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25.01.2010 Pen pal exchange leads to trans-Atlantic field trip


It all started back in 2007 when Janine Girke, current 10th grader at Fürst-Johann-Ludwig-Schule, participated in an e-mail project held in Mrs Meudt’s English class. Janine exchanged e-mails across the Atlantic Ocean with Jenna Mason, also an 8th grader at Milford Middle School in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, and the two learned all about each other’s country. E-mail conversation and later Web cam conversations helped the girls get to know each other even better. They sent each other packages for Easter, birthdays, Christmas, and just for fun. After two years of e-mail contact the two girls decided to visit each other’s home country. This summer Janine Girke started her trip to the USA and she explored the American way of life. Here her essay about her friend Jenna and her trip to Pennsylvania:



My new best friend Jenna and my amazing trip to the USA!


It all started back in 2007 when I was in Mrs Meudt’s English class in 8th grade. One day, Mrs Meudt handed out papers to interested students in class, which contained forms to fill out if they wanted an American pen pal. It was quite exciting to think that I had a chance to speak with someone from across the world. I chose a girl with the funniest name, Jenna Mason and wrote my first e-mail to her. I checked my e-mail almost every day, waiting to see if she would respond. Then one day in January, I saw the e-mail I had been looking for. I responded to her right away, sharing my general information and introducing myself. Who would have known that at that exact moment, I had met my best friend.


I had so many questions for her, as did she. I’ve learned a lot about the United States from her, and she’s learned from me. Every day after school I’d go right onto the computer to talk with her. We’d send each other packages for Easter, birthdays, Christmas, and just for fun. It would brighten up my day when I would receive a package in the mail. I’d observe her handwriting and be so amazed that the box came all the way from America. As the days went on, our friendship grew more and more. It was amazing how I could talk with her as if I’ve known her all my life. We’d always say how great it would be to visit each other, but I always thought that it wouldn’t happen. I always wanted that Jenna comes to visit me first, but she wasn’t allowed, because she’s just fifteen. So I thought, that I would never see her, but than I had an idea. I asked her if I could visit her during my summer vacation in 2009. When she messaged me that her parents allow me to come to them I had one of the best moment in my life. We started to write more than before and not just e-mails but writing on ICQ. I asked her if she would like to see me on the web cam and she agreed. She hadn’t got one, but that wasn’t a problem. It was just important that she could see me before I would visit her.


When my parents booked my flight I started to count down the days: 100 days turned into 50, then 50 turned into 30 and so on.I started buying all the gifts for her and her family. I packed my two suitcases and two days later July 14th came. I got up very early and we went to the Frankfurt International Airport. I checked in and very soon I sat in the plane. A very nice guy from New York City sat next to me and he told me many interesting things about America. After the long flight (close to nine hours), we landed on the Philadelphia International Airport. I was really in America, oh my god! One of my biggest dreams came true!


I checked out, grabbed my luggage and went to the exit. I hoped that there wouldn’t be a crowd of people, because I didn’t want to search my host family. But there were just a few people at the gate I came out. And there they were: Jenna and her parents! I went to them and hugged them tight and also did they. I saw Terri, Jenna’s mum, crying, because she was so happy to see me. Chuck, Jenna’s dad, took my luggage. On the ride home we talked a lot and they wanted to know so many things about me, my family, my flight to America and Germany.


My trip to America was the best trip in my life! Jenna and her parents took me on a cruise around Philadelphia, went to Baltimore, Dorney Park and New York City. That was my favourite trip. In New York City we went on a bus tour around town, we saw the Statue of Liberty, ate at Hard Rock Café, walked across Times Square and climbed up the Empire State Building (at night). The view from there was amazing. I was so excited to come to know Jenna’s every day life and school. One day we visited the Milford Middle School. We met the headmaster and talked to him. He was also excited that an e-mail project in school can lead to an international pupil exchange. Another day we celebrated the birthday of Jenna’s grandmom and I baked a ‘Schwarzwälder Kirsch Torte’ for her that everyone loved. Jenna’s parents and her sister were SO nice. I really felt like their third daughter. As soon as I came to America I had to leave again. I really didn’t want to. I had such a great time and I realized that one of my best friends lives in America. Now I know, that a distance from so many miles doesn’t matter to stay in contact and be good friends.


Anyway, I had to leave. I packed my luggage an evening before I returned home. At 4 p.m. on July 30th we went back to the airport. It was a quiet ride and I felt so sad. I tried not to cry once we got there. On 7.35 p.m. we had to say goodbye. We all cried and I was so unhappy to leave. I couldn’t stop hugging everyone. I knew that I would have to wait at least one year before Jenna would come to Germany to see me. And what about Chuck and Terri? Would I see them again? I gave everyone a last hug and then I had to go through the security system. I turned around for a hundred times to see if they were still there and I was waving the whole time. I walked to my gateway and when I was there I still saw Jenna and her family downstairs waving and crying. I smiled, waved for one last time and got on the plane.


The flight back home wasn’t that great than the flight to America. But I met a nice girl from Ohio. It was her first trip to Germany and so I started to tell her everything she wanted to know…


I’m happy that this all happened, and I’m happy to know Jenna... and amazing that this all started back in 2007 when I had my English lessons at Fürst-Johann-Ludwig-Schule.



Janine Girke

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