Although he misses going to the discos and drinking with his friends in his native country of Germany, foreign exchange student Lukas Benecke says he still enjoys America with its easier school courses and laid back atmosphere.
For the last nine months, Benecke, 16, has been taking in the sober atmosphere of America while living with a host family in Payson.
“I have wanted to do an exchange since I could say America,” he said.
A brief trip to Texas several years ago only fueled his desire.
“I liked the experience a lot,” he said. “The American way of life, everything is different than Germany — it’s cool,” he said.
The relaxed atmosphere found in the States most appeals to Benecke who said in his German hometown, which is roughly 100 km from Berlin, everyone is always rushing to be on time.
“People are a lot more friendly,” in America, he said.
Besides the atmosphere, Benecke loves the fast food options in Payson. With more choices, including Mexican, he is always trying something new with his friends.
Benecke has made most of his new friends including a girlfriend while attending Payson High School as a junior.
“The teenagers don’t seem much different here,” he said. “Maybe slightly more open.”
Besides his friends, Benecke finds American high school fun, but unchallenging.
“Here you can choose your classes and electives, like guitar class,” he said. “And it seems easier.” Most of the material Benecke is learning at PHS he has already covered in Germany. While the subject matter is easier, learning in English is the biggest challenge as well as reward. While Benecke also speaks French and Latin, his English skills were lacking when he first got to Payson. Now that he has been here for almost a year, his English has improved dramatically.
During a typical day, Benecke attends school, band practice and heads home to his host family where he plays games with his host brothers and learns a few slang words. He also manages to squeeze in ample time for his girlfriend, who he has grown quite fond of.
When Benecke goes to back to Germany in June, leaving her will be one of the hardest things.
“She is going to visit Germany,” he said, adding beyond that he “doesn’t know what will happen.”
While America offers a lot for Benecke to do and learn, it does not have the club parties he is used to attending regularly. In addition, because it is legal to drink alcohol at age 16 and distilled beverages at 18 in Germany, Benecke said it is normal to have beer with friends and family. In America, the kids still drink; they just have to hide it, he joked.
“In Germany it is more accepted. You can drink openly,” he said.
Benecke said he believes learning about alcohol at a young age has contributed to fewer alcohol-related accidents in Germany compared with the U.S.
According to the European Transport Safety Council, alcohol-related vehicle fatalities dropped 10 percent a year between 1997 and 2005 in Germany.
Since children learn about alcohol from their parents and then learn to drive, they know their limits, he said, before hitting the road.
Benecke’s parents in Germany gave him alcohol before he could try it with friends first because they felt they could control his exposure and use.
So while the States lack a few good parties, overall, Benecke said he loves living in America and eventually hopes to return for college.
Edie Miller, international exchange coordinator with the Education First Foundation for Foreign Study, a non-profit organization, coordinated Benecke’s stay. For more information about the program, e-mail Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org, call (928) 476-4871 or visit www.effoundation.org