Exchange students gain friendship & independence while abroad


Jule Froese sets her books down on a desk in her 8th period classroom. At this time back home, she would have been eating Schnitzel with her friends after a day at Artland-Gymnasium Quakenbrück, her high school.

“[NNHS] is a lot bigger, and the classes are set up differently here,” Froese said.

Jule is one of 18 German students who arrived in Naperville on March 5 to experience a different life abroad. The students are staying with Naperville North host families for 18 days and are shadowing students enrolled in the NNHS German program for a week before choosing their own classes.

Jonathan Justice, a German teacher at NNHS, is one of three program coordinators who made it possible for the German students to experience the American lifestyle. He and two teachers from Germany, Susanne Schepers and Thomas Heinze, planned the exchange through GAPP, German American Partnership Program, which provided the group with funding and basic guidelines to follow. The American students will complete the program when they travel to Germany for three weeks this summer to live with the German host families.

“The goal of the program is to really give the kids an authentic experience living in an [American] family,” Justice said.

America was an adjustment for the German student body, who were more well-acquainted with the familiarity and coziness of their small hometown. Naperville’s total population caps off in the 141,000’s, while the northwestern town of Quakenbrück is just short of 13,000 people.

NNHS German teacher Susanne Schepers believes one of the program’s major benefits is the opportunity for students to see big cities like Chicago that are unlike ones they have near home. The group has enjoyed being near the city, and has gone to the Art Institute and The Museum of Science and Industry.

For many of the students, it is their first time flying overseas, and is the longest amount of time they have spent away from home.  The freedom the students acquire while abroad teaches responsibility and helps develop a sense of independence that will serve them long after the three weeks are over.

“I think that they mature during the program because they have to organize themselves and be responsible for themselves,” Schepers said.

The American students involved in the exchange have enjoyed the language experience they are gaining. They have gone to multiple local events with the exchange students, such as the NNHS Spring Dance, and even coordinated a group trip to see the Chicago Bulls play at the United Center. For NNHS junior Max Levitt, the goal of the program was to make new friends from another country. He said that it was interesting to see the differences between the two countries’ cultures,  and he has enjoyed showing the students typical American stores, such as Bass Pro shops and the outlet mall.

“I think shadowing was interesting for them because they got to see how American classes were different than German ones,” Levitt said.

The German students started learning British English in 5th grade, while most of the Naperville host students started learning German in high school. Despite the language barrier, students have gained an appreciation for each other’s cultures, and have made unforgettable memories with their international friends. Anna Sieverding, one of the exchange students, reflected on the new friendships she made in America, and said that her host family and students at Naperville North helped make the time she spent here so memorable.

“I like the freedom and the independence… I wish the program wasn’t coming to an end,” Sieverding said.