,” Ney said. “I’d say ‘grateful’ [as well]. I’m so grateful, just grateful that I can be here, that this exchange exists, and that I have the opportunity to be here.”
“I’m really grateful for this fun experience,” Bachmann said.
“I would just say ‘great’ because this whole exchange was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” Breinlich said.
When they leave on April 17, the trio will miss elements of their newly-found environment, but they will also be excited to return home. Ney will miss the people he met the most.
“In just a week, I got so close to so many people, and I found so many new friends. I’m good with so many people,” Ney said. “I’ll definitely miss the people, but I’ll also be looking forward just to see my other friends in Germany, and to get to do the stuff I can’t do here and catch up with the family again.”
Bachmann and Breinlich are also excited to fly back to Germany and reunite with their friends and family.
Each of the exchange students would be excited to try the exchange again after all of the things they’ve seen and experienced.
“I just want to say that I’m very grateful that I was able to be here. I would come back to the U.S. for sure,” Breinlich said.