Trucks, high schools, and pancakes – ‘Everything in America is bigger’

German Exchange Program Part 2: Four German exchange students share their thoughts on living in Los Alamitos


Bella Kim

Schwarz (left) and Hinic (right) in Mrs. Franzen’s classroom during journalism.

Bella Kim, Staff Writer

LOS ALAMITOS, CA — Exchange students from Stuttgart, Germany have been staying with Los Alamitos High School students for two and a half weeks through GAPP, the German American Partnership Program. In Los Al classes, they have given multiple presentations about German culture and schools. The GAPP students’ immersion in American high school life concludes today, Thursday, Nov. 3.

Sophomores Janina Schwarz, Marie Hinic, and Lilli Wendling are GAPP students from Paracelsus-Gymnasium Hohenheim (PGH) high school in Stuttgart. Jakob Hirschberg, junior, is an exchange student from Kaiser Wilhelm and Ratsgymnasium (KWR) high school in Hanover, Germany. He is staying with a Los Al student for the rest of the school year through PAX, Program of Academic Exchange. Hirschberg, Schwarz, Hinic, and Wendling shared their experiences staying in America.

The following interviews have been edited and combined.

Q: What were your expectations about the U.S.? What do you think about living here, has it met your expectations?

Hinic: Really warm. The freeways are different because yours are huge [with] many lanes. [Ours have] three.

Hirschberg: It’s pretty cool. Especially California, the weather, the palm trees. There’s huge trucks everywhere; unbelievable sight. [I expected] a lot more cars. Around Germany, you have pictures of America with a lot of fast food stores, which kind of met the expectation. I’ve never seen so many hats, like baseball hats.

Wendling: Everything in America is bigger. We view the whole of America like you view Texas.


Q: What expectations do you think Americans have about Germans?

Wendling: I think the most [common] stereotype for Americans about Germans is drinking beer. Also the Bavarian traditions like leather trousers.

Hirschberg: A lot about what I first heard was the Autobahn, our highway or freeway system. A lot of mostly older boys spoke about German cars.


Q: Has Los Al met your expectations about American high schools?

Hirschberg: Kind of. It’s pretty similar to the movies: “10 Things I Hate About You,” all these classics, “Back to the Future.”

Hinic: Personally, I imagined the school like it is right now.


Q: How is Los Al different from PGH and KWR?

Hirschberg: It is way bigger. I think a school with this many students would be in the top five [biggest schools] in Germany. My school has 800 students. And [Los Al is] way more athletic. We don’t do any interesting athletic activities, usually, in school.

Maybe the time I spend in school because in Germany I spent from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. in school. And then I did nothing for school because I finished my homework already at the break. I had all free time. Meanwhile, here I’m coming back around 4 p.m. and then I do certain homework or go to football games.

Schwarz: In one week we have 14 subjects and every day is different.

Hinic: [Los Al] is also really huge.

Schwarz: Yeah, we only have 500 people. We know all the [other exchange] students.


Q: Do you have popular sports or programs at your schools?

Hirschberg: Yes, but on a way less professional level, it’s just for a very small hobby. You have one hour a week or something. I was in the chess club for a few years.

Schwarz: I’m in choir. At the end of the year we have a soccer game.

Wendling: Most clubs, like sports clubs, are outside of school.


Q: What presentations have you given in Los Al classes?

Hinic and Schwarz: German food.

Wendling: I did German stereotypes. We always meet up for first period to get the times when we have to do presentations.


Q: European students acquire many more languages at a much earlier age than at American schools. What languages (besides German) do you speak and when did you start learning?

Schwarz: English since first grade. And then I learned French in sixth grade.

Hinic: We have Latin in school and I have learned since sixth grade. Spanish since eighth and English since I was five.

Hirschberg: In school I learned Latin and ancient Greek. My school offers English, Latin, ancient Greek, and French. And we had a Spanish club.


Q: Where have you visited while staying here?

Schwarz: Santa Monica, Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood. I saw the Hollywood sign. I walked through the [Walk of Fame] and went to [downtown LA].

Hinic: [There were] a lot of homeless people [in LA]. San Diego is so pretty. We went to Joshua Tree and camped there. It was cool, but it was kind of windy.

Hirschberg: I was windsurfing in Naples Bay. It was pretty cool even though I fell in the water.


Q: What other U.S. cities would you like to visit?

Hirschberg: San Francisco, and of course, New York.

Hinic and Schwarz: New York!

Hinic: It’s so popular. You hear everything about New York. You see pictures on TikTok.


Q: Which American celebrity would you most like to meet?

Hinic: Charlie Puth.

Hirschberg: Timothee Chalamet. I know that he bought a house [in LA] a few weeks ago.


Q: What’s the best or weirdest food you’ve eaten here?

Wendling: I’m living with a Mexican family, so self-made fish tacos.

Hirschberg: I drank a one-and-a-half-liter milkshake. It was horrible. I was sick the day after, but it was an experience.


Q: What food do you miss the most from home?

Hinic: Spätzle. It’s little pieces of pasta dough.

Wendling: German pancakes because they’re thin [unlike American pancakes].


Q: How did you celebrate Halloween? Do you celebrate differently in Germany?

Wendling: I was a partner of my exchange partner. We were the penguins of Madagascar.

Hinic: I was a schoolgirl. We went to a party and then we went trick or treating.

Schwarz: I was a cheerleader. We go trick or treating too [in Germany], but it’s not as big.

Hinic: Yeah, every family celebrates, and the houses are really decorated here.


Q: What’s one word to describe your American experience?

Hinic, Schwarz, and Wendling: Exciting!