Lahainaluna junior off to study in Germany for a year
LAHAINA – Excited to leave her comfort zone and set out on a life-changing adventure, Lahainaluna High School junior AynMarie Eastridge on Monday left for Kamen, Germany, where she will spend a year through a Rotary exchange student program.
In turn, junior Moritz Leindecker from Bad Homburg, Germany, is attending LHS and spending a year on Maui. Both students are sponsored in the program by the Rotary Club of Lahaina Sunrise and Rotary Club of Lahaina Sunset.
Eastridge, 16, looks forward to living in Germany and getting a true feel for life there.
“I have always loved traveling but have never traveled further than Canada. In the future, I hope to join the Peace Corps. There isn’t anywhere in the world I would not want to go, but when I travel I do not want to just be a tourist; I want to truly experience the culture. I want to live as the locals do and come home with a new perspective and new appreciation for what we have,” she noted in an e-mail.
Kamen is located in North Rhine-Westphalia in the mid-west of Germany. It has a population of approximately 44,600.
“By train I can be in Paris, Amsterdam, London, Prague or the Swiss Alps in only a few hours,” Eastridge explained.
She headed to Europe “not even close” to fluent in German (but learning fast) and a little puzzled about the Gesamtschule (comprehensive school) she will attend.
“Besides the obvious difference of my classes being taught in German, Gesamtschule will differ from Lahainaluna in many ways. I will have 11 classes, whereas here I only had seven. I also will not be able to choose from such a diverse range of electives Lahainaluna offers. Also, in Germany it is not common for sports clubs to be connected with the school, as we have here,” she wrote.
Through What’sApp, East-ridge is already in contact with all three host families she will be living with throughout the year, as well as other exchange students going to Germany and students bound for her Rotary District (1900).
While in Europe, Eastridge hopes to gain a new perspective of the world and international issues.
“I’m curious as to how people in Germany see America, and since I will be there in November, what they think of our current presidential elections. I’m excited to go on a tour across Europe with the other exchange students over spring break. I also look forward to the German Christmas markets and holiday festivals,” she noted.
“In June, I went to an orientation on Oahu with the six other exchange students from Hawaii, and Rotary tried to prepare us for culture shock and misunderstandings due to cultural differences. One of the most important things we were told was not to judge or make assumptions, because every culture has different rules as to what is socially acceptable. With the mistakes I know I will make, I just hope to return with more confidence, independence and grow into a better person. I look forward to meeting wonderful, new people and making close, lifelong friendships.”
Eastridge was at the University of Hawaii Maui College for a leadership workshop with Rotary’s Interact Club during her freshman year when she heard about the Rotary Youth Exchange program.
Rotary Youth Service Chair Joanne Laird told the students that through the program, they could choose from about 80 countries to live abroad. Eastridge was excited and wanted in.
Eastridge said the application process took a long time. She had to find a sponsor (the two Lahaina Rotary Clubs), complete applications and write letters to potential host families.
She didn’t hear anything for months.
“I did not realize that behind the scenes, my application was being sent to Rotary Clubs in my top four countries I requested: Austria, Switzerland, Germany and Italy. There were students applying from all over the world, and we were just waiting for a club to accept me. One afternoon, on the bus home from school, I got an e-mail from my first host family who told me I would be living in Kamen, Germany,” she explained.
Once selected, Eastridge took an online class and picked up language books and many stacks of flashcards to start learning the German language.
The daughter of Mark Eastridge of Lahaina and Lea Taylor of Kahana believes she is the first outbound exchange student in the long history of Lahainaluna High School and the first outbound exchange student from Maui in five years.
“I am very excited to leave my comfort zone and meet my first host family on the opposite side of the world,” she wrote.
“As much as I am looking forward to eating delicious German bread and chocolate, I’m also dreading leaving my friends, family and warm Hawaii weather. It is very difficult packing my one suitcase for a year with seasons when I have only lived in Hawaii!”
AynMarie has traveled to over half of the United States and Canada. She was seven years old when she first started flying by herself, and every summer she visits siblings in Oregon and Washington.
“My dad and I love traveling together, because we get in the car and just drive – no set plans, just a map and the road, never exactly sure where we’ll end up,” she added.
AynMarie said her parents know this is an incredible experience for her, and they agree it is an opportunity she cannot pass up.
“Of course, at the same time, they also don’t want me to leave,” she wrote, explaining that they will keep in touch via What’sApp, Skype and a cell phone.
AynMarie hopes that more Maui students will learn about the exchange program.
“I want to get the word out and really encourage high school students to step out of their comfort zone and live abroad for a year,” she concluded.