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German students participate in virtual exchange

The path to becoming fluent in a language requires much devotion from its pursuers, as time and commitment are required to truly strengthen one’s comprehension.

Many of our students pursue the task of learning a new language, as Godwin offers a variety of differing language classes available.

Kristen Macklin, Godwin’s German teacher, has overseen an exchange program since 2015 between Godwin and our partner school located in Germany called the Chritsian von Mannlich Gymnasium.

Partner schools often serve as a possibility for students from different countries to meet and befriend one another.

“Many European countries have partner cities or counties with other European or international cities to help promote cultural understanding,” said Macklin.

These first exchanges were face to face, during which 20 German students from the school stayed with host families from Godwin for two weeks during the fall semester.

German students even attend Godwin, as well as field trips offered during their time of visit.

Once these students return home, Godwin students had the opportunity to participate in a reciprocal visit for about two weeks in June, an exchange supported by the Goethe Institut, which fosters the importance of German culture around the world.

“Both in person and virtual exchanges provide an authentic purpose for language learning and increase motivation. At the same time, they also provide the students a chance to increase their global awareness. Many times, especially with face-to-face exchanges, students develop new connections and friendships that are long-lasting,” said Macklin.

Due to the effects of COVID-19, this exchange program has been revamped to an online process, as Macklin still wanted her students to have an opportunity to interact with German students from our partner school.

The Goethe Institut devised a new virtual exchange program called German-American Virtual Exchange (GAVE).

“The idea is to partner U.S. students with German students for about six weeks and participate in a variety of online activities to help each group gain a better understanding of the other country’s language and culture,” said Macklin.

The online format of these virtual exchanges has only enabled more opportunity for students, specifically those who may have not been able to serve as host family, as there is no restriction for participation with these virtual exchanges.

“I believe this is the first year that the exchange program is being conducted virtually due to the pandemic, but we are still able to interact and communicate with our German partners, and in addition, we are completing many activities and assignments online regarding our daily lifestyle, school and future education, our favorite things, and other interesting topics,” said Godwin sophomore Riya Chawla.

Students in Macklin’s German class were informed of the virtual exchanges during class and students were given the chance to sign up if interested.

“I wanted to learn more about Germany, and how school and daily lifestyles were different outside the U.S. I also wanted to improve my German, especially with virtual learning. I am glad I took this opportunity to gain exposure of German culture and the language,” said Chawla.

Wellness Wednesdays are now utilised by Macklin and students involved, as the late morning calls via Zoom align fairly well with the six-hour time difference in Germany. The Zoom calls typically last for an hour and have been taking place for about six weeks.

Originally, students from Godwin as well as those from our partner school would participate in cultural games to learn more about one another. Now the duration of the calls is mostly spent in different breakout groups, where students congregate to discuss certain topics.

“We’ve gone in breakout groups to talk with each other about many topics such as what our favorite foods are, what we like to wear, what our daily school routine is, what cultural differences we have, what cool places are around where we live, and many other things,” said Godwin senior Eddie Huerta.

“We also had a map activity where students gave each other directions around the area to get to places of interest and then view them on the Internet. We also have a virtual pretzel baking planned for our last meeting,” said Macklin.

Godwin students are partnered up with students from our partner school, typically grouped off with those of similar interests, indicated by an information sheet filled out at the commencement of these virtual exchanges.

Social media can be employed as well, enabling partnered students to keep in touch whenever they would like.

“I talk with my partner almost daily! We are good friends now and I hope to meet her during the in-person exchange!” said Godwin junior Scarlett McCurnin.

Each week, breakout rooms are switched up to expose students to new scenarios, while also offering a chance for Godwin students to befriend fellow German students. 

The verbal aspect of language learning may seem arduous and daunting for those first discovering new languages, but with dedicated practice and time devoted to perfecting it, it will become an easy feat. The virtual exchange has been an even more interactive way for students to get the speaking practice they need for AP exams, especially those who want to study abroad and pursue their German speaking until becoming fluent.

“I truly enjoy talking to the German students, so whether it is having a conversation on my phone with my German partner, or just in the breakout room meetings, the communication and speaking aspect of the exchange is my favorite part,” said Chawla.

For the senior students involved in the exchange, there remains an even higher sense of reward for those able to participate in full conversations in German during the exchanges.

“I wanted to learn the German language and its culture so I can connect and communicate with people who speak German. It’s really rewarding to know that you can communicate effectively with others in a different language,” said Huerta.

There remains hope that these exchanges will once again return to face-to-face, though this year has remained a success for all those involved regardless of its virtual format.

“I learned a lot about the cultural differences! It was very interesting to meet new people my age that have similar interests as me that also helped me with my foreign language learning. If you get the opportunity to do an exchange, do it!” said McCurnin.

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