MANATEE COUNTY — All the textbooks in the world could not have prepared Daniel Dolshanski for his first trip to the United States.
Reading and writing English, he quickly realized, was far different than actually speaking it. But the 17-year-old student from Germany learned quickly and has made lifelong friends in the process.
His host siblings, Braden River High School senior Nikita Ladyzhensky and his sister, Asya, have been valuable resources and friends, taking him to classes and extracurricular activities.
“I actually thought (the people) wouldn’t be so nice to me because I’m German,” Dolshanski said. “Everyone is pretty open here, and they talk to me, and they like me — most of them.”
Dolshanski is one of 18 German students participating in the German American Partnership Program, an exchange through which the teens will spend three weeks in the United States, living with host families, attending classes, site-seeing and more. The teens arrived Oct. 8 and will return to Germany Oct. 31.
During their stay, the students visited Sea World, attended barbecues, visited college campuses and television stations, swam with manatees and even attended a special Halloween celebration in their honor. Some students, including Dolshanski, even have made special trips with their host families to places such as Mote Marine Aquarium and the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg.
Nikita Ladyzhensky, who met Daniel when he went to Germany with the GAPP this summer, said he has used the opportunity to take his new friend to buffet restaurants and paint-balling, neither of which are common in Germany, and to get him up-to-date on music. Daniel, he added, has proven to be the perfect match for his family.
“We have so much in common even though he lives on the other side of the world,” Nikita Ladyzhensky said.
Dolshanski said he’s enjoyed his visit —especially attending Braden River’s football game, although he’d only seen the sport once before.
“At first, I didn’t understand the rules,” he said. “It was pretty good to have Nikita because he told me everything.
“I liked Homecoming,” he said. “We don’t have that in Germany. Only in the last year of our school’s 150-year history did we have prom. I don’t know why they didn’t have it at our school before.”
Sixteen-year-old Philip Fox, who is staying with Lakewood Ranch teen Evan Amato and his family, said he’s found the educational system here to be fascinating.
“American schools are very different in their lessons,” he said. “In Germany, the teachers are stricter and are not as interested in the students. I like the activities, too.”
Fox said he’s loved getting to know the culture and working to improve his language skills, which will be critical for finding a good job once he finishes his education.
“You can only become fluent if you travel to a country where the language is spoken,” Fox said.
As part of the program, American students will have a chance to practice their own German skills this June when they visit Germany and Austria. Several will stay with the students they have gotten to know over the last three weeks, which helps with the GAPP’s aim to foster cultural exchange while creating friendships that will last a lifetime, Program Director Holly Cole said.
“In America, we tend to forget there’s a big wide world out there, and it helps them to get perspective from other people,” Cole said. “When you travel abroad, you really start looking at your own culture with open eyes. It really rounds your education.”
Host mother Irina Ladyzhensky, who originally is from Russia, agreed. After traveling to Europe and hearing the stereotypes placed on Americans, she is adamant the program is a way to bridge cultural barriers and misconceptions.
“The more people know how you live and how you are, it’s more friendship across the world,” she said. “It helps us understand each other better.”
Six schools in Manatee participated in the GAPP this year, including Braden River and Lakewood Ranch high schools.
For more information about the program, call Cole at 920-0762.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].com.
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