GAPP Exchange Journal 2012
----------------------------------------------Goodbye Dinner / Departure
We were in the final hours of our three week GAPP student exchange visit with König-Karlmann-Gymnasium in Altötting located in the state of Bavaria, Germany. In the concluding event known as the Goodbye Dinner, we were serving up burgers and accompanying summer picnic style salads to our German guests to thank them for all their support and efforts to make our experience a tremendous success. Following the consumption of the best cheeseburgers ever, prepared with abundant love by yours truly, it was time for the remainder of the program to commence. Each of our students had been working throughout our stay on a short speech of thanks they would deliver in front of the all the families participating in the exchange. Of course, the tricky part for them is it would be delivered in the German language. One of the goals of the exchange is for students to take the opportunity to make use of and improve their foreign language skills within a real world setting. One by one our students took center stage and were handed the microphone to take the spotlight and read their speeches, thanking their host families for all their hospitality and a public farewell to their German brothers and sisters. Some tears were shed as some of the bonds formed during our stay became very strong and often develop into long term friendships that can last a lifetime. Many of the German students would travel to the United States the following summer to mirror the experience by staying with the families of their American partners in Lititz, Pennsylvania. The Goodbye Dinner serves as an informal closing ceremony to the exchange causing the final realization that we were homeward bound.
Taylor Delivers her "Danke" Speech
The final person to take the microphone was Andreas "Andy" Galneder, the German teacher in charge of the GAPP exchange at KKG. The theme of thanks and appreciation resounded again to the host families but also to the teachers who had worked so hard to bring the entire 21 day experience to life. Andy's American counterpart, Wendy "The Frau" Andrews, deserved much acclaim for her hard work and tireless efforts throughout the trip. Andy paid special tribute to her in his remarks and she in turn expressed her gratitude to all present. Danke, Danke, Danke.... Our kids did very well with their speeches and now it was time for the final act. It is tradition to end the Goodbye dinner with a cultural dance. In our case that translated to a hillbilly themed line dance to the song "Cotton Eye Joe". It was about as far away from Dancing with the Stars as our hometown of Lititz was from Altötting! However, it was a fun way to end an evening that had been a little sad. Our kids dressed up in flannel, jeans, and straw hats to put on their best rendition of backwoods redneck hillbilly at a hoedown barn dance. Unfortunately, I had forgotten my bib overalls, pouch of chewing tobacco, and courage at home. Despite the kids best efforts to have me join them in their display of Appalachian culture at its best, I pulled the old high school football injury card and remained a spectator on the sidelines. First our kids performed the choreographed line dance, which they had been practicing in secret, for the crowd. It was hilarious, a rhythmic display that would make any country bumpkin proud! Following the conclusion of act one, they restarted the song again, this time with their German partners joining in the dance to abundant laughs and cheers.
WHS + KKG = Country Line Dance
Our final evening had come to a close and now all that was left to do was return to my home away from home in Tüßling one last time to finish packing. But before I would climb the two flights of stairs to my attic flat for the last time, Andy and I shared a final toast of what he dubbed as "real" beer. Prost! We toasted one another and reflected on some the fond memories we shared during my visit, promising to stay in touch. During my stay, I made many new friends with whom I continue to correspond and whom I look forward to seeing again one day. Of all the great places I had the privilege of visiting and experiencing during our trip, it was all the friendly people I met along the way whom I would remember and cherish most in my memories. One more final "real" beer and it was time to turn in for my last night in Germany. I was really going to miss my little apartment with the beautiful view of the Bavarian countryside. I opened up the windows, including my overhead skylight hatch to let the cool night air fill the room. I stood within the skylight space, as I had almost every night and looked out over the sleepy village of Tüßling with the outline of the hilltop church visible in the moonlight. Within minutes the familiar red passenger train thundered by on its way toward Altötting. I was really going to miss seeing it but my thoughts were also carried 4,200 miles west to Lititz, Pennsylvania. I had really missed my wife Susan and our two children Katelyn and Tyler during the trip, especially over the last week. Finally, it was time to get my bags in order, double check my to-do list, and lastly, try to get some sleep.
