German exchange program is new for high school 

Dr. Yesim OzbarlasTraveling abroad can be an enriching, life-changing experience.

A person is forced into a foreign world and poised to experience a culture firsthand. Little things, such as purchasing food or asking where to find a restroom, require one to be completely present and mindful of their behavior. At the same time, one has the privilege of seeing new sights in a new country, gaining experiences that last a lifetime.

Learning in such an environment can offer even more, according to one DeKalb County School District (DCSD) foreign language teacher. So much more, that she’s committed to making it a reality for the DeKalb County community.

Lakeside High School foreign language teacher Dr. Yesim Ozbarlas was recently invited to a workshop in Washington, D.C. hosted by the Goethe Institute’s German American Partnership Program (GAPP). As an invitee, Ozbarlas will receive information on how to bring a German foreign exchange program to Lakeside High School.

“When I worked in academia, I used to take students abroad to Turkey, Spain, Argentina, and other countries. Now we’re working with GAPP for Germany,” Ozbarlas said. “It’s a big deal— this is a first for Lakeside, I’m the only person [invited] from Georgia.”

Through GAPP, Lakeside has the chance to find a partner school in Germany for a bona fide foreign exchange program. For an academic term or more, Lakeside students will have the opportunity to live with a host family, attend classes at a German high school, and experience everyday life in a foreign country. In exchange, Lakeside will welcome students from Germany.

“Being an exchange student as well as hosting one, opens up a whole new world for our GAPP students,” reads a description from GAPP. “Students not only get to share their culture, but they will be able to immerse themselves completely in a foreign culture, becoming more independent and open in the process and forming friendships and connections that last a lifetime.”

For Ozbarlas, who is originally from Germany and speaks 10 languages, GAPP is a gateway to unique opportunities and future-minded success. She said the program can ingrain an international perspective in students and make a resume or application to college shine.

“Students change when they travel. They want to travel more. It’s all about exposure,” Ozbarlas said. “Plus, you can earn foreign language credits. A trip like this can strengthen a student’s language skills, because you have to use that language in its natural environment. When you do this early on, it can change your personality. It’s good for your self-esteem. It can make you more independent. It’s good to list on a resume because it shows you’re self-sufficient. It opens up so many other possibilities internationally.”

Dr. Yesim Ozbarlas in front of Lakeside door

Ozbarlas also values the thought of exposing students to different teaching methods. According to her, the foreign exchange program provides an education that’s experiential and holistic, which may differ slightly from the methods taught in DCSD. Students are forced to engage and interact rather than write and recite.

The end result? An ingrained international perspective.

“Through language, you can expose students to literature, different cultural contexts, diversity, and really learn how other people think outside of America,” Ozbarlas said. “Learning a language, physiologically, changes the way your brain thinks. It has been proven that bilingual people adapt to different situations better. In some languages, linguistically, certain things can never be directly translated—you have to feel it.”

Damian Bounds, principal at Lakeside, considers the new exchange program another opportunity for students to gain life experience and global knowledge.

“This is a great chance to experience another side of the world,” Bounds said. “We definitely live in a world that’s intertwined. To be able to have those types of experiences can lead to many, many different things. They have the chance to see the world through a different lens.”

Bounds is proud to be able to take the reigns on the new program.

“It feels good to lead the way,” Bounds said. “Hopefully, with us doing it, other schools will also dive right in. It will be a learning experience or us. But we’re proud that our teachers are motivated in providing the best opportunities for our students and in taking new initiatives on.”

Ozbarlas will attend another workshop with GAPP this Spring to find out more details. She hopes to have the program fully implemented by Summer 2019, making DCSD innovative in yet another way.

“A program like this can show that we’re different,” Ozbarlas said. “It shows we’re trying to be more worldly and global than your average school or school district.”

For more information on GAPP and the Goethe Institute, visit their website.