MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Mahopac hosted some very special guests last week as 20 foreign exchange students from Germany came to town to soak up some American culture and make new friends.
Katrina Bauerlein, who teaches German in grades 7-12 for the Mahopac School District, is the co-faculty advisor of the high school German Club, along with fellow teacher Greg Brown, and helped facilitate the visit. On Monday, Oct. 21, the German Club held a potluck dinner in the high school cafeteria for the exchange students, their chaperones and the Mahopac host families. Bauerlein said it was the fifth time that the school has hosted German students and this experience has been the best one so far.
“I am very impressed with the caliber of the students,” she said. “This is one of the best relationships I’ve had [with a group] in the five times that I’ve done this. These chaperones have been amazing and provided some great structure for the kids. We hope to be working with this school again because they’re really fantastic.”
The students are from a school just outside of Heidelberg. On this trip, the group spent several days going to school with their host students and shadowing them from class to class. But they also spent time away from the school.
“The group is doing a lot of stuff on their own,” Bauerlein said. “They’ve done four days of school here so far where they shadowed their hosts. We do some activities in class where the kids get to know each other and explore cultural differences. And the days when they aren’t in school, they are doing excursions. They do two trips to New York, one to lower Manhattan and one to midtown. They saw the Statue of Liberty, Ground Zero, the Brooklyn Bridge. They will go to West Point, to Bear Mountain, have a hiking day, and go to the Walkway Over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie. And they went apple picking.
“On the weekends, they do things with the host families, like go to the football game,” Bauerlein added. “That is where they really get to immerse themselves in American culture and get to see what a typical American family looks like. And that’s really the crux of the program.”
Bauerlein noted that some of the Mahopac host students aren’t even taking German classes.
“Some students who are learning Spanish or Italian also wanted to host,” she said. “We have four different students who are not taking German but still wanted to host because they are interested in the cross-cultural experience.”
Ned Maguire was one of those students. He’s a Spanish student and the treasurer of the high school Spanish Club. But he is also an officer in the Cultural Club. He said the German Club reached out to him to see if he would like to host.
“When I heard they were offering German exchange students, I was happy to take one,” he said. “I am very happy that they came. They are all so much fun. I’ve taken them everywhere I go, and they are always so much fun in the car when we drive around.”
Maguire’s guest, Tobias Friedrich, was marking his first time in the United States.
“It’s great here,” he said. “The people are much nicer than in Germany. The atmosphere at the football game was great. Everybody was crazy.”
Friedrich said the trip into Manhattan was particularly impressive.
“We went to Liberty Island and saw the Statue of Liberty and we went and saw the skyscrapers and that was incredible,” he said.
Sam Faeth, an MHS senior and treasurer of the German Club, said she’s loved the experience of hosting a German student and has enjoyed taking her guest, Lili Ravalitera, around Mahopac.
“I want to show her everything,” Faeth said. “I am going out and showing her new restaurants and all around the lake. I am learning German from her. I am learning about stuff that we have but they don’t and stuff that they have but we don’t.”
As for Faeth’s guest, she couldn’t wait to come to America.
“I was so excited to come,” Ravalitera said in perfect English. “I always watch a lot of videos about the USA and read a lot of books about high school, so I was really excited. People have been a lot nicer than I expected them to be. In Germany, people are not as open as they are here. Everyone has been so nice and welcoming, and I love it.”
Ravalitera said it was hard to pick the experience she has enjoyed the most so far.
“The city was very impressive and interesting, but on the other hand there are the little things,” she said. “I can’t decide which is more exciting.”
Food has been a big part of Ravalitera’s experience.
“You have lots of sweets that we don’t have in Germany like Nerds and Reese’s—and the fast food is way better here, like the pizza,” she said with a big smile. “And we went to Chili’s and had a burger and that was really good.”
Mike and Mandy Muldoon, whose daughter Rebekah is in the German Club, are one of the host families. Mike Muldoon said it was fun giving their guest a taste of American culture.
“We went to the football game and she put the face paint on and got into the whole thing,” he said. “On Saturday, they went to the mall and then we had a bunch of the kids back to our house to carve pumpkins. It was the first time for them to do that. They don’t have Halloween in Germany. Then we had some Mexican food and it was the first time for them to have tacos.”
Mandy Muldoon said they planned to take their German guest to a concert in Manhattan that coming weekend.
“It turns out we had gotten tickets to go to a concert for an artist who is really big in Germany—Alec Benjamin,” Mandy said. “She has never been to a concert before.”
“We’ll have an Italian dinner in Times Square and then go to the concert,” Mike added. “It’s the whole Manhattan experience.”
Andreas Probst and Antje Hinrichs were the German exchange students’ chaperones. Both teachers, the two have been to the U.S. before but said this trip has been one of their best experiences.
“It’s a great time to be here in autumn during Indian Summer,” Probst said. “The hospitality has been so great and the parents of the kids at this school have been so welcoming.”
Hinrichs said she is more of an outdoor person and really appreciated a hike to Mount Beacon that her host family took her on.
“That was a really great experience. Fantastic views of the Hudson River from Mount Beacon,” she said. “You can even see the skyline of Manhattan. It was quite impressive.”
Bauerlein said that every two years, Mahopac juniors and seniors are eligible to go on a trip to Germany. Next July, they’ll be heading to a region near Heidelberg and she said many of the students might visit their former guests.
“It’s just been a great experience,” Bauerlein said. “They’ve all become friends.”
At the end of the potluck dinner, the German students were each given a Mahopac High School T-shirt, which they immediately put on. Then they had their new American friends autograph them—a souvenir from a time in their lives that they will never forget.