German student gets taste of American life at Mount Abe

BRISTOL — A German exchange student at Mount Abraham Union High School is eager to see more of the United States, and is competing in a contest that would send him to California.
Hendrik Schubinski, 16, is spending the school year with the Knight family in Bristol — parents Porter and David, and sons Bryson and Liam.
To do it, he’s taken a year off from his secondary school in Germany to participate in AFS, a global student exchange program based in the United States.
Schubinski said he first became fascinated with the U.S. after visiting New York City with his family two years ago.
“I’m interested in learning about different cultures, and English was always a language I was familiar with,” he said.
Now, he has entered a contest run by AFS, which invites exchange students to produce a slideshow or video of a favorite or memorable experience living with a host family. Using video production skills he learned from a class at Mount Abe, Schubinski depicted living with two brothers (he is an only child) and assimilating into his “adopted” family.
The exchange student with the most votes for their video wins an all-expense paid trip to New York, Chicago, San Francisco or Washington, D.C. Schubinski said he would choose San Francisco so he could see the West Coast.
“I’ve never been there, and it is fascinating to me,” he said.
Readers can view Schubinski’s video at http://bit.ly/1zpbpJa and vote on that same page. The contest runs through April 28.
Schubinski hails from a small city near Hannover in central Germany.
After enrolling in AFS, Schubinski could have been placed anywhere in the United States. Two of his friends ended up in California (a prime destination for exchange students), but Schubinski ended up in rural Vermont. In a completely new place and far away from his parents, Schubinski vowed to make the best of the experience.
“I set goals before I got here, which were to find new friends and have relationships that last a long time,” he said. “I also wanted to experience new things, visit colleges, try new food and do a bit of traveling.”
He said he is glad to have experienced small-town America, and said he was surprised to see how intertwined Mount Abraham Union High School is with the community.
“American school spirit is a really big thing, and is something that is totally not existing (in Germany),” he said. “For soccer games, the whole school came and watched us.”
Schubinski said this is very different from Germany, where schools aren’t viewed as community institutions. He said students socialize and play sports outside of school.
“School is just for studying, and then you go home and do your own thing,” he said of his school back home.
At Mount Abe, Schubinski played soccer in the fall and now plays on the lacrosse team. While soccer is popular in Germany (the men’s national team won its fourth World Cup title this past summer), lacrosse was entirely new to him. But he picked it up quickly, and enjoys the sport.
“It was fun to learn here, and it’s really cool,” he said.
He’ll also be attending Mount Abe’s prom, a uniquely American tradition.
Schubinski confessed that the United States has not been all as he expected. He was (pleasantly) surprised to learn that Americans don’t eat all that much fast food, a perception that exists in Germany.
“It’s actually very similar to Germany,” Schubinski said of American cuisine.
Porter Knight said her family wanted Hendrik to experience life in Vermont, so they took him apple picking and introduced him to hunting. The Knights also took him to visit colleges along the East Coast.
The Knights have hosted exchange students before, but never for an entire year. Porter Knight said she wanted to host students as a way of paying it forward — she herself was an AFS exchange student during high school.
“I spent my junior year in England, and hosting had always been an interest for us,” she said.
Schubinski said he would wholeheartedly encourage other students to study abroad.
“It’s an awesome experience that you may never get in your lifetime again, and totally worth it,” he said. “It may be hard, and you may not speak the language perfectly, but everyone who can should do it.”

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