Sunrise View from my Window
After a restless night, I prepared for my final foreign morning routine, starting with the challenging bathroom space I had conquered with 21 days of practice. After falling out of the bathtub on my first morning, I had learned to compensate for the sharp slanting roof by learning to shower on my knees. Now it was a piece of cake / strudel and I wondered if it would be a difficult transition to taking a shower from an fully upright standing position again. Our flight from Munich to Frankfurt was very early and as a result, we would not all be sitting down around the familiar breakfast table this morning. However, both Leo and Amalie had gotten up extra early just to say goodbye. They were curled up together on a bench in the kitchen with sippy cups fully inserted and at work but took a break for a quick kiss goodbye. Angela, always concerned for my well being and comfort, had packed me a bag filled with breakfast treats I could eat on the way. It was hard to say goodbye. I really appreciated all the Galneder family had done to make my stay in Bavaria so great. Even Andy's parents Anton and Martha had appeared in their first floor doorway to say Auf Wiedersehen. I put on my favorite souvenir, the awesome white German styled hat I had purchased at the Bavarian Sea and we loaded up the car with my luggage. Andy drove me to meet the tour bus at KKG and we made the familiar trip toward Altötting along the tree lined streets for the final time. Our friendly bus driver Fitztum, with the unmistakable handlebar mustache, was already loading baggage as a crowd massed around the bus. One of the hardest parts of the exchange was now in progress.
Quiet Munich Airport
Goodbyes abounded among final pictures, hugs and a few tears. It was going to be tough to corral all the kids aboard the bus, especially several students who weren't ready to go home and likely would have stayed the entire summer if it was an option. Although some of our students got on and then back off the bus several times, when Fitztum began rolling out of the KKG parking lot we counted 17 heads and it was a wrap! The bus ride was quiet as everyone took the opportunity to take in the beautiful Bavarian countryside one last time. Within and hour, large planes came into view in the sky at equal intervals in a landing pattern that became lower in altitude as we proceeded toward Munich. We soon arrived and unloaded our baggage quick to get moving not knowing how long the lines would be at our gate. However, the terminal surprisingly appeared deserted and quiet allowing us to be processed through quickly. With the exception of me. The rules had changed and what qualified as a carry-on bag in Philadelphia was now considered a suitcase that would require an additional $75 fee to stow aboard the plane. Overweight... the story of my life! Of course the computer went down in the process of my transaction causing me to have to go find a kiosk where a ten step process ensued. Thankfully, I was able to get everything accomplished without delaying the whole group. We found our gate and counted 17 heads once again, twice just to make sure. However, it turned out we were going nowhere fast. Our incoming plane was late to Munich, which would delay our departure, but for how long? The clock was critical, as we needed to rendezvous with our connecting flight with a small window of time to complete the whole process.
Long Flight Over the Atlantic
As the small window of time till our connecting flight began to close, our plane finally arrived but still needed to be refueled, our luggage loaded, and the complex flight check completed. Tick, tick, tick... The airline was calling Frankfurt to see if the plane would wait, Wendy was working with the airline staff to see what our options were, and I was trying to keep track of our flock who were now bored and wandering about. Eventually, we got the green light and all boarded the plane as quickly as possible as everyone had connecting flights to catch, some sooner than others. However, our stress was far from over as it was still unclear if we would make it in time. It would be very close. Once on the ground, we would need to do everything possible to make it as there was no Plan B. We finally landed in Frankfurt and were told our connecting flight was still there but for how long? We rushed off the plane and went in search of our gate but the Frankfurt Airport is one of the largest in all of Europe and almost a city within itself. As it turns out, the plane bound for Philadelphia was on the other side of the airport, almost as far away from our current location as was physically possible. We would have to make a run for it and that is exactly what we did with carry-on bags in tow. The route included several twists and turns through the airport maze with Wendy taking the lead and me at the rear to catch any stragglers. Within minutes, our group was strung out in a long line and quickly lost sight of one another. It was incredibly stressful! Did everyone make all the correct turns while they dodged passengers coming and going from all directions? Soon I could see only one student in front of me and none behind. When I finally arrived at our gate on the other side of Munich, a Lufthansa clerk was waving me through like I was rounding third for home. I stopped to tell her I wasn't sure if all our party had made it but she frantically continued signaling for me to go through, promising to account for everyone. Good Grief!
