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As many American students are starting 2012 summer internships or thinking about fall already, three German students are finishing a rather unusual internship at Asbury Methodist Village, a continuing care retirement community in Gaithersburg, MD.
There, they worked - