“Welcome to the United States of America!”

It took the German GAPP (German American Partnership Program) group almost 24 hours to get from Ingolstadt in Bavaria to Springfield, Illinois. At Springfield Capital Airport very late at night on Thursday, 10th October 2013, we were given a very warm welcome by our host families and our exchange partners and they immediately made us feel at home - so far away from home. The next day, after a very short night, we went straight to Springfield High School, the school we would attend the next three weeks. There we had the feeling of going through the set of the TV series Glee while following our students to their classes.


The following weekend was a family weekend so we explored Springfield, went on our first shopping trip or just relaxed a little bit. With Monday being Columbus Day we didn’t have to go to school but did our first sightseeing tour and visited Washington Park. We went up the Rees Carillon Tower, listened to Abraham Lincoln’s favorite melody on chimes and enjoyed a great view of the park and downtown Springfield. Afterwards we had free time and almost the whole group had lunch together. We soon learned that Abraham Lincoln is probably the most famous American President and that he worked and lived in Springfield before he became President. During the next week we saw all the Lincoln sights, such as the Presidential Museum and Library or the Old State Capitol. The whole GAPP exchange program stood under the topic of urban development so we also saw some very important architectural sights, e.g. the Dana Thomas House. On Friday night the last home game of the SHS football team took place and really everybody was there to cheer for the Senators. Actually, they won so the evening was a great success. We already identified very much with SHS. One of the German GAPP students was there to reinforce the cheerleading squad.

On Saturday we first drove to Cahokia Mounds, the remains of a Native American tribe, and then we made our way to St. Louis and visited the Gateway Arch. The view from the top was spectacular and nobody wanted to go back down again. On Wednesday and Thursday we attended an elementary and a middle school and made a visit to the University of Illinois at Springfield. The school system is totally different compared to the one in Bavaria. We saw lots of customs and things which were new to us.

On Friday then, the day we all couldn’t wait to come was finally there: our trip to Chicago! We had to get up very early to be on time for the train... apparently the train wasn’t.

So we had to wait for over one and a half hours until we could get on the train. After almost four hours on the train we reached the third biggest city in the entire United States. And instantly we experienced the rush of a big city as we had to get our boat within 15 minutes. During this architectural sightseeing tour on the water we saw the most important buildings and when we went out on Lake Michigan we had a wonderful view of the skyline of Chicago. At 2 p.m. we had an appointment at the office of Helmut Jahn, the German-born architect who has designed many buildings in Munich and Chicago. After we had been given a very interesting tour through his office, we took the elevator up to the 40th floor and had a breathtaking view of Chicago’s streets and tall buildings. Then we had some free time for our shopping on Michigan Avenue until we met again at the Hard Rock Café and then went to Gino’s East, where we had a typical Chicago style pizza. The whole group spent the night at a youth hostel and in the morning we went up Willis Tower, the former Sears Tower. On the top we had the most magnificent view you could ever imagine. Everything below us seemed so small. In one of the four glass boxes, what were installed at one side of Willis Tower on the 103rd floor, we stood on a pane of glass and then had 1300 feet between our feet and the ground.

After we had taken our group picture in front of “the Bean” in Millennium Park, we again had lots of free time to go shopping, which was very good because Michigan Avenue is very, very big and you could spend a day only in the Water Tower Mall, before we had to meet again at the Union Station and we took the train back to Springfield. On Monday we had our musical evening “From Bavaria, with Love” in the SHS auditorium. We presented some music and dance acts as well as a poem and our Ingolstadt movie.

On the following night we watched the presentation about our stay with the best pictures at the Farewell-costume-party. We all were very sad that we would have to leave so soon, because we all loved it here. We loved our host families and our exchange partners, some very good new best friends. We just loved Springfield, St. Louis and Chicago. We loved just everything, all the new things to try, all the interesting differences, all the important experiences.

We are so glad that we were able to participate in this program and that we were given such an amazing chance, which has left such a deep impression on all of us. A huge thank you to Mr. Grossen, Mr. Koeppel, Mr. Reichert, Mrs. Campell, Mr. Schirmer, Ms. Spielvogel and Mr. Müller, our principal of Gnadenthal-Gymnasium in Ingolstadt, and everybody else who has made this possible!

Now we are very much looking forward to seeing our exchange partners again next June in Ingolstadt. Then it is us who will help them feel at home. We can’t wait to say: “Welcome to Germany!”

Stefan Frey

Gnadenthal-Gymnasium Ingolstadt · Kupferstraße 23 · 85049 Ingolstadt

Tel: 0841-93870300 · Fax: 0841-93870399 · verwaltung@gnadenthal-gymnasium.de