Those friends were German students and teachers from Geschwister Scholl in Freiberg, in eastern Germany.
Every two years, Herndon High welcomes a group of around 15 students from Germany to come over and spend a week living, breathing and studying as though they were Herndon High students—and the bonds created are some that run deep, and stand the test of time.
This year, 17 students and a few teachers from Geschwister came to spend a week in Herndon. The students each stayed with a Herndon host family, and shadowed their host students, attending classes right alongside them, as well as any extracurricular activities they participate in.
Then, every other year, whenever possible, a group of Herndon students get to do the same, and visit Germany to stay with host families and attend a host school.
Lindsay Gadd, a former German teacher at HHS who is now a counselor, said this year is the 20th anniversary of the exchange program, and she is happy to see how much it is thriving.
"The first time they came over, it was right after the fall of the Berlin Wall, really. It was 1993," she said. "It was pretty interesting."
Though it is a much more modern world in Germany these days, there are still many differences between the two schools' cultures that fascinated the group of 17 bright and friendly students that got to become Herndon High Hornets for six days last week.
Principal William Bates joined the Geschwister students for a chat on their last day, and asked them what some of their favorite parts of their visit were.
Unwaveringly, "Halloween" was high on the list. Since Germany does not celebrate the largely American holiday, the students said they had a blast dressing up, and some even went trick-or-treating for the first time in their lives, with their American hosts.
Another group said they had fun trying out laser tag with their host family, and others remarked on a visit to Great Falls.
All said they really enjoyed their visit into Washington, D.C. as well, to see the monuments, the Air and Space Museum, the Natural History Museum and more.
As for Herndon High itself—the students said the size of the school and student body, and the amount of school spirit, really struck them. They said Herndon High's roughly 2,000-student body is about double that of Geschwister School's.
"It was nice—if you look different, people don't spot you so easily, so you're not as much of an outsider," one student said of the large student body.
Others said they also appreciated how Herndon students get to choose their subjects and electives, and what a wide range of extracurricular activities the school has, such as football, cheerleading, marching band, driver's education and even the fashion program.
The Barrett family, which hosted one of the Geschwister students last week, said this was their second time hosting a German exchange student, and they really cherish what a wonderfully enriching experience it is.
"The kids are really fabulous," said Amy Barrett, whose daughter, a senior at HHS, really bonded with the student they hosted.
"They're really eager to learn about the U.S. And it's such a better experience for them to stay with a host family, than to stay just in a hotel," she said.
Barrett said it was a great experience for her daughter as well, who learned so much about German culture from their exchange student.
"There are so many cultural differences, with the German students being from such a small town in Germany. Even though Herndon is a relatively small town as well, it's still very different here," she explained.
Barrett said her daughter and their student really got along well, and were sad to say goodbye to each other on Friday.
"She really enjoyed having that connection. They appreciate learning from each other," she said. "It's such a wonderful experience; it makes the world a little smaller for both of them."
Monika Walther, one of the Geschwister teachers who accompanied the students on the trip, said "Come here is like coming home," because of the strong connections she's made to Herndon through all the visits she's made with the program.
Walther said she is truly grateful for Jens Ulbrich and Judy Young, the two teachers who started the program from across the ocean.
"We could not be able to do this without them," she said.
Walther said is always amazed at what a profound impact the trip has on her students.
"Many of our students say this has opened up the world to them," she said, describing how it is the first trip outside of Germany for many of them.
All of the students thanked Herndon for the school's hospitality, and said they couldn't wait for the next visit in two years.
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