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[ Berichte > Berichte für das Jahr 2012 > Bericht vom 18.12.2012 ]

Generational exchange

German student settles in at high school 30 years after his mom

Thirty years ago, two German teenagers fell in love. Not with each other - though they would go on to marry and raise a family, they'd been dating for years already by that point. Instead, they fell in love with Concord.

It was 1981, and Elke and Andreas Eckers were members of the first German-American Partnership Program exchange between Concord High School and the Maximilian Kolbe Gymnasium. Last week, their son Tobi arrived to spend a year in Concord, the first second-generation "GAPP-er" as the program participants call themselves. His mother came to America with him to help him settle in, and yesterday, when they went to Concord High to set his class schedule, she reunited with her former teacher, Yvonne Crocker, for the first time.

"Guten Morgen," they said, smiling and hugging in a guidance office at the school. "It's nice to see her again," Elke Eckers said, smiling at her former teacher. Crocker, who retired in the early 1990s, said through a delicate accent that she is "elated" to see the exchange program continue through generations of students.

"There is so little opportunity for children who learn a foreign language in school to use it, so it can become a textbook language instead of a living one," she said. The exchange program also gives the students the chance to be "open to different cultures, different habits and different lives than their own. I hope once they see these things, they are not negative about something different from their own lives."

Tobi, 16, spent a month in Concord last fall, the 30th anniversary of the trip his parents once took. They sent him bearing a photo album for Crocker, full of pictures of the first GAPP-ers, sitting on the curb in front of the State House, standing on Main Street, and a crystal clear photo Elke shot of the Old Man in the Mountain. Tobi's month in New Hampshire last year was eventful: he got to go swimming in the unexpected October heat and trick-or-treating in the even more unexpected October snowstorm. Other students sang to him almost daily for weeks before and after his birthday. That last bit was embarrassing, he said with red cheeks and a sheepish grin, but he has high expectations for what he'll see by staying the whole year this time.

"It was my dream since seventh grade to do an exchange program," he said. "I'm looking forward to skiing, which I've never had the opportunity to do. We don't get much snow, and we've only had one white Christmas in Germany, so I am excited to see if we can have another white Christmas." He's eager to learn more about American culture, too, but he's already made a few observations. The bread here is not as good as in Germany. The bacon and the burgers, though, are much better.

The quantity of Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister stores in America is also superior. In Germany, there is only one Abercrombie, teens have to stand in long lines to buy anything there, and because of the high demand, nothing ever goes on sale. Tobi will be taking German 5 at Concord High this fall, and teacher Laura Ernst is thrilled to have him. She took over coordinating the exchange program in 1995. "It's great for all the kids, having a German speaker in class," she said. "It adds an extra level of authenticity."

More than 100 students at Tobi's school apply for the month-long exchange each year, but only 24 came to Concord in the fall. The problem, Ernest said, is finding host families with students who both take German class and share similar interests to a German student, so they can bond in their free time over shared activities.

Tobi is the only one from his school who is here for the whole year. Tammy and Mark St. Gelais were Tobi's host family last fall, after he was matched with their son, Tyler. Tyler is off to college this fall, so the St. Gelaises are easing into empty-nesting by taking Tobi in for the year.

"He was so excited when he asked, and I was so excited for him, I said sure. We were just so excited to give him the opportunity, but then I realized, we'll have to start carpooling again," because Tobi doesn't have an American driver's license, Tammy St. Gelais said, laughing.

"I think he's very lucky," Elke Eckers said. "He knows his host family and it is all the best he can get, in Concord. Concord is wonderful." She hasn't been back to New Hampshire since her time here as a student in 1981, and she had a long list of places to revisit in the past week: the State House, Main Street and the mountains.

"A lot of things have changed," she said, but some of her favorite parts of New Hampshire are still the same. "The clouds, I remember," she said. "We have clouds, of course, but there's always rain in them so we don't like them. The clouds here are so much prettier."

Von Sarah Palermo
Concord Monitor (24.08.2012)