Abroad but not estranged

German exchange students adapt to high school life in America


Sarah Skelly

German exchange students Klara Kumpfel (left) and Julia Jansen (right) stand bak to back. Both students will be attending Francis Howell Central until the end of the school year.

Klara Kumpfel takes a deep breath, sinking lower into her seat as she exhales. Out of the window to her right, the sky is a vibrant blue, and the clouds look almost as if they could cushion a serious fall. Her heart begins to race at the thought of the new experiences that awaited her after the plane landed on American soil.

The young girl flying nearly 5,000 miles from Germany to the United States is an exchange student. Having never visited the U.S. prior to her participation in the exchange program, Kumpfel experienced several different emotions upon her arrival in America, but ultimately found comfort.

“I was a bit afraid because I was alone, but as I met my host family, I wasn’t worried about it at all,” Kumpfel said.

Junior Julia Jansen, another German exchange student, was also able to have a enjoyable experience in America due to the support of her host family, as well as new friends she’s made during her stay.

“My host family makes [adapting to the new environment] very easy for me, and I’ve found friends [that also help me],” Jansen said.

Kumpfel found that not only her host family, but almost everyone around her, treated her with kindness and respect.

“[All of the people are] very polite here,” Kumpfel explained, “Everyone has helped me [throughout my journey], and everyone is super polite.”

Even in academics, Jansen’s English III teacher, Mrs. Patricia Shockley, commends her host family for their dedication and helpfulness.

“[Jansen’s] host family has been very supportive of her, and they [even] got her the German version of ‘The Crucible’ to read [for class],” Mrs. Shockley said.

Although the transition has been comfortable for the two, that doesn’t mean it was always smooth sailing. During the holidays, both agree that getting homesick is a very realistic possibility.

“I don’t feel homesick, but it [might] come during Christmas,” Kumpfel said.

Not only emotionally, but transitioning physically has been another hurdle for them to avoid. One of the biggest being the food.

“I’ve had to get used to the food,” Jansen said, “[Here] it’s [more] unhealthy. [In Germany] we cook a lot for ourselves, so it’s more fresh.”

Despite these hardships, they always made it a priority to remember why they had come in the first place.

“I want to improve my English,” Jansen said. “[It’s a] new experience, new friends.”

And according to Shockley, Jansen’s wish is coming true.

“I think that her English is improving just by being immersed daily, I have seen that,” Mrs. Shockley said.

Even though Shockley has never taught an exchange student before, and wasn’t sure what to expect this school year, she has yet to experience much struggle with it during class.

“I have to keep reminding myself that sometimes she may not understand what I’m saying, but when I ask her if she understands things, she she says she does,” Mrs. Shockley says, “I thought maybe that I would be spending a little bit more time with her, and maybe I should be, but I ask her [if she needs help, and she says] she’s fine. I keep telling her, ‘Come up and ask me if you need anything’, and she seems to get through it okay.”

Krumpfel had similar motives to Jansen, but they were all her own.

“I wanted to make a new experience and get to know another culture,” Kumpfel said.

Don’t be afraid, and go on new adventures!”

— Klara Kumpfel

Keeping these motives in mind, Jansen has been able to face these challenges with a smile, and Shockley commends the courage it takes.

“I can’t imagine what it would be like to be immersed into a culture where it was my second language, and I was just learning it and then having to go to school on top of it, and do the assignments and she’s doing really well in that aspect,” Mrs. Shockley said.

Since coming to America they’ve been able to participate in activities, find new friends, and experience a new culture. One thing that both found interesting is how different the education system was.

“Everything [in America] is very different. Your school is the most different,” Kumpfel said, “you can choose your lessons, and… it’s crazy. [In Germany] we have to take every subject.”

Before actually visiting America, the only knowledge Jansen had was that the school system was different.

“I [only knew] the school [was] different here than in Germany,” Jansen said. “In Germany I have school until one. Here it’s until 2:20. [And here we] can choose our classes, so we can get [more variety].”

Her limited knowledge and expectations for her time in America led Jansen to be nervous about making friends, but Mrs. Shockley hasn’t seen problems related to this.

“[Jansen] was accepted really well [on] the first day of school by the other kids in the class,” she said.

Not only the school itself, but also its additional events are an exciting part of the culture switch for the girls.

“I’m excited for homecoming and prom,” Kumpfel said prior to the homecoming dance, “[In Germany] we have something like prom, but we don’t have homecoming.”

Jansen was also able to enjoy the homecoming dance

“I did see her at homecoming, and she was having a great time, she even said that. So I know that she doesn’t feel on the outside of things,” Mrs. Shockley said.

Overall, both Jansen and Kumpfel can agree that their experience has been a pleasurable one. Kumpfel as enjoyed the school especially.

“School [has been my favorite part]. I love school so far,” said Kumpfel.

Jansen has also found her own set of joys since making the transition from Germany to America.

“[I’ve loved] making new friends in another country, so I can come back home and say I have friends in America,” Jansen said.

If there’s one thing Kumpfel has learned from her exchange experience so far, it’s that you have to take risks to make gains.

“Don’t be afraid, and go on new adventures,” Kumpfel said.