By Samantha SLAYBACK
When students return to high school from summer vacation, they’ll discover all types of opportunities, whether joining clubs, volunteering within the community or traveling with classmates. Every other year, the Crescenta Valley High School German Dept. participates in a student exchange program with the elite, 500-year-old secondary school Gymnasium Phillippinum in Marburg, Hesse, Germany. One CVHS student who took part in the exchange program last year was soon-to-be junior and third year German program participant Darius Farhoumand.
Farhoumand first learned of this opportunity during his first year at CVHS. The idea of housing a German exchange student and later visiting Germany as an American exchange student fascinated him.
“This program is typically only open to upperclassmen at CV,” explained Farhoumand’s mother Neda. “At the end of his freshman year, he was invited by his German teacher Katherine Markarian, affectionately called ‘frau’ by her students, to participate in the exchange that would begin in October 2014, his sophomore year.”
So, last October, Farhoumand and 11 other CV students of different German class levels hosted exchange students from Marburg. During their time in the U.S., the German students shadowed the CV students in their day-to-day school routines, during extra curricular activities such as football games and Comedy Sportz, and for individual family events.
Farhoumand’s family hosted 17-year-old Dennis Siebert, described by Farhoumand’s mother as “an outstanding scholar” and the quarterback for the Marburg Mercenaries.
“Dennis spoke perfect English and was extremely independent and adaptable,” said Neda. “He was a joy to have in our home and we thoroughly enjoyed having him.”
Neda went above and beyond to get involved with the German exchange students to ensure their time in the U.S. was memorable.
“As an active parent in the program and an executive board member of the CVHA PTSA, it was important for me that the students got a true sense of how warm and rich the culture of our campus is at CV and so I interacted regularly with the visiting students and assisted in coordinating organized group activities for the German exchange students when they were not shadowing our students at instruction,” she said. “We were able to take them on a private bus tour of Hollywood as well as a day trip to Universal Studios and the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens.”
To top it off, the exchange students spent their last two days in the states experiencing Las Vegas before flying back home to Germany.
In June, the roles were reversed, and 10 CV students, including Farhoumand, flew to Marburg accompanied by Erik Messal of the CVHS History Dept. Messal has taken the trip on Markarian’s behalf in recent years.
The traveling CV students included Liam Huber, Grant Ackerman, James and David Duquette, Haley Witzeman, Bridget Walsh, Sabina Zofcik, Brenna Pratt, Claire Herr and, of course, Farhoumand.
While in Germany, the university town of Marburg wasn’t the only place the students got to explore. They also saw the historic town of Cochem in Rhineland and got to experience city life in Frankfurt. Much like the German exchange students did at CV, the CVHS students took part in school and home activities unique to their host families.
Some fun activities included zip-lining, picnicking, visiting castles, monuments, lakes, and archives, and touring wineries. The highlight of Farhoumand’s trip, as a member of the CVHS marching band and symphony, was getting to represent the high school after being invited to play as a guest with Gymnasium Phillipinum’s school band.
“The trip was incredibly rewarding for the students,” said Neda. “My son is thrilled that he may have the opportunity to travel on the exchange program again as a senior next year and that we may host another student in our home.”
The Farhoumands have remained in touch with Dennis since he stayed with them in October, and Farhoumand’s mother has built and sustained a long-distance friendship with Dennis’ mother Sigrid.
Neda said that while they have never met, they have developed a mutual respect for one another.
“The Farhoumands look forward to a life long friendship with the Sieberts and many of the other families participating in the exchange,” said Neda. “It was a fantastic opportunity for all of the students to broaden their horizons and experience new things.”