Almost Home at Long Last
I passed through the gate, which led down two flights of stairs and then corkscrewed three different directions until I was finally on the jetway bridge and entered the plane. Had we all made it? If we were one short, what would we do? I found my seat with Wendy who had been tracking the kids as they arrived on the plane. Although separated during our mad dash through the terminal and seated sporadically throughout the plane, we had fifteen and two more suddenly tumbled through the doorway to complete our set! Thank You! Wow! Within seconds, the plane began to pull away from the terminal and all was well. Somehow we made it without losing anyone. Wendy and I settled into our seats and could relax until we reached the other side of the Atlantic in the City of Brotherly Love. Watching the little plane icon not move across the screen was a relaxing activity in contrast to the exhausting ordeal we had just been through. Wendy and I had plenty of time to discuss details about the exchange during the long return flight back home and digested all we had experienced. We arrived in Philadelphia around 4pm and got in one of the longest lines I have ever seen to go through customs. The room inside the terminal was two football fields in size and had hundreds if not thousands of people being slowly funneled through a complex, never ending maze of lined belt stanchions. After about an hour we made it through; being coached by multiple rude airport workers whom had arrived at work this morning already out of patience. We were home! We went and got our luggage off the bag carrousel that was longer than the Pennsylvania Turnpike and went in search of our bus... which was nowhere to be found. Wendy was once again on the phone, this time with our driver who was trying to talk us to his location without success. We were trudging our luggage from one point to another in search of our bus, seeing much more of the Philadelphia Airport than we intended. And, to make matters worse, one of the wheels on my large suitcase blew out and no longer rolled. We decided to camp out at one spot until the bus location could be confirmed. After at least 25 phone calls to the bus driver, bus company, and travel agency, we finally found our bus and boarded, hoping the air conditioning was working. We had arrived home in the middle of a horrific heat wave that was still going strong since the very day we departed!
German and Swiss Chocolate for All!
The bus ride home was excruciatingly long, especially for me for some reason. I was becoming more cranky by the mile as the bus driver seemed to be taking his sweet time through the scenic back roads toward Lancaster. Come on man! Did this guy realize we had been traveling for at least 14 hours straight? Go! Go! Go! After what seemed like another 14 hours the Warwick High School finally came into view... Was it a mirage? I was so tired I couldn't tell. I was pleasantly surprised to see lots of family members cheering with balloons and welcome home signs! Hey, some people missed us! Always the showman, I tumbled off the bus the second it stopped and kissed the sidewalk to laughs and applause. It felt so good to be reunited with my family who had all come out to welcome me home! I was beat and looking forward to sleeping in my old familiar bed and a good night's rest! I was finally home! Our three dogs were a welcome sight and I was greeted with a group Fred Flintstone meets Dino like reception! However, I doubt our cats ever noticed I was even gone. I brought home a lot of chocolate and other German treats for my family, some of which have become favorites. My kids especially liked Knoppers, which we later ordered through a vender on Amazon prior to Christmas as a surprise stocking stuffer. Unfortunately, I realized upon my return that I had left my cherished German hat in Andy's car the morning we departed from KKG. However, it deserved to stay in Bavaria and is being well taken care of by Angela Galneder's father Mr. Shadhauser, who promised to keep it safe for me. He even sent me pictures of him wearing it at Christmas time to put my mind at ease. Much of my remaining summer was devoted to writing these blog episodes. I never intended for the project to entail writing 36 postings but it became a journal more than a blog, a way for me to remember all that I had experienced in what was the one great adventure of my life to date. It was a labor of love!
Welcome Home Dad / The Grass Needs Cut!
------------------------------------------------------------------I thought of my grandfather Stephen Emich, who died when I was just an infant, many times during the trip, because he was born within 500 miles of my location. He emigrated to America at age ten in 1921 on the heels of World War I with his older brother Adam who was only fourteen. Almost a year has past now since my Bavarian adventure, yet it is constantly in my thoughts each and every day, remembered in reflective thought, this blog, and my cherished pictures. I'd like to take the opportunity to thank the two redheads in my life who made my trip possible... First my wife Susan, who was willing to part with me for what was the longest span of time we have ever been apart since our marriage. This summer we will be celebrating 24 years of marriage... Susan, I love you very much! Additionally, I would like to thank my colleague Wendy Andrews for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime on the other side of the world. One of the best outcomes of the trip was the growth of my friendship with Wendy (AKA: The Frau) who taught me the benefits of eating ice cream at least once a day. We really made a great team during the exchange and I hope to join her again in future trips. Danke, Frau! Also, our kids were great and we created a lot of memories together. In this 290th paragraph of my An American in Germany series, I am finally signing off from Bavaria, at least for now...
Wendy and I on Top of the World
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