Meet Jakob Backes, the German Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) Participant of the Month for December 2019

Having recently been named the December 2019 CBYX German Participant of the Month by the U.S. Department of State (click here to read profile), we wanted to learn more about Jakob Backes’ experience in Brooklyn, MI. Placed by YFU and hosted by the Shay family, Jakob currently attends Napoleon High School.
How did you first learn about CBYX/PPP? What motivated you to apply?

Last summer, I went on an exchange to Beijing, China, for two weeks with the scholarship program Culture Connections China. Just these two weeks amazed me so much that I wanted more. I loved not just being a tourist, but living in a host family, and getting involved in the actual culture. So, I researched other opportunities to go abroad, whereby I learned about the CBYX program. I applied for not only the CBYX program, but also an exchange year in Paraguay. After I was accepted for both programs, the scholarship, political, historical and social aspects of the CBYX made it an easy choice for me to go to the USA.

What was it like to join the football team at Napoleon High School? How did you learn to play the game? What were the greatest challenges, and most rewarding moments?

Football is a sport I always wanted to play. However, in Germany the closest football club is over than an hour car ride away. So, I took the chance to join our high school´s football team here, and it was the greatest experience that I could ever imagine. We practiced three hours every day, and the competition was big. I guess due to 15 years of playing soccer in Germany, I was athletic enough to make it onto the Varsity team, and the individual football skills came through hard practice. After a few games I was even able to establish myself as a starting wide receiver. The greatest challenge was to keep going in the first weeks without getting much game time. But it paid off. I was given the senior award for hard work and positive attitude. Through football, I found new friends, became a part of the American sport culture, and found a sport that I definitely want to continue in Germany, no matter how far I have to drive for it.

How would you describe the differences between high school in the U.S. and Germany? What do you think each system could learn from the other?

The school systems have more differences than I expected. I can just talk about the differences between my current school here and my school in Germany. I guess there are also differences between schools in each country. 

In the U.S., the teachers are closer with their students than in Germany. They encourage their students more, and I would appreciate this in German schools. I like it better in Germany that there is more than just one school system, and you can choose to be done with school earlier, if you plan on learning a special task instead of going to college. Furthermore, the individual classes are not always separated in grades here in the U.S., which is why it is a lot easier to get to know students from different grades or even to become friends with them. 

A mixture of both systems, the German and the American, would be great.

You recently participated in the Civic Education workshop in Washington, DC? What was that like? What did you think of Washington? What important things did you learn?

It was definitely one of the best weeks of my life so far. The week included so many experiences that you are usually not able to explore. I loved to see how close the politics are to the people, like how you could easily get into the Capitol and even get in contact with representatives of your state. We learned so much about American culture, politics and history, and this is something that we will take back to our communities here in America and in Germany. I saw places, buildings, and people that I only ever saw on TV.

Tell us a little about your host family. What do you think Ethan is learning about Germany?

My host family includes my host mom Ginger, host dad Andrew and five-year-old host brother Ethan. I could not imagine a better host family for me. My host parents became my close friends and Ethan became like an actual brother for me. We spend a lot of time together, travel a lot and I am accepted into the family as if I were a real family member. I tell Ethan a lot about Germany and how my life was back there. It clearly broadens his horizon, although most of the things, he cannot understand yet. But one thing is certain: Ethan wants to come visit me in Germany.

How do you think CBYX is helping to prepare you for your future plans? What role do you think it plays in German-U.S. relations?

Since I came here, my plans about what I want to do in the future are changing all the time. I did not decide yet, but I realized that you do not have to hustle through your youth to be able to start working as soon as possible. I also realized that my future job should involve interaction with people. Because of the CBYX, I have the opportunity to see many new branches and think a lot about what life is really about. 

I think the CBYX, but also exchange in general, has a big impact on German-U.S. relations. It is not just about the participants. All the people in the community are involved in the program and learn about each other’s culture and so on. All the CBYX students I have met so far are super nice and well-educated. I am confident, we are all able to communicate the importance of international relationships on both private and political level. It is a pleasure to be part of this program. The CBYX and similar exchange programs should always be supported in the future.

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