Guest blogger – Kate Lauer, GAPP 2014
This guest post is contributed by Kate Lauer, a former student at Memorial High and GAPP participant in 2014. Kate is entering her senior year at the University of Minnesota, where she’s studying biochemistry, en route to pursuing a medical degree.
There are a lot of things in life you simply cannot learn from books alone, and German is one of them. From seventh grade through senior year, I studied German, learning to master basic verbs, all the der/die/das/den/dem/des rules, and every day phrases that would get me by in rudimentary conversation, should I happen upon a German speaker in the Midwest who did not speak English. These lessons formed a fantastic foundation for my German knowledge, but there was a part of my German experience that could not be fulfilled in a classroom. The GAPP program offered the perfect application of my German skills, allowing me to become acquainted with the culture by fully immersing myself in the German world for three weeks while also hosting the same student I would stay with in Germany. The two-way exchange made the experience even more genuine, and a close relationship formed between our two families. The trip itself was absolutely fantastic, providing ample stories and memories. Traveling as a small group, we became close-knit before we even landed in Frankfurt, having survived an impromptu detour to Norway and the ensuing luggage fiasco. There is nothing that warms you up to the German culture quite like a group of sleep deprived Americans wearing their host sibling’s clothes to their first day of German class. We visited during the World Cup, so the soccer fever and public viewings were certainly highlights, even if Germany beat the United States (as expected) en route to the title. Salzburg was a personal favorite, highlighted by frolicking around the Sound of Music fountain, posing by pickle statues, and summiting the mountains. Riding and navigating the trains became a hobby. Touring the Dachau concentration camp was one of the most eye-opening moments of my life, putting the events of World War II into perspective. And, of course, there was the food. A fine diet of Döner (cheap, delicious, Turkish gyros), Apfelschorle (carbonated apple juice), soft pretzels, Schwip Schwap (the end to the Pepsi vs. Coke debate), and Currywurst left me reluctant to leave Germany. When I returned to American soil with a backpack full of chocolate and Haribo, I knew there was truly no better way to end my foreign language experience. In the years since, I have realized my GAPP experience catalyzed my global awareness and left me curious about other cultures. Prior to the trip, I had never left the United States and thus largely assumed life was fairly uniform amongst developed nations. Discovering this was not the case left me more in tune with my assumptions about what is “normal,” an important awareness to have in the real world. The GAPP program showed me everything I learned in the classroom was similar to a black and white picture book. With the guidance of GAPP, the pictures came alive in vibrant color through lived experiences, adding invaluable depth to my foreign language education and world views. I would highly recommend the GAPP program, as life is a lot more fascinating in color.