VALDOSTA — The United States Department of State recently recognized Valdosta State University for its involvement in the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals.
The program allows German and American students to live, study and intern abroad for a year on full scholarships, according to a VSU press release.
“A big part of education is exchanges like these,” said Irina McClellan, assistant director and exchange student coordinator for VSU’s Center for International Programs. “Our students learn about the German culture and German students who come here just throw themselves into the American way of life.”
The Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals places students in host homes, allowing them to be fully immersed in foreign culture and language.
“This program wants students to live with a family so they can get exposed to the American way of life — holidays, traditions and more,” McClellan said. “They travel a lot and make friends. They’re building lifelong connections.”
Nicole Peckhaus of Leverkusen, Germany, began studying at VSU in August as a Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals participant. She is taking courses in mass media, public relations and sociology and plans to pursue a degree in business administration after returning to Germany at the end of the academic year.
“This experience is definitely widening my horizons,” she said. “It’s great to learn how the whole system works here. I’m excited to get to know the culture and see the good points and bring them back to Germany with me. I’m also able to break down stereotypes that Germans have about Americans and vice versa.”
Peckhaus has visited California and Walt Disney World and gone on a hang-gliding trip with VSU’s Center for Outdoor Recreational Experiences.
“We want to prepare our students for this global community,” McClellan said. “We want them to be able to work in diverse communities with diverse groups of people. We want them to get along with people from different cultures and countries and build peace in the world.
“The only way to do it is through education, and particularly through international education. That’s how you break all those stereotypes and misconceptions. You get to know people not through papers or magazines or the media but through firsthand experiences.”
Initiated in 1983, the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals was created to strengthen ties between Germany and the United States through citizen diplomacy. It is jointly funded by the U.S. Congress and the German Bundestag. VSU has participated in the program for more than 25 years and has hosted 26 German students.