This is the sixth article in the 2019-20 academic year series ‘Opening our homes and minds: West Hartford’s AFS foreign exchange students and their host families.’
Interviewed and edited by Jamie Cohen, AFS volunteer (now), host sister (1980s) and returnee from Japan (1984)
Meet Jula Zwicker (pronounced “Yoo-lah”) from Cottbus, Germany. She is here as a winner of the prestigious Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Scholarship (CBYX) and is one of seven foreign exchange students living in West Hartford this school year.
Hi, Jula! Tell us about yourself.
Hello! I am 16, and a junior at Conard High. I am here with AFS, and I am living with a great family. They hosted two other exchange students before, so I knew that they were a good family. I have one American sister here and one German sister who is currently studying in Spain. I can also count my family’s other [previous] AFS students as family – Axel from France and Anna from Austria are my “other” siblings – do you know them? I’m from what used to be East Germany, and my town has about 100,000 people.
Why did you want to be an AFS exchange student?
My sister did an AFS year – but in Brazil. She told me all about it, that she made new friends, new language. That it was such a great opportunity. So I researched about the CBYX scholarship, applied and got it! If I didn’t get the scholarship to come to the U.S., I probably would have gone to Spain or Portugal for my exchange year.
What are the biggest cultural differences between Germany and here?
I think in America everything is just bigger, more colorful, crazier and a bit more overwhelming than where I come from in Germany. I think the school here has a lot more diversity, and that here you have the chance to be who you are here – it’s not a problem if you wear sweatpants, identify as LGBTQ, or even what religion you are. And here I really like that I can do sports and theatre in the school. There is so much more choice.
What have you liked about Connecticut and West Hartford?
It’s an interesting question, because even though my city is much bigger than WeHa, West Hartford has so much more to see and to do. I think that the community is really wonderful here. Everyone seems to know each other, and even in restaurants people ask me how I am … in Germany no one would ever do that. I think people are much nicer and open-minded than where I come from. I also think that I’m really lucky to be here because we have such a great AFS community, too.
What do you do outside of school here?
In the fall, I was on the swim team. And now I’m in the school musical – I’m in the ensemble! (I’ve been excited about the audition for the musical since my host mom told me about it before I arrived.) I also do a lot of stuff with my host family. My family really likes to have parties, so we have a lot of friends over all the time, which I really love. I am also lucky that we have a great AFS squad in our town, and we do a lot of things together.
What would you like people reading this to know about:
Germany: Germany is not only pretzels, beer, and lederhosen! (That’s only in the southern part.)
Hosting an AFS exchange student: I think anyone who is interested should totally do it. As a host family, you can share your culture, and also learn about a new culture. If you go for vacation, you just see the sights and never get to know the culture. Hosting is way to really understand the world.
Being an AFS exchange student: If you are thinking about being an AFS student, you should really do it! Even if it’s not always the dream life every day, it’s the life where dreams can come true!
If you are interested in hosting an exchange student, or if your high school-aged student would like to participate in an AFS exchange, please contact Jamie Cohen at [email protected] or visit afsUSA.org.
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