Mike and Sharon Gildein quickly discovered that the challenge of having two visitors from Germany staying in their Warminster home for three weeks was not going to come out of any language or cultural differences. Instead, the struggle of having Nora and Louisa in the same house as their daughter, Kim, came from the fact that no matter what country you are in, a teenager is a teenager.
"Just imagine having three teenage girls in your house at the same time," laughed Mike. "The bathroom schedule alone was impossible."
Nora and Louisa were part of a group of 22 exchange students from the Max-Selvogt Gymnasium in Landau, Germany, that lived with host families in the Centennial School District for the past three weeks. Students like Kim Gildein jumped at the chance to participate in the German American Partnership Program (GAPP) and share their corner of the world with their guests.
"I visited Germany in the summer of 2011, and I loved it," said Kim. "This is my first time hosting. I wanted to return the experience of being in a new place to somebody else. It's already a done deal that I'm going back to Germany and staying with Nora."
Centennial has been involved with the GAPP program since 1980, giving German language students at William Tennent a chance to take their learning out of the classroom and share experiences with German guests their own age.
"There are not the same opportunities to speak the language with people their own age as with Spanish," said Andrew Graff, a German language teacher at William Tennent. "There's the VE Club and the Hungarian Club, but they are usually for the older generation. With this, they can speak the language with people that have the same interests."
The German students were chaperoned across the pond by Karl Fiscus, who has been with the GAPP program since 1990 and watched as technology has helped make the transition smoother each year.
"In the early 1990s," said Fiscus, "the students would not even know who their host families were until they arrived. Now, with Facebook and e-mail, they keep in contact with their hosts well before they arrive. It's a much better experience."
When they weren't shadowing their peers throughout the William Tennent classrooms, the German visitors had a full schedule of sightseeing planned out for them. Their trips included days in New York, Washington D.C. and Center City. The entire group of German and American students also had plenty of fun in Wildwood and Hershey Park. Families like the Gildeins packed as much of the American experience into three weeks as they could.
"They went out shopping at all the malls and stores," said Sharon. "They had Philly cheesesteaks, Menchie's frozen yogurt, a day at Pepperidge Village. They carved pumpkins for Halloween for the first time in their lives. One of the girls said they heard Applebee's had the best food, so, of course, we took them there for dinner."
Gathered at the Gildeins' on a wet Sunday afternoon for a farewell party before leaving for home the next day, some of the German students reflected on their time in America and the things they got to see.
"I liked it very much," said Annika Zimmerman, who stayed with senior Jacob Arentzen. "It was my first time seeing the Atlantic Ocean. New York was great, the weather was very good that day."
"I liked seeing the high school," said Nora. "The classes were easier, not as strict like they are at home."
This was the first hosting experience for the Gildeins, and they recommend it for everybody.
"You really have to plan the trip well," said Mike. "They are very novice visitors to this country. You want to give them as many different experiences as you can. Even if you are apprehensive at first, you get really attached to the kids."