German American Partnership Program returns to Naperville North

Donate Today Buy This Video

20 students and two teachers from the German school Artland-Gymnasium Quakenbrück arrived in Naperville earlier this month for a two-week-long German-American Partnership Program (GAPP) with Naperville North High School. In June, 20 North students and German teacher Jonathan Justice will travel to Germany for the return portion of the visit.

This is the third time Naperville North has participated in this exchange and the first since 2018, due to the pandemic. Participating students get to visit classes in each country’s schools and live with a host family.

“In class, we learn the language, we talk about culture,” said Justice. “But it’s really different when I tell the kids, ‘In Germany, this is what breakfast looks like and this is what lunch looks like and this is what dinner looks like.’ When they actually go and they’re living in their host family and they get to see those differences. It brings it to life for them.”

How the exchange started

A longtime friendship between Justice and Thomas Heinze, a biology and English teacher from Germany, is what sparked this program at Naperville North. Justice worked and lived with Heinze in Germany over a decade ago.

“When (Justice) started teaching German, he came up with the idea of starting an exchange,” said Heinze. “So that was a great opportunity to do that, and we’ve done that three times. We’re really happy that we can keep it up after the pandemic.”

Living with a host family

Spending two weeks living with a host family helps students become fully immersed in the country’s culture, and the pairing of students helps create strong bonds between them.

“One of the things that’s really neat about GAPP is that it’s a real one-to-one exchange,” said Justice. “The student from North hosts the student from Germany, and then the student from North lives with that student in Germany when we go visit them. So they really become a part of each other’s families and each other’s lives.”

Chicagoland experiences for German students

Here in Naperville, German students took trips to the police department, fire department, and Naper Settlement. They also held a potluck dinner at North featuring German cuisine. And this past weekend, students and teachers hit the lanes at Bowlero.

Ria Pande, a Naperville North senior, enjoyed showing German students her everyday life.

“Getting to show where we are through a new set of eyes, showing the places we go to every day, the places we find very common, and seeing the excitement on their faces,” said Pande. “But I also really love having a friend to stick around.”

The students also got a chance to go to downtown Chicago, where they were able to catch a Cubs game, visit the Museum of Science and Industry, and learn about Chicago’s rich history during a guided tour.

“It was different than the cities we know,” said German student Mieke Blömer. “(There were) many different new things, and I just thought it was impressive.”

North students’ trip to Germany

German students at North will soon take their turn, and head overseas. Mercutio Reichel, a senior at North, is looking forward to her experience this summer across the pond.

“We start in Berlin, and we’re doing a bike tour of some garden there, and we’re going to see all the sights there,” said Reichel. “So that’s really exciting. And then I’m also looking forward to seeing how my student spends her daily life.”

German student Jonas Westendorf is eager to report back home about Naperville, and excited to introduce his new friends from North to his old pals in Germany.

“(I’m) excited to show them the photos that I took,” said Westendorf. “The students of America will get to us in June as well, I will be able to get them to know each other, and I’m pretty excited to show them what I experienced here.”

Justice is looking forward to seeing his students experience the other side of the program.

“A lot of when we learn stuff in school, it’s theoretical, and it’s learning to do these things that you might use one day,” said Justice. “(The exchange) takes German and makes it something for the kids that is real to them.”

If you have a story idea, we want to hear from you!