Twinning association wants to send more Yorkers to France, Germany

Olivia Miller
York Dispatch
Morgan Schafer and Laura, a host student, at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

Tianna Seitz, a 17-year-old upcoming senior at Dallastown High School, received "the best Christmas present ever" when her parents got her involved in a local program that sends people abroad. 

The York Twinning Association is a nonprofit that organizes and finances opportunities for both students and adults to connect with people overseas and experience other cultures. 

JaNeene Powell, YTA president, said the organization got its name from the idea that York has been "twinned" with Arles, France, since 1954 and with Leinfelden-Echterdingen, Germany, since 1982. 

Students and adults can travel with the YTA to either of these cities, and while they're there they live with a family native to the area, according to Powell. 

The organization is working now to get more high school students involved with the program and has two events coming up to help spread the word.

It is showing the movie "Les Miserables" at 7 p.m. Sunday, July 14, Bastille Day, at Kiwanis Lake. It's free to the public in the hope that it will spread awareness to the community about the program. 

And the YTA's annual wine tasting event will take place at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 23, at Studio 29, 29 E. Princess St. Tickets can be purchased in advance for $20 or at the event for $25. 

Morgan Schafer and Laura, a host student, at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin.

Exchange: What's unique about the twinning association? One thing is it's an exchange program — the French or German student or adult who hosts a Yorker in their homeland comes to York, and they live with the same family.

Seitz went to France in July 2018, and even though she had been to France before, she said she was excited to see it from the "local perspective," outside of tourism. 

A reservation Seitz had was the language barrier, she said. 

"I was really good at speaking French in the classroom, but once I stepped out, I had to rewire my brain," she said. 

Seitz said her trip to France taught her that immersion is the best way to learn.

"I think the most important thing is the people going have to be willing to learn and make mistakes," Seitz said.

'Part of their family': Kristin Witmer, the YTA's French student program coordinator, said she has been with the organization since 2002 and the coordinator for the past 10 years. 

"When you stay in the home of someone who lives in that environment, you become a part of their family," Witmer said. 

The YTA has hosted more than 1,000 people over the last 65 years, according to Witmer. 

Another participant is Abigail Miller, a 17-year-old upcoming senior at York Country Day School. 

Arles, the city where Abigail Miller's host family lives, has cafes that line the streets.

Miller also went to France last summer, in July 2018, two years after her older brother traveled with the YTA, she said. 

The group consisted of two boys, four girls and a chaperon, but she said she felt like the majority of the trip was spent with her host family. 

“It allows (students) to step out of their comfort zone, get away from their parents and figure things out for themselves in a way that they’re able to discover new things about themselves," Miller said. 

The trip was an "experience I'll never forget," she said. 

"Living in someone's house fully immerses you in the culture, and experiencing other culture really changes you," Miller said. 

Gaining confidence: Morgan Schafer, a 17-year-old graduate of Red Lion Area Senior High School, went to Germany with the YTA in June 2018. 

Schafer's German teacher "pushed" for them to go, and she said she knew of students who went years before her. 

"I've always kind of had the travel bug," Schafer said. "My family travels across the country a lot, so this was kind of a good balance of going on my own but not alone."

Schafer said she studied German for three years before going and has studied it for the year since then. 

"I definitely gained a lot of confidence in myself," she said. "I was able to ask questions and have conversations." 

Morgan Schafer with two of the American students at a public viewing of the World Cup game between Germany and Mexico.

Low cost: Like Miller and Seitz, the cost was relatively cheap considering it's two weeks in Europe. Schafer said she only had to pay for the plane ticket, which was around $1,500. 

"It's a cost-effective way to travel because you don't have to worry about anything," she said. 

Carolyn Van Newkirk, the YTA's director at large, said she has been involved in the organization since 1981 and has traveled and hosted a number of times over the years. 

At its formation, the goal was to educate and connect people in the aftermath of World War II, led by teachers in York City: Victoria Lyles, the superintendent of elementary instruction, and Marguerite Eriksson, a French teacher, Newkirk said. 

In recent years, the district hasn't been as involved in the YTA because of the lack of language courses offered in city schools, and the YTA administration wants to change that, according to Newkirk. 

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