Jamie and Caroline, or “Caro” as her friends call her, are PSE students from Germany attending a small private high school in Camden, Maine.
Caro is a Sophomore and had never visited America prior to this exchange year. Jamie, a Junior, had visited the United States with her dad and sister to visit relatives in Florida, as well as a brief trip with her family to New York.
Both Jamie and Caro decided to join the PSE program to learn about American culture, to improve their English, and to experience living and studying abroad. Moreover, Caro explains that her sister’s earlier exchange experience was very positive, so she decided to embark on one too. She says that she wanted to try something different, as her public high school in Germany has approximately 1,000 students, and the school she is attending in Maine is much smaller, with only 21 students, which she is enjoying immensely.
“My school is like a big family, and we hang out together in our free time. I’ve also learned that studying can be fun! I would say that I’ve learned more about Math in five months here than I did in over two years in Germany,” says Caro.
Jamie agrees that a smaller school setting has been beneficial to her as well.
“It was almost impossible not to make friends, and we have built a great community together. This school allows more intense studies and supports each student individually,” she shares.
As far as favorite subjects in school, both girls really enjoy learning Spanish. Caro states, “Before I came here, I did not think that I would have fun learning another new language besides English, but it is so much fun trying new things! I have always been interested in Science, so I really enjoy that class as well.”
Art class is another of Jamie’s favorites. “My school did an art project for which every art student had to reproduce a piece of one bigger painting. The panels were put together and are displayed in our town now. I thought that this was an amazing idea!”
Both Jamie and Caro adore their host families and appreciate them tremendously. Caro has enjoyed partaking in an abundance of activities with her host family such as ice skating, going on walks, hiking, baking, cooking, playing games, and skiing. She very much appreciates the bond she has formed with them.
“I appreciate that when I have a problem with something, I can just tell them (my host family). They immediately try to help me.” Caro shares. Her host mother, Ronni, shares the adoration for Caro. She explains how she is a wonderful addition to their family, bringing a lot of good energy to both their home and the school. She appreciates Caro’s positive, energetic, helpful, and happy personality.
“Hosting Caroline has been a wonderful experience. She is such a joyful person who spreads good cheer and positive energy throughout the house. She’s very tidy and helpful too, so that’s a nice benefit. Additionally, she has been teaching us some German. It’s so fun to be able to learn new words and phrases in another language!” shares Ronni.
Jamie has a similarly close relationship with her host family and is grateful for how they value family time. She especially enjoys her younger host sister, Izzi. She explains, “Depending on the amount of homework, we always try to spend time together after dinner. Izzi and I are responsible for making dinner one evening in the week. We enjoy singing songs together while cooking!”
Veronica, Jamie’s host mother, describes Jamie as one of the most intelligent, positive people she knows.
“She starts and ends each day brimming with sunshine! Our family really enjoys Jamie, and we love having her. She is a positive role model for us all.”
Veronica goes on to share that at dinnertime, their family takes turns sharing three good things about their day, and Jamie always has at least three. “She is social at home and at school. She is always ready to attend or host a gathering, and she smiles through it all,” she shares.
Some of Jamie’s favorite memories with her host family so far include swimming in the ocean, karaoke nights, making sushi, apple picking, and celebrating the holidays. Another favorite was when her host family took her and Caroline for a ferry ride to the islands off the coast of Maine. She recalls really enjoying and appreciating the beautiful scenery.
Both Jamie and Caroline have appreciated being surrounded by natural beauty.
“We’ve gone on so many hikes in the area, and each time we do, Caro is enthralled with the beautiful scenery and breathtaking views,” shares Ronni.
Not only have Jamie and Caro established close relationships with their respective host families and friends, but their friendship with each other has grown organically throughout the year. “After we had traveled and quarantined together, it felt like we had known each other forever!” Jamie exclaims.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, school trips, clubs, and activities have been limited or cancelled, however this has not stopped Jamie and Caroline from having a great time engaging in outdoor fun and staying busy. If the weather permits, they play tennis, ping-pong, basketball, darts, and go hiking. On weekends, they enjoy driving into town with Caro’s host sister, Morgan, to get lunch or go on walks, as well as spending time with family and friends around a fire, ordering pizza, playing games, and sharing their culture with their American friends.
