Phil in America

Junior German exchange student shares about experience in a new country

Kristen Tibbetts

Before becoming a junior at McCallum, Phil Kollmann was a hip-hop dancer in his internationally-competing group, En2rage, a recreational tennis player and a prospective exchange student from Hannover, Germany. His sister applied for a scholarship from the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange program four years before he did, but unfortunately wasn’t accepted. However, this motivated Kollmann to send in an application for himself.

“It always seemed like a lot of fun,” Kollmann said. “I really wanted to live here for a year, see how it is to live in America, how different it is, and just to see the lifestyle.”

The day after the Youngs picked Kollmann up from the Austin airport was the very first day of school at McCallum.

The application process was not easy. In the first round of the application process, Kollmann filled out the proper paperwork, wrote essays about why he wanted to travel to the U.S., and even wrote letters describing how he would handle hypothetical problems while overseas. Kollmann moved on to the next round, where he and other students from his district were interviewed and took a history test. Only Kollmann and one other applicant moved on. In the final round, both applicants met with a politician that represented their region to discuss the importance of representing Germany well.

“We talked a lot,” Kollmann said. “We met and talked about politics, why I’m here, and what was my motivation… and she decided on me.”

All of the German exchange students who were accepted met together for a week to prepare for their trip. They went to seminars about life in America, learned more about United States history and were told about their responsibilities for representing Germany well while living in another country.

Kollmann hits a forehand cross-court to his teammate, sophomore Conrad Finos during fourth period tennis practice. Students had the option to either study for finals or practice, and Kollmann decided to use the time by continuing to improve his tennis skills. Photo by Kristen Tibbetts.

When he got the news that he had been accepted for the scholarship, Kollmann already knew that he was going to the United States. He didn’t know what city he was going to live in, however, until just one week before he boarded the plane to Texas. Before then, he had been preparing to spend a year in an unknown city with a family that he had yet to meet in person.

“I Skyped with them once for like 10, 20 minutes, and that was it,” Kollmann said. “[Then] I came here, they picked me up from the airport and we got to know each other. I didn’t choose who I stayed with, but I’m glad that I got this host family.”

For Kollman’s host brother, freshman Andrew Young, the feeling is mutual. Young admitted that at first it was awkward to adjust to suddenly having a new family member, but that he was glad his family decided to become a host family.

Unfortunately for Kollmann, the day after the Youngs picked him up from the Austin airport was the very first day of school at McCallum.

Kollmann was surprised to find that all of his hobbies were available to take as classes during the school day.

“I arrived at 10 p.m. the day before and then the next morning I had to register for school and choose my classes,” Kollmann said. “It was really stressful because I had to go. There was no mercy.”

The first day of school went as you might expect it to go for a student from a different country.

“You’re alone in a new school,” Kollmann said. “You don’t know anything, you don’t know anybody, you’re afraid to speak, but people were really nice. That was really helpful to me. It’s an advantage to be not American because then people want to talk to you.”

Kollmann’s nervousness didn’t show, however.

“He seemed very natural in the classroom,” said junior Vivian Williams, a friend and classmate of Kollmann’s. “I feel like if I was in another school with a language that wasn’t my first, I would be a mess. But he seemed very put together.”

While registering for school, Kollmann was surprised to find that all of his hobbies were available to take as classes during the school day. At his school in Germany, Kollmann had 14 classes a week, including religion, politics, and three different languages. However, he had to participate in his hobbies, dance and tennis, outside of school.

Kollmann started dancing seven years ago when his mom took him to a dancing school and convinced him to give it a try. Before joining his current hip-hop dance team, En2rage, he was a part of a youth team called YoungNature. He participated in international competitions located in his hometown of Hannover, competing against groups from Spain to Russia.

“Every country is different and every team is different,” Kollmann said. “It’s interesting to see different styles of dance.”

Although he had to take a break from En2rage to become an exchange student, Kollmann has enjoyed getting a chance to emphasise his other hobby: tennis. In March, Kollmann competed in a JV tournament at Akins High School, only his second tournament of the year, and won. His semifinal match was the most challenging. His opponent had beaten him 6-2 in the first set, but Kollman came back to win the second set and the third set tiebreaker.

“I wasn’t really successful in playing tennis in Germany because I just played for fun,” Kollmann said. “It was pretty cool to be successful here.”

Kollmann stars in his third and final final dance in the end-of-the-year dance show for non-acadamey majors, where he got to exhibit his hip-hop skills along with other types of dance. Photo by Kristen Tibbetts.

Kollmann was also able to try out some new activities during his time in Austin. Kollmann and Young go out to Lady Bird Lake three times a week to row and occasionally paddleboard.

“I’d never done rowing before I came here, but my host brother did it for a few years,” Kollmann said. “I wanted to come with him and try it out.”

Unknowingly, Kollmann wasn’t the only German exchange student at McCallum. In fact, sophomore Charlotte Steinhauer came from the same organization as Kollmann with the same scholarship.

“We met months after school started,” Steinhauer said. “It was kind of funny because everyone told me about this other German exchange student, Phil, and everyone told him about me.”

“I wasn’t really successful in playing tennis in Germany because I just played for fun. It was pretty cool to be successful here.”

— Junior Phil Kollman

They finally ended up meeting one another playing laser tag at an event scheduled for exchange students to get to know each other. In January, Kollmann and Steinhauer traveled to Washington DC along with other German exchange students living across the United States.

“It’s just awesome to talk to exchange students because they’re going through the same thing, being in a foreign country and speaking a different language,” Steinhauer said. “Sometimes you kind of want to talk German.”

Even though Kollmann will be going back to his home in Germany soon, he is happy with how much of America he has traveled to. He and his host family have gone to New York together and visited cities all across Texas, including spending spring break on a ranch. When the school year ends, his family in Germany is coming to pick him up and vacation in California before going home.

“I’m looking forward to see my family again and spend time with them,” Kollmann said. “I also want to see [what] California is like and explore a different side of America.”

Kollmann will be missed by all of the friends he has made during his time in Austin.

“He’s always there to lift up my mood,” Williams said. “He always makes me feel better whenever I’m having a bad day because he’s just so funny and so nice.”

Kollmann agrees that he too will miss everyone whom he has gotten to know.

“I think the things I will miss the most about America are my friends and host family,” Kollmann said. “But also [I will miss] high school because of all the fun [I have had].”