STLCC Exchange Students Find Welcoming Atmosphere in America
Thursday, December 16, 2021
For the 22nd year, St. Louis Community College is helping students from Germany gain hands-on professional experience in their chosen academic or occupational field while deepening their understanding of American culture.
Hannah Flock, Florian Kempinger and Celina Korzer are attending STLCC through the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals. CBYX is a fellowship funded by the German Bundestag and U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, that annually provides 75 American and 75 German young professionals, ages18½-24, the opportunity to spend one year in each other’s countries, studying, interning, and living with hosts on a cultural immersion program.
Cultural Vistas has administered CBYX for Young Professionals for more than 35 years, together with its partner organization, Cultural Vistas Europe, which is based in Berlin.
“This program helps our efforts in internationalization of the campuses and fosters a better understanding between students and communities from the two nations through educational and cultural exchange. The program involves various college departments, faculty, staff, and the community. Besides hosting, we have also sent our students to Germany through this program. We have a great and lasting relationship with Cultural Vistas,” said Christopher Sulincevski, STLCC’s district coordinator for international education.
When the students arrive in the United States, they participate in a week-long orientation by Cultural Vistas in New York, after which they depart for their respective colleges.
Once they arrive at STLCC, the students go through our own orientation during the first week and they complete the admission process and course scheduling.
During the fall semester the students take four classes (12 credits) in their field of study/work and other academic interests. During the spring (January-July) they are required to complete full-time paid internships with local businesses.
The students live with host families, which compels intense cultural experience and exchange. The students are required to get driver’s license and buy their own vehicles. They arrive on Exchange Visitor (J-1) visas and obtain social security numbers so they can legally work in the United States.
“Besides culturally and academically, the students advance by gaining work experience with local business in their academic and career fields. The support of the local business community is greatly appreciated,” Sulincevski said.
CBYX is open to candidates in all career fields, and applicants from a broad range of backgrounds are selected for the program each year.
“This is one of best German groups thus far,” Sulincevski said. “I’ve received excellent feedback from their teachers and host families. The students excel in all aspects and are joy to work with.”
Meet the Students
Flock, 18, is from Markt Rettenbach, a small village in south Germany. After completing her exchange experience, Flock plans to return to university, and would like to teach accounting and German tax law at a vocational school in her home country.
She is majoring in accounting and has taken four classes at the Meramec campus. Her favorite one class is photography, in which students use film cameras and develop their pictures in the darkroom.
She will start an internship with Aldi’s Supermarket in January.
Flock graduated from high school in 2018. She was 15 at the time.
“Normally you start applying for jobs or for a continuing school in ninth grade. Since I really enjoyed accounting in school, I wanted to work with it. I knew that I want to study to be a teacher really early, probably around seventh grade,” Flock said. “That’s why I did a three-year long apprenticeship as a tax clerk. I continued learning things about accounting, met new people, and learned how to interact with clients. Because of my good grades, I shortened my apprenticeship to two and a half years. I planned on teaching Accounting and German tax law on a vocational school in Germany after my exchange year and of course after the years of college.”
The coronavirus pandemic nearly crushed her dream opportunity to come to America.
“When i started my application in May 2020 I thought the pandemic wouldn’t last this long, probably like everyone else,” she said. “When I got accepted for the scholarship in February 2021 and the COVID-19 pandemic was still a thing, I tried to not be too excited in case it got cancelled. But I was optimistic through the whole application process, and after the time I got accepted. Every single one of us was concerned about it.”
Upon arrival in August, Flock immediately discovered two things she had never experienced: St. Louis heat and humidity. She and her host family visited local tourist attractions, including a ride to the top of the Gateway Arch. She also has traveled to Chicago, Memphis, Niagara Falls and Washington, D.C.
Flock has learned that Americans are not “fake friendly,” dispelling a German cliché.
“Now I know that is wrong,” Flock said. “I really like to get compliments for my outfit or get greeted randomly. Those are little things which make my days. You probably won’t hear something like this in Germany very often.”
