Hosts with the most needed for visiting German students


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TOWAMENCIN — On Saturday, October 13th, forty-two German exchange students will jump off a bus and dive into the cultural maelstrom of Lansdale, PA to eat cheesesteaks, watch football, and experience two weeks of American life.

“[North Penn’s exchange program] has been going on since the sixties, and it’s just been such a great experience,” said Mrs. Michelle McLarnon, a math teacher at North Penn tasked with overseeing the placement of German students with American host families.

“The International Friendship Committee does a lot of fundraising, and their goal is to try to do as much as they possibly can,” MacLarnon said, adding that the committee hopes to expand to include even more exchange students in the future.

However, McLarnon’s first priority is finding enough host families to accommodate the influx of German students.

“For about 5 or 6 school days, the students actually come to school and we try to set up experiences like the pool or going to the planetarium; one of the goals is to take them to a football game that Friday night. . . the other days, they’re going to be [in] to Baltimore, New York City, Philadelphia, and Lancaster,” she said.

In addition to providing meals and a place to sleep, the host families “get to spend the weekends with the kids, and the high school student that is hosting gets to show the German exchange student around.” explained McLarnon.

Cheyenne Cravener, a senior at North Penn, welcomed an exchange student into her home last year.

“[The International Friendship Committee] brings them over in October, which is a really cool time because Halloween is not a big deal in Germany like it is here. We went to Freddy Hill, to a pumpkin patch. . . we also took a day trip to the beach. It was up to us to plan small, local things to do.”

Claire Sprang, a senior who also hosted, spoke about trying to make a foreign country feel like home for her exchange student.

“It’s really hard for them – they’re coming from Germany all the way to here, their parents aren’t around, so it [homesickness] was a little tough. I didn’t expect that. But moving forward, [the best way to fix that] is to keep them happy, to be extremely welcoming, to let them know that you’re just excited that they’re here.”

Despite the inevitable challenges, hosting an exchange student inevitably produces a flood of unique intercultural experiences for families and students alike.

Said Cravener, “[we decided to go to] a haunted hayride and a haunted corn maze, because they don’t have any of that back in Germany. We were going through the haunted corn maze, and then all of a sudden things started popping out at us, and that’s when [our exchange student] started cursing in English. . .then we were on the haunted hayride, and there was a guy who hopped on the actual car with a chainsaw – but then the chainsaw ran out of gas. We couldn’t stop laughing about it,” she finished with a smile.

But perhaps the most stark example of the exchange program’s lasting impact comes from McLarnon, who witnessed an exchange that literally ended in a world championship.

“My neighbor took on an exchange student last year, from Spain, and it was just amazing seeing her growth. . . she came over to introduce herself to my two girls, who were in high school at the time, and they hit it off immediately. . . [the exchange student] had never played lacrosse, and my seventeen-year-old is ‘lacrosse all the time.’ We happened to have a mild winter that year, so [my daughters] taught her how to play, and she tried out for the team, which was really cool. She took videos, sent them to her mom, and her mom happened to know somebody in Spain that had a club team.”

The coach, impressed by her skill, invited her to play for his team in the World Lacrosse Championship.

“She went from, in January, not even knowing how to pick up a lacrosse stick, to, by July, in the world cup for women’s lacrosse,” said McLarnon.

Would Cravener and Sprang recommend hosting? The answer is a resounding yes.

“The more you talk, the more fun you have. . . if you’re someone like me and you need a bit of a kick to get outside of yourself and be more outgoing, I think it’s a good decision to try,” Sprang concluded.

Host families aren’t required to have students who currently attend North Penn High School. If you are interested in hosting a German exchange student, see Mrs. McLarnon in room F127 or email her at [email protected] for details.