“Caro and I try to teach our friends some German vocabulary words which is always hilarious!” Jamie exclaims.
They also have discovered a love for sledding, longboarding, ice skating, skiing, and the outdoors in general.
“Now that it is cold enough, I was able to go ice skating on a natural lake. That was amazing because I had never done that before,” Jamie recalls.
Jacki, who is the Local Coordinator for both girls, has nothing but complimentary things to say about both of them.
“Caro’s laugh is infectious, and she makes everyone around her laugh. Jamie is always willing to try to new things. She is very smart and conscientious of her work,” she shares. She comments on how both girls have really taken advantage of opportunities presented to them while in Maine and seem to be having a great deal of fun.
Both Jamie and Caroline have learned a lot from their time spent in the U.S., and they still have several months to go and much more to learn. In the beginning, Jamie noticed how everything she saw seemed larger and there seemed to be so many more options for everything than what she was used to in Germany.
Both girls have enjoyed getting to know Americans and expanding their understanding of American culture. Jamie comments on how she views Americans to be more “relaxed and open” than Germans, generally speaking.
“I have learned that people, at least the ones I’ve met so far, do not judge. What I mean is that they accept you just the way you are, and you don’t have to change yourself for them to like you. Americans are overall very diverse, but they have one thing in common. They are all very friendly and will try to help you whenever you have a problem,” Caroline shares.
Celebrating the holidays in the U.S. has been a real treat for both Caroline and Jamie. Jamie shares a few of her favorite holiday memories:
“Thanksgiving was the holiday I was most looking forward to because it is typical American to me. Although we couldn’t do a big family gathering, it was a wonderful experience. We invited a neighbor over and literally spent all day eating! My favorite food was the blueberry pie that my host mom made.”
She continues, “For Christmas, my host sisters and I enjoyed baking and decorating sugar cookies. Also, my host family and I wore matching pajamas which I thought was fun. I will try to convince my family in Germany to do this as well!”
Halloween was also a unique experience. “My younger host sister, Izzi, and I invited some friends for a party. My host sister, my host mom, Caro, and I did our make up to look like the rock band, Kiss,” she explains.
Reflecting on how their experience on the program has impacted them the most, Caroline and Jamie both had insights to share.
“I’m so glad that I chose to come to America. It helped me to understand that I do not have to be perfect in order to be a good person, and I found people who accept me just the way I am. It also made me more independent and taught me to enjoy the little moments in life. Also, it has helped me in setting my priorities,” Caroline shares.
Similarly, Jamie has developed a sense of independence as well. She explains, “The exchange year has given me self-confidence that I’m able to do things on my own. I like the feeling of independence that I have now. Nevertheless, this year has shown me that responsibilities and organization go hand in hand with that.”
Before the school year ends, the students have personal goals that they would like to accomplish. Jamie would love to visit Boston, cross the Canadian border, and perhaps travel to another state. Caro looks forward to spending more time with her friends and family.
Jamie, having never lived with pets before, states that she will greatly miss the three dogs and two cats that she has grown attached to.
Ronni explains that hosting has changed their family.
“I highly recommend hosting an exchange student. I feel like we’ve added people to our family forever. Not only do we have a bond with these students, but they bring so much richness into our lives. We get to learn about another culture, hear another language, and these experiences expand our world,” she shares.
Similarly, Veronica shares that their exchange experience has been not only fun, but also a great learning opportunity.
“We have learned about a new language and culture. We have discovered a daughter we didn’t know we had. Our family has embraced Jamie, and we threaten to keep her and send a pet home in her place,” she laughs.
Jamie says that the exchange experience has helped her think more about the future. Even though she is uncertain about specific plans, she can imagine attending college in America. At this time, Caro has an interest in going into the field of Medicine. Whatever their futures hold, we wish them both the best!
Jacki closes with this message for the girls:
“Caro, never stop laughing! Jamie, keep smiling!”
Written by Flo Ruiz; Edited by Ann Steffen