For the first time since 2018, Pioneer and Huron high schools will participate in the Sister City Exchange Program, an every-other-year tradition in various forms since the late 1960s.
A group of high school students will visit Tübingen for three weeks this summer, after Tubingen sends a group to Ann Arbor this spring.
The pandemic meant that our trip in the summer of 2020 was canceled, so this coming summer will be the first one since 2018.
And right now, the programming is looking for host families.
“If you have a place for a student from May 15 to June 4, and can provide meals, contact me,” says Huron German teacher Andrew Smith. “Host families are not expected to provide entertainment or activities. The program will do that. Naturally, hosting families are welcome to participate in the program’s events, but are not expected to do so.”
Smith says hosting families in Ann Arbor have often developed decades-long friendships with the German students they’ve hosted, noting: “Some of those high school students are now 50 or 60 years old, and still in touch with the AAPS families who hosted them. Hosting an international guest can be fun and create opportunities for contact years into the future.”
Moving forward, it remains to be seen if the program will resume the every-other-year rhythm or do something different, Smith said.
Ann Arbor established a sister-city relationship with Tübingen in 1965, and shortly thereafter, AAPS students began to exchange with their counterparts. Over the decades, the program has varied slightly, but its basic outline remains the same.
Every other year, in the springtime, Tübingen sends a group of students from two of its high schools. Some of those students are hosted by Huron High School, and some by Pioneer High School. The German teenagers live with AAPS families for two to three weeks, attend classes at Huron and Pioneer, and get to see some of the sights of southeastern Michigan.
Later that same year, a group from Huron and a group from Pioneer travel to Tübingen, stay with families there for two to three weeks and attend classes at the high schools there.
Ann Arbor families have enjoyed hosting these German visitors, and many of them keep in touch decades later. Hosting is a fun way to get to know somebody from another country and explore global culture.
This summer, four AAPS teachers are scheduled to accompany students to Tübingen: Robert Lederer, Danielle Capitan, Andrea Clyne, and Anna Craigmile.
Huron & Pioneer’s Sister City Exchange Program is part of a national program called the German-American Partnership Program (GAPP) and that’s the product of the U.S. Congress coordinating with the German Parliament.
Liam Goff was between his sophomore and junior years when he was part of the German exchange program for two weeks in the summer of 2018.
“We had to decide during the first semester if we were going to be a part of it and I was nervous because I wasn’t sure that my German skills were going to be good enough,” he recalls. “When the German students arrived in January, however, and I saw how nice all of the students were and I met the people I would be staying with, I knew it would all be okay.”
He says it was freeing to receive the train cards at the start of their trip that allowed them to travel anywhere within a certain distance from Tuebingen free of charge while they were there.
“As a 16-year-old kid who didn’t have a driver’s license, to no longer rely on my parents and friends to get everywhere was a liberating and empowering experience,” he says. “I took the train to school in the morning with my host family and then after school I took the train to where my friends were staying.”
The students were also able to visit Stuttgart, a short from Tuebingen, and Erfurt, which was a smaller but more historic city in the east.
“It was a completely new experience to me where I was unfamiliar with the language and culture, and it helped me to figure out what I thought was important to my life without pressure from people around me,” says Goff.
“I think the German exchange program at AAPS is fantastic because it offers high schoolers a type of independence they’ve never felt before while still having other Americans and teachers around to help them through the uncomfortable parts. The trip certainly changed the trajectory of my life, and I’m sure it will also have an impact on more than a few of those who participate in the future.”Liam Goff
Tomas Stegemann was also on that trip to Tuebingen, and fondly recalls also visiting Erfurt, Stuttgart, Holzgerlingen, Berg Hohenzollern, and the Roman ruins.
“The time I spent with my friends is the thing that sticks out the most in my memory,” he says. “We saw beautiful sights together, explored together, ate good food together, suffered jetlag together, joked around and got into trouble together. I value those memories, those friendships, a lot. Beyond that, as one might expect I look back fondly on getting to explore the German language, culture, and everyday life first-hand in such an immersive environment.”
He said that he, like most of the students, hosted a student from Germany. In fact, he said his family has hosted a few exchange students from multiple places and it’s always been a good experience.
To become a host family for a German student, contact Smith at email@example.com.