News From the Students, For the Students

The Griffin Gazette

News From the Students, For the Students

The Griffin Gazette

News From the Students, For the Students

The Griffin Gazette

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Hallo, America!

Los Al German American Partnership Program (GAPP)
Teri Steinberg
Marina Zeba and Issy Steinberg watching the sunset in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.

LOS ALAMITOS, CA — Have you ever thought about letting strangers from Germany live with you? Me neither. At least, that’s what I thought until that question became reality. 

Los Alamitos High School has an exchange program in which high school students from Stuttgart, Germany get to experience the United States. GAPP (German American Partnership Program), headed by Mr. Hansen, Los Al’s sports medicine teacher, is a program that gives German students the opportunity to live through the perspective of an average American teen. 

During the 2022-2023 program, 18 German students from Stuttgart, Germany were matched with 16 Los Al students. I was one of them. My family signed up to host two German students over the course of three weeks, and we weren’t sure how to prepare. The week before they arrived, I shoved another bed into my small and cluttered room and an air mattress in my brother’s room for his student. We made a schedule containing all of the things we were going to do throughout our time with the students. 

“[I] panicked. I cleaned the room multiple times and bought so much stuff for Maja,” said Ashlynn Mengel, a Los Al senior and American host student.

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After about two meetings with Mr. Hansen and the group of host students, it was the day before the exchange students came. My family finally got our contact information of the Germans we were hosting: Marina Zeba and Jasko Kosovic. We only knew each other’s names. 

German Exchange students dressed in red Los Al gear as they enjoy the Homecoming football game. (Issy Steinberg)

On Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022, I woke up full of excitement and nerves. I dressed and pieced together a poster reading “Welcome to the USA, Marina.” It was time to go to the airport. We waited for about two hours, and finally the students started to come up the ramp. Mengel and I stood next to each other, nervous and confused. We didn’t even know what our students looked like. We waited for them to find us as we held the signs with their names on them. After finding each other and exchanging an awkward side hug, we all went to In-N-Out for a classic American lunch. We spent the next day exploring the city and getting to know each other better. 

Monday, Oct. 17 was their first day at Los Al. We met in Mr. Hansen’s room to take roll and were sent off for our normal schedules. The German students went to each of the same classes as their host, but some wandered off. On the first three days, I ended up with eight of the students coming with me to participate in my math class. Apparently, they all learned Algebra in seventh grade.

My favorite memory is driving to Laguna. The whole trip was a memory.”

— exchange student Annina Loths, junior.

Fast forward one week, and we all became very close friends. I got to know all 18 of the students, even the American host students. We hung out at lunch, after school, and on the weekends. Zeba and I spent every minute of every day with each other, and she became like a sister to me. 

My family and I took Zeba and Kosovic to all the wonders of So Cal. We went to see the Hollywood sign, Walk of Fame, Santa Monica Pier, Venice Beach, and so much more. They really wanted to go to Disneyland, so we ditched school for a day and went. We were there from when the park opened, until they closed; by the end of the day, we couldn’t feel our feet.

German exchange students and host students on a hike in Joshua Tree, California. (Mr. Hansen)

The German group had a few plans together such as camping in Joshua Tree and visiting San Diego. The American hosts had a choice to go camping, so a few of us went. It was a super windy evening and we were trying to set up tents, which are two things that should not be happening at once. The tents were blowing around, and we didn’t have stakes to keep them grounded, so we used screwdrivers and whatever else we had laying around. As crazy as this experience sounds, it was the one that brought us together and built stronger bonds. 

“My least favorite part was sleeping in a tent,” Zeba said.

As the end of October was approaching, so were all of the fall holidays. Halloween isn’t very celebrated in Germany, so the students were excited to experience it. We took a few trips to Spirit Halloween, trying on goofy costumes. Kosovic decided to go as a 90’s rapper. We carved pumpkins, which was not a fan favorite. I personally love scraping out pumpkin guts, but Zeba and Kosovic thought otherwise. We shared laughs and looks of disgust as they carved their first Halloween pumpkins. 

You really don’t understand how amazing it is until you get involved.”

— Mr. Hansen

After another week, those laughs we shared turned into tears we shed. It was our last day together, and I couldn’t even think about having to say goodbye. Who would have thought that the German Exchange students would become my closest friends? At first, I wasn’t sure about them even coming, but then I didn’t want them to leave. 

Zeba and I sharing our final “goodbye” hug at the airport.

We walked into the airport, and seeing everyone together, I felt a wave of emotion looking at some of my best friends, and realizing that I have to say goodbye. We stayed together in the airport until the very last minute. After exchanging hugs and tears, the Los Al hosts watched as their German friends walked away. It was the end of the journey. Or was it? 

Stay tuned for the follow up article: “Hallo, Deutschland! – GAPP goes to Germany.”

It still isn’t too late to sign up to host this year. If you’re interested or have questions, contact Mr. Hansen for more information at  [email protected].

CLARIFICATION: The account described in this article is from the German exchange program during the 2022-2023 school year, not the current school year.

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About the Contributor
Issy Steinberg, Staff Writer | Reporter
Issy Steinberg is a senior at Los Alamitos High School and new to Journalism. She is interested in writing articles on music and pop culture trends. Issy likes traveling the world, learning new things, and hanging out at the beach, where she enjoys sitting on the sand and reading a book. Whether she is restoring a car or thrifting for a new wardrobe, Issy always has time for her friends and family.  You can contact Issy at [email protected].
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Comments (5)

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  • C

    Christine LeeSep 22, 2023 at 9:56 pm

    Really enjoyed the personal perspective of your experience as a host. Very thoughtfully written.

  • L

    lfranzenSep 22, 2023 at 9:59 am

    I love the inside look you provide here! Thank you for sharing this experience.

  • E

    Ella SuosSep 22, 2023 at 9:21 am

    Issy, the wittiness and sensitivity of your little memoir was so compelling and great. I love love love this article!

  • M

    MelissaSep 21, 2023 at 6:48 pm

    A very talented writer….thanks for sharing.

  • K

    Katie A.Sep 21, 2023 at 3:15 pm

    This is such a beautifully written article! Great job!