Buffalo, NY Students Meet with German Bundestag Officials

German Parliament members conclude their U.S. tour with Congress-Bundestag students at Kenmore West High School

You might not be able to pronounce “Bundestagabgeordnete,” but a group of German language students at Kenmore West High School sure could as they greeted three members of Germany’s parliament Wednesday.

The German delegation concluded a week-long tour of the United States in Buffalo, where some 20 students from Germany are currently staying with host families, in part though the U.S. Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange program, begun in 1983.

Cindy Kennedy, a German teacher who also represents the area for the National Executive Council for the American Association of teachers of German, said it’s the first such visit in her tenure, but that two members of the delegation have traveled for years to various parts of the country to promote the inter-governmental scholarship.

“It was such a great honor for us to be able to participate in this,” she said.

About 250 scholarships are available for applicants for the year-long program in Germany, MP Steffen-Claudio Lemme said.

But the number of Western New Yorkers studying abroad is much lower.

“There aren’t many applicants for the program in the United States so if you choose to apply you stand a pretty good chance to win the scholarship,” Bartholomaus Kalb, MP, told the students through a translator.

After visiting with exchange students in San Francisco, Denver, Philadelphia and elsewhere, his colleague, Lemme, said Buffalo was selected because of the relatively high interest in the program and especially the number of quality host families in Western New York.

David McMurray, who graduated in 2008, spent a year in the program immediately following graduation.

Currently a student at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, McMurray, who studied German for seven years in Ken-Ton schools, was invited by the district to speak alongside Lemme and other members of parliament about his experience.

Kennedy said McMurray is the only student to take advantage of the exchange in the 12 years she’s taught in the district.

“That was probably one of the reasons the delegation came to speak to our students,” she said. “There aren’t enough of our students  there — there are students from Germany here.”

 The program for high school students does not require any German language mastery, and though McMurray did have a command of the language, he said he still attended the requisite two months in an intensive language/cultural program prior to his initial trip to Berlin, where he was immersed in the workings of German government. Much of his time there involved working in a German restaurant, as a vocational focus for the budding chef.

Through the program, everything but pocket money was paid for through the accompanying scholarship.

“When you arrive in Germany they give you like a temporary citizenship,” he said. “You start out for two months in an intense German language school. During that time we were introduced to the way German government runs.”

But several current Ken-Ton students in attendance Wednesday have participated in this district’s own three-week exchange program, Kennedy said.

Senior Katie Kyles and junior Kristen Hoar, both of whom plan to major in German in college, each credited the German program at Ken West for preparing them for a memorable stay in the German city of Zulpich recently.

“We didn’t just read out of a text book, we did a lot of activities,” Kyles said. “We’d have actual conversations in German.”

Hoar said the experience put in greater context the things she learned in school back home.

“I understood why we were learning a particular thing,” she said.

Both made enduring friendships through their experience, with Hoar having been invited back.

“I’m going back this summer,” she said.

As for the CBXY program officials were promoting Wednesday, two branches are available, including another immersion program designed for college graduates, called the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for young professionals.

The program for high school students in open to those with a 3.0 GPA or better, who are U.S. citizens between the ages of 15 and 18.

The original version of this article appeared in the Tonawanda News, May 15, 2011.