New Program to Bring Foreign Exchange to Lakesid

German teacher Dr. Yesim Ozbarlas plans to implement a German foreign exchange program at Lakeside starting in the summer of 2020, using the Goethe Institute’s German American Partnership Program (GAPP) to help create and sponsor Lakeside’s study abroad experience.

The students who will have the chance to study in Germany with Ozbarlas won’t need any prior experience in speaking German. “I was very open [to allowing non-German speaking students] just because it’s not all that common for Americans to go abroad, while it’s much more common for Germans and most other Europeans,” said Ozbarlas.

The trip will last for two weeks and costs $2,550 per student. The payment will include the cost of the flight, the $250 per student funding from GAPP, and the costs of the day trips to Amsterdam and Antwerp.

The host family will provide for food and accommodations and the students will stay in Rodenkirchen, a town close to Cologne, Germany. The students will attend a German high school for one to two hours a day to see how German education works. “Most of the time, we’ll do a lot of cultural immersion, like going to different cities around Cologne, museums, different landscapes,” explained Ozbarlas.

Despite having such an enriching experience, students will not receive course credit for the trip abroad.

While teaching at Emory, Ozbarlas gave course credit for trips similar to GAPP’s program. “I’d love to give credit for this trip, and I definitely think it’ll help with the students’ foreign language skills. I can give a placement test at the end of the trip and see how much the students improved, but there’s administrative things that would need to fall into place, so giving course credit probably won’t happen for a while,” said Dr. O.

Other students have found ways around these tricky course requirement restrictions on foreign exchange. Claudia Johnson studied abroad in the U.K. her sophomore year. Since the program Johnson found to study abroad with ended before the final exams, she couldn’t earn any credit to make up for her semester missed at Lakeside. “Counselors and teachers were like ‘I don’t know if you can do that, I don’t know if that’s possible’ but I said no, I’m going to do it anyway. I mean, sure I’m taking sophomore classes as a senior, but it was a great opportunity that I’m so glad I just went for.”

Through a survey, 41 percent of students surveyed students said they have considered studying abroad, but only 22 percent had heard of any opportunities here at Lakeside.

Many said “no” because they “hadn’t heard of it” or “never thought it was even an option.” Those who replied “yes” cited the following reasons: “wanting to learn a language”, “wanting to see a new place and meet new people”, or even just wanting to “explore more”. While programs like Ozbarlas’s and even the French trip organized by French teachers Henri de Vastey and Ashley Blackwood serve as steps in the right direction for Lakeside’s future in studying abroad, 78 percent of students had never heard of any opportunities to study abroad at Lakeside. When they do hear about these opportunities, though, it still doesn’t replicate a full-length foreign exchange program. “I went on the French trip to expand my foreign language ability and travel to new countries… but the experience was very different than what I expected; it was all very fast-paced and I wish I could have been there longer,” said senior Bethany Zegura, who traveled on the French trip over the summer of 2017.

Some Lakeside students have pursued longer travel programs. NSLI-Y, for example, extends over six weeks in the summer. This year, Lakeside had five students apply, including senior Lydia Wiederholt. “I first found out about NSLI-Y when Leila Baniassad went to China last year, but I didn’t really look into it until I talked to more people this past year and found out more details,” said Wiederholt. “I love the idea of traveling, learning new languages, and communicating with more people because international communication really can open the door to conversations between cultures; it’s a way for countries to work together and allows us to appreciate our differences as humans,” said Wiederholt when asked why she considered applying for this program.

Studying abroad achieves the undeniable benefits Wiederholt discusses among many others. “I’ve been doing this [studying abroad] all my life and I know the impact it has not only on your language skills but also on your person. You grow, you change, and that’s good for a person, to see and learn. Because if you’re always in the same place, you’re not thinking the same way as someone whose traveled,” said Dr. Ozbarlas, who studied abroad to over four countries as a student.

The lack of both opportunities and information at Lakeside regarding study abroad can change, though, through more open and accessible conversations about foreign exchange programs, similar to other schools across the state. North Atlanta High School, for example, advertises The Kennedy-Lugar YES Abroad program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y).

Both programs provide scholarships for American high school students and recent graduates to live and study abroad. But these competitive programs apply to Arabic, Mandarin, Persian, and other languages not taught at Lakeside.

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