It only took three weeks to open up the world for five Lodi High School students, and three more for them to share it with new friends.
Ann-Marie Koth, a German teacher at Lodi High, helped a few of her students enroll in the German American Partnership Program. It is similar to an exchange student program, but lasts only three weeks. Five girls from Germany stayed with Lodi families in April, sharing their language and culture and experiencing California.
Last month, the Lodi girls traveled to Europe to return the favor and attend school with their German counterparts.
"They already knew the kids. Then they got to know the parents, and their families and the school," said Koth.
Koth said the exchange program has been in place since the mid-'90s. It cost about $2,000 per girl for airfare and travel expenses.
The Lodi students spent two weeks at a school in Oberursel, Germany. On the weekends, they traveled to Lake Constance, Berlin and other sites with their host families.
At one point, they were interviewed by a German journalist and photographer for the Frankfurter Rundschau, a German newspaper with national circulation.
Each girl had studied German for two or three years. But that wasn't enough to keep up with a nation of fluent speakers.
Katie O'Connor, 18, practiced with German student Johanna Jung, 18, to try to bridge the language gap.
"My German was rough to begin with, but when I got to Germany, I realized, 'Oh boy, I am really in quite deep,'" said O'Connor, who graduated from Lodi High this year. But her host family slowed down when speaking to her and helped translate.
O'Connor was impressed with Jung's language prowess.
"She's been learning English since fourth grade. I think that's what we need to be able to speak another language," she said.
When she wasn't troubling over verbs, O'Connor enjoyed sampling the local fare. Schnitzel, bratwurst and pretzels all made her list of favorites.
Hannah Boger, 18, bonded with Viktoria Geyer, 19, over a shared love of soccer. She even attended a Eurocup soccer game when Germany played Portugal.
Boger was enthralled by her visit to Brandenburger Tor, or the Brandenburg Gate, a symbol of Berlin and the main stage of the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. Centuries-old churches also caught her eye with their stately towers.
Having a German friend in her home town was a new experience, too. Boger took Geyer to a car show at A&W, showed off Lodi High and enjoyed Lodi Lake.
Boger said the differences between California and Germany are striking.
"Everything here is bigger. People are more friendly and outgoing. Waitresses like to be friendly. They have rolling hills of green trees, where we have more open fields," she said.
For Koth, it was a different kind of trip. She has made at least nine visits to Germany, so the cultural divide seems narrower to her.
"It's interesting to listen to the girls and see what they notice that I don't anymore," she said.
Koth enjoys her role of opening up new worlds for her students.
"It sounds like a cliche, but their horizons truly were expanded. One girl wants to travel more, while another wants to go back to Germany for college," said Koth. "They just have a more global perspective."
Boger is thankful for the experiences Germany provided, and can't wait to go back.
"You want my advice? If you can travel, do it. It's totally worth it," she said.