Every year since 1998, families have opened their doors to a student from another country for two weeks. Over 200 students in total from Thornton Academy and Carl-Jakob Burkhardt Gymnasium in Lübeck, Germany have traveled across the ocean to discover a new country, make new friends, and practice a foreign language.
Founded by Gary Roy from Thornton Academy and Dieter Annighofer from Carl-Jakob Burkhardt Gymnasium, the exchange was designed to promote cultural understanding and friendships between the two nations.
The group of TA students in 2017 pose in front of the skyline of Lubeck, Germany. Lubeck was one of few cities in Germany to not be bombed during WWII.
The premise of the exchange is simple: German students come to the U.S. for two weeks and stay with the family of a current Thornton Academy student. German and American students are paired based on interest and personality. The group from Germany typically stays for two weeks in early to mid-springtime. Then, the following year, the group of American hosts travels to Germany, where they stay with the student that they had hosted the previous year.
For many students, this is their first opportunity to travel abroad. In addition to deepening an appreciation for another culture, students gain a sense of independence and increase their self-confidence.
Thornton Academy student Crystal Zhang '14 (left) shares a final moment with her German Exchange partner at the farewell dinner in Germany in 2013.
Logan Casey, a current Thornton Academy senior, hosted a student from Lubeck two years ago, and traveled to Germany last year. “It’s crazy. You hop on a plane in Boston, and you get out, and everything is different,” Casey said about his first moments in Germany.
Thornton Academy German language teacher AdriAnne Curtis has participated in the exchange since 2007. She has noticed the numbers in her German classes grow. There are now more than 100 students taking German at Thornton Academy. For AdriAnne and her students, it is a very rewarding experience. “It’s an opportunity to live in another culture. You can’t get a cheaper or more tailored experience,” Curtis said.
TA student Cullen McIntyre '18 is welcomed at the airport in Germany by his host family.
Beatrix Wegener, a teacher of English and Spanish at Carl-Jakob Burkhardt Gymnasium has traveled to Saco two times with the exchange. During her time here, she has noticed differences between American and German schools. “There’s less school life in Germany. There are no clubs and teams in the school. While we’re here, we get ideas of how school works in the U.S.,” Wegener said.
German teachers Beatrix Wegener and Florian Strehl accompanied this year's group of 14 students.
Students throughout the twenty years have stayed in touch and visited each other, even after the formal exchange is over. Logan Casey and his exchange partner Nick Wenzkus became very close during the exchange. “Being matched with someone you don’t know is nerve-wracking, but my partner and I just clicked. We became like siblings. Nick’s a part of our family now,” Casey said.
Both Curtis and Wegener are already making plans for the exchange in 2019. They are hopeful that it will continue for another 20 years. “Once you’ve established a connection, it’s great to keep it going,” Wegener said.