By B.C. Manion
When Jens Przygode and his students arrived at Orlando International Airport from Kandel, Germany, on March 9, they were greeted by a contingent from Land O’ Lakes High School.
The enthusiastic welcome — from German teacher Annemarie Schunemann and her students — set the stage for a two-week peek into American life and culture for the German exchange students.
This is the third time the teacher from Germany has brought a group of his students to Pasco County to strengthen their English skills and to immerse them in all things American.
“It’s a great experience. It opens their minds,” said Pryzgode, who teaches English at his school in a community near the border between Germany and France.
The German students do benefit, but so do their American hosts, because the personal encounters help shatter stereotypes, Przygode said.
Besides polishing their English skills, the German students also get a chance to experience a smorgasbord of Florida’s wonders — its restaurants, its theme parks, its shopping and the Gulf of Mexico.
Their itinerary included trips to SeaWorld and Busch Gardens, as well as whatever activities their host families dreamed up.
“It was a great cultural experience for me and the kids,” said Ambyr Lix, who hosted a farewell party for the host families and German visitors.
During the party, the students said they learned a lot about each other’s culture.
For instance, the American kids found out that German schools tend to be more rigorous and that gasoline prices are much higher in Germany.
And the German kids found out that Americans tend to live in bigger houses and drive bigger cars.
Przygode, who spent his childhood in the United States, said he gets about 70 applications for the exchange program every year and he selects a dozen to take part.
Daniela Reinhard, who goes by Dani, said she enjoyed her two-week stay in America.
“I’ve had a very good time,” the 16-year-old said, noting she especially liked visiting the shopper centers, which are larger here and have better deals.
Fourteen-year-old Fanchon Penansky, Dani’s host-sister during the exchange, said she was surprised to learn how much driver’s license cost in Germany. “We only have to pay $75 to get our licenses. Over there, it’s 1,500 Euros.” (At current exchange rates, equals about $2,100 in U.S. dollars.)
Penansky was also surprised to learn that German schools don’t have sports programs or marching bands.
Seventeen-year-old Carrie Godfrey was impressed by the exchange students’ command of English, and she said the German students seemed surprised by the generally friendly nature of the Americans they met.
Godfrey said: “I would talk to people in line at Busch Gardens or SeaWorld, and they were like, ‘Wow, they’re so nice.’
“And I was like, “That’s normal.’
“In Germany, not so much,” Godfrey said.
Exchange student Jonas Brecht said he loved the taste of American foods.
“I loved Chick-fil-A. It’s the best,” he said, but he also enjoyed eating at Taco Bell and Cracker Barrel, too.
Brecht was pleasantly surprised he could get free drink refills at restaurants. That’s unheard of in his part of the world.
Lynn Plazewski, one of the host moms, said initially she was reluctant to take in someone she didn’t know.
Peggy Pine, another host mom, said she felt the same way.
But both women said it turned out to be a great experience for their families.
“The parents were great,” Schunemann said. “It was a really great exchange.”
Schunemann said preparing for the exchange is extra work, but she said it’s well worth it.
It’s an experience that gives both the American and German students a kind of education that can’t be taught in a textbook, Schunemann said.
“They learn to get along with people,” she said. “This is real life.”
For his part, Pryzgode is so happy with the way the exchange program has worked out, he’d like to see if his government and the Pasco County government could create a similar kind of exchange, on a grander scale.
And, as a member of the local parliament in Germersheim, he plans to pursue that possibility.