Two Worlds Collide: German Exchange Student Shares Academic Experience

September 28, 2016




Photo by: Lauren Gallegos — Junior Sarah Schlappa said she is adjusting to the amount of writing that is expected of her in the American school system.

By Lauren Gallegos

Of the 470 scholars enrolled at The ASK Academy, junior Sarah Schlappa traveled the farthest to be here. A foreign exchange student from Germany,  she decided to come to the United States because she was looking for an adventure.

“I wanted something else than this boring school day, every day. I wanted to see something new,” Schlappa explained. She wanted the all-American high school experience she had seen in TV shows like Gilmore Girls.

Getting placed in New Mexico was based purely on the availability of a host family with the same values and interests as her. For example, she and her host family both love nature and the outdoors. Schlappa also wrote on her application that she was good with kids.  Her host family has three younger children whom she adores. The oldest of these three children is a middle school scholar also enrolled at ASK.

Schlappa admitted that she was a bit disappointed when she first heard that she would be attending a small charter school rather than a typical American high school. She was afraid she would miss out on school sporting events, and other stereotypical teenage “normalcy” such as cheerleaders and football players being the popular crowd, which she associated with traditional American schools. But after spending a few weeks at ASK, she has realized that this is a nice fit for her after all.

Schlappa has chosen to take classes in the Biomedical field, hoping to one day become a doctor, and she enjoys the small class size.  Schlappa’s friend from Germany was placed in Texas this year. Since the population is so large at a school like that, “Nobody knows each other — you are nobody there,” she said. Her friend told Schlappa how easy it is to get lost in the hustle and bustle of a large school. This can be a difficult adjustment for a teenager from another country.

When asked about how Germany and the United States compare, Schlappa said, “Everything is different; I can’t think of anything that is similar.” She enjoys New Mexico’s blue skies, warm temperature, and open spaces filled with nature in comparison to Germany’s grey skies and crowded city atmosphere.

Like many other teenagers on their first school day at a new school, she was worried she wouldn’t find sincere friends. Fortunately, she was able to find people she shared the same sense of humor with. Schlappa said when she first arrived in New Mexico, she was confused about why teenagers in the United States go to the mall to hang out with their friends. In Germany, people only go to the mall if they need to buy something. When friends want to socialize, she said they go over to each others’ houses, or go out on weekends to dance at clubs, which have an age requirement of 16 rather than 18, or 21. However, the legal driving age is 18 in Germany.

 English is her third language, after German, and her second language, Polish. She was taught English in school from the first grade on. Although she speaks English exceptionally well, she said it has been extremely difficult for her to adjust to the American school system’s way of assigning copious amount of essays. She was not used to writing longer pieces of work even in German; she was accustomed to class discussions instead. Fifty percent of her class grade was participation in class, and the other half was determined by the scores she received on the six exams students take each year.  ASK is especially different because it is a technology based academy. Students in Germany do not have any homework online and cell phones and laptops are not allowed in classrooms.

Overall, Schlappa feels like the German school system is better than the American school system. For example, American teenagers may be assigned 30 easy math problems, and in Germany, that teenager would be assigned five extremely difficult problems. Schlappa believes by being challenged with the harder problems, she is able to learn more versus learning based on repetition.

On the other hand, she feels like American students are able to form better relationships with their teachers and likes how her project managers at ASK are more laid back and give scholars space to work on their own.

It is mandatory that she repeats junior year in Germany when she returns home, so the weight of receiving good grades in every class at ASK is lifted off her shoulders. Becoming a foreign exchange student can be nerve-wracking and a hard transition, but Schlappa’s advice to anyone interested in the program is to have a positive outlook on the experience no matter what happens.

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  1. Two Worlds Collide: Adventure Comes to an End | ASK Catalyst - May 17, 2017

    […] Catalyst staff member Sarah Schlappa is an exchange student from Germany who joined the ASK Academy for the 2016-2017 school year as a junior. The end of her exchange year approaches, Schlappa reflects on how the past year has changed her for the better. You can find the beginning of her adventure here. […]

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