Kempinger, 24, is from Murnau, a small town near the Bavarian Alps. He is completing a programmable logic controller course at Florissant Valley, as well as classes at Meramec. He will begin his internship Jan. 17 at Hydromat, Inc.
Before this exchange opportunity, Kempinger has worked in a small company that produces packaging applications for medical and pharmaceutical products. Upon returning to Germany, he would like to study automation.
An avid outdoorsman and cyclist, Kempinger and members of his host family hiked at Elephant Rock and Castlewood state parks.
“My favorite was when my host dad, one of my host brothers and I biked a part of the Katy Trail,” he said. “It is beautiful as it follows the Missouri River.”
On a prior trip to the United States in 2019, Kempinger took a bicycle trip from Seattle to San Diego, and loved it. “The kindness and hospitality of people I met on the road really impressed me, and made me want to see more of the American way of life. When I heard about the CBYX program, I just had to apply.”
Kempinger, too, had to adjust to the heat and humidity, as well as “crazy cold AC” indoors. He also was concerned that his exchange experience would be put on ice by the pandemic.
“I was very concerned that even after all the preparation the program could have been canceled. The application deadline for my program was in September 2020. What followed were interviews, a motivational letter for the participating member of the German parliament and then a variety of preparation seminars for the U.S.,” Kempinger said. “Throughout all this time, participants knew that there is a huge chance that the exchange would be canceled, like the year before, because of COVID. It was May 2021 when we finally received the notification, that we'd be able to travel.”
After four months here, Kempinger has found that his favorite dish, aside from pancakes for breakfast, is Mexican tacos.
He also has learned to appreciate the value of little American social rituals.
“For example, asking ‘How are you?’ creates harmony, even with a stranger,” he said. “In Germany, you would greet only people that you know like this. When I go back home, I probably will adapt some new habits, like saying ‘Hallo, wie geht's?’ -- even to strangers.”
Korzer, 20, is from the village of Obermassing, near Greding, Germany. She is taking scientific computer programming, architectural graphics and technology, photography and stress management courses at Meramec. She will be interning remotely for Outcomes Based Electronic Research Database (OBERD), a software system for physicians and hospitals to effortlessly collect the data they need to make better decisions about the care of their patients. The company is based in Columbia-Mo.
Prior to her arrival here, Korzer finished an apprenticeship and is an official electronics technician. She also began studying for a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and information technology. She also found time to be a volunteer firefighter.
“I was always good in helping other people, and I also always really enjoyed it. My dad is also a firefighter and he is a role model for me,” Korzer said. “Volunteering at the fire department also combines technology and first aid, both is helpful in every life situation. It is not just helping other people it also educates oneself further.”
Korzer said she was more concerned about the exchange program being interrupted by the global pandemic, but is glad the opportunity was not cancelled.
Korzer said she really enjoys how open minded the people are here.
“Most people are so friendly and welcome you to the United States. I think I got at least one compliment a day, and that is just wonderful way to get used to the American way of living,” she said. “I also learned that U.S. citizens have a completely different sense of time. German people, for example, could sit for hours in just one in the same restaurant whereas Americans would never do that."
Korzer has been able to share her passion for baking and cooking with her host family.
“I bake at least twice a week, either cookies or cakes,” Korzer said. “I started baking German Christmas cookies. I already made four different kinds. My host sister often helps me baking and I write all my recipes down, so that they will have them in the future. Before I write them down, I always have to calculate all the grams into cups, tablespoons or teaspoons. I also enjoy helping my host mom cook. That is how I learn new recipes from them. As a host gift I brought a Bavarian cookbook, which helps us both, because it is already written in cups.”
Upon completing the program, Korzer plans to continue studying for her bachelor’s degree.
“I also hope that I can show my host family my life back in Germany. They are always heartily welcome to visit me,” she said.
Families interested in serving as hosts to STLCC’s exchange students may contact Christopher Sulincevski at 314-644-9671 or firstname.lastname@example.org.