Last school year, three CHS sophomore girls—Azul Gabrielson, Nelly Kohlgruber and Stella Robertson—individually went abroad to France and Germany and are now back as juniors in the United States. While their adventures abroad have come to an end, adjusting back into their normal lives is different.
While all flew over the Atlantic, they left for different reasons and through different routes. Robertson and Gabrielson went through the traditional foreign exchange programs for six and eleven months, respectively. Additionally, Gabrielson was immersed into a language with which she had no prior experience, while Robertson had taken two years of French. Nonetheless, she says it did not make the exchange any easier.
Contrastingly, Kohlgruber, a native German speaker, felt that she was losing fluency, influencing her decision to go abroad her second semester of sophomore year. During the first semester, her German friend, Sophie Barthels, lived with her in Carmel, and they went to Barthels’ home in Cologne second semester.
“It worked out perfectly, and my German improved greatly,” Kohlgruber says.
For the French girls, language was a barrier the first few days. According to Robertson, whenever someone would try to talk to her, she would not understand and would answer oui for everything and nod. Many times she could not articulate her thoughts in French, noting that calling her arm her leg was a definite highlight. Fortunately, by the end of her stay, she was at the fluency level.
“It felt amazing to speak French and to just overall have reached the goal that I had set to speak French and have fun with it,” Robertson adds. “There is just such an amazing sense of accomplishment after every conversation or history class.”
For all three of the girls, school was different than the U.S. According to Robertson, in the French equivalent to junior year, students are required to pick one of three subjects—science, literature or language—and study that in depth for the rest of their secondary education. Even at a school roughly the size of Carmel High, 70 percent of the student body was male because she attended Lycee les Iscles, which only offered the science option.
Right over the border into Germany, the experience differed. Kohlgruber was enrolled in 12 classes which met from one to three times a week. Additionally, she was able to learn a lot even with a lack of homework.
“My school was called Landrat-Lucas Gymnasium,” Kohlgruber says. “The schools there are 180 degrees different to American schools, in which they have three levels for each age group based on aptitude. They have education down to an art.”
While Robertson spent nearly her entire day outside of the house, she had much more free time, especially during the school day. Similarly to Kohlgruber and Gabrielson, she found herself able to try new things and spend more time with friends.
“The things I miss are infinite, but above all I miss my friends,” Robertson says. “They are the best and coolest people ever, and I miss seeing them.”
Many of the girls noticed a different atmosphere in their home-stay country and Europe as a whole, and some of them have brought those values back home.
“In Europe as a whole, life is more relaxed with far less stress,” Kohlgruber notes. “Something I gained from being there is more of a sense that things will be okay and that I can’t control anything by worrying.”
All of the girls experienced discomfort in their first few days just for being the “new kid.” Additionally, the new sense of freedom was surprising to the girls. According to Robertson, it was common for teachers to not show up to class, and students would be given the period free.
“When I was brand new, I was awe-stricken by the fact that at lunch breaks we were free to go eat at restaurants of our choice” Kohlgruber says. “Also, everything was really close and it was very different for me for everything to be so accessible. Being the newbie was a meaningful experience because it forced me to get over any shyness or doubts, and I learned how to be outgoing, open, assertive and welcoming.”
While the people and the food are being greatly missed, the girls are happy to be back home among their friends and families.
“While I was gone, I missed the people here and general friendliness of Americans,” Gabrielson says. “Overall it was a life-changing experience, and I hope that everyone who considers doing it, even for just a semester, will take the chance and go for it!
Back in their hometown, acclimating into their normal lives has been a struggle, especially after such an eye-opening experience.
“Adjusting back into school is very hard and, to be quite honest, I’m struggling a lot, but I’ll pull through,” Robertson says. “It can’t be harder than moving across the world to a country where I don’t know anyone and don’t speak the language.”