German Exchange Students


This postcard is from Bettina, a girl I met in Germany many, many years ago. I was an exchange student there and didn’t mesh well with Cornelia, the girl who was my host. She’d stayed at my house during April of 1982 and then I went to her house for a month in July. We knew in April that we didn’t have much in common, and that didn’t change once I was in Germany.

Fortunately, her father was eager to practice his English and took great pride in showing me all over Germany. I absolutely loved it! It was my first exposure to the “great big world out there” and I think it spawned my eternal wanderlust.

Cornelia did take me along when she did things with friends. It was one such night that I met Bettina. A group of us girls were getting ready at Bettina’s house, doing our hair, make-up, and trying on different clothes to go to a disco. I hit it off with Bettina and we became fast friends during the rest of my stay with Cornelia. (Believe me, Cornelia was just as happy about this as I was.)

Later that year, Bettina traveled to Kansas for a study-abroad program and sent this postcard to me. I don’t know if you can make out the words, but her last sentence is inviting me to stay with her and her family if I ever returned to Germany.

I have returned there many times. I lost track of Bettina by the end of high school, but remember her every time I look through my collection of postcards and see this one. And though it doesn’t sound like I had a good experience with the Exchange Student program, I loved it. I hoped that my children would take advantage of opportunities like this and later, my son did. He participated in the very same program to Germany. But unlike me and Cornelia, he and his exchange-mate, Thomas, hit it off big time! In fact, we all loved Thomas and were thrilled that he and Mac signed up to do the same exchange again the following year. In fact, they’re still in touch.

If  email and facebook had been around back then, Bettina and I might have kept in contact. Cornelia and I, too — maybe. Even though we didn’t quite become friends, it was an experience that changed my life.

What was your first exposure to the “great big world out there?”


15 responses to “German Exchange Students

  1. My first big experience with the “world” out there was when I went to UC Berkeley. Although it was only 150 miles away in distance, it was a whole world away from the small, rural town where I had been raised. 🙂 When I traveled to Africa to serve in the Peace Corps when I graduated from Cal, the culture shock wasn’t nearly as great. My wife, Peggy, traveled to Holland as an exchange student and lover her experience. –Curt

  2. I do recall the days of pen-pals from strange places. None of them lasted. I’ve never wished to travel – I doubt that, without a young family, I would ever have done my two ‘long’ trips to the Canaries and Florida. I guess I travel vicariously via your blog and others Julie 🙂

    • That’s interesting. It’s such an integral part of my personality that it’s hard to imagine not loving to travel. It’s similar to when someone says they don’t like to read. I can’t imagine what that’s like. But thanks for letting me share my travel tales with you.

      • There are some people here in Jersey that never travel the few miles into town Julie. And some of our youngsters have only a vague knowledge of their home island. At least I’m not that bad 😉

  3. What a lovely story about first worldly experiences. And it’s lovely that you’ve kept the postcard. Although I had travelled with my family & friends and lived in various countries, the first real worldly experience that empowered me was my gap year when I travelled on my own. That really opened my eyes because I was totally responsible and couldn’t rely on anyone else. It was a transformative year, to say the least. And like you, it prompted my wanderlust for years to come.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head. It was the traveling alone that made it so extraordinary. I was there with a family I didn’t really know, trying to speak a language in a place so foreign to me. It was scary and fantastic. That’s what I wanted my children to experience, too.

  4. What a great memory and it reminds me of a summer in high school, where I was invited/selected to go on a global conference for students around the world. (To this day, I still don’t know who nominated me but presumably it was one of my teachers then.) For ten days, I traveled to Vienna, Budapest, and Prague. It was the first time I’d been to Europe and met so many people of all different backgrounds and it really made me aware that difference does not necessarily have a value. We’re prone to judging people who live, act, and look differently from us when in reality, it’s just different. I’m glad your son had a good experience and that he’s doing the exchange again. It’ll make a difference in his life for sure.

    • I took a similiar trip to all the German-speaking countries the year after I was an exchange student. It was all life-altering, for sure. It opened up the whole world to me.

  5. I always regret never doing any kind of language exchange scheme when I was younger. I’m glad to hear that you had a good experience with it, though, and your son has had an even better one! 🙂

  6. What a great memory! I also participated in a student exchange program when I was 16. I went to Perth, Australia. It was indeed an experience that changed my life, that triggered my love for traveling and getting to know different cultures.

    • What a wonderful opportunity! I’d love to visit/live in Australia for a while. This clinches it. My daughter needs to participate in a program like this, too. We’ve been talking about it for a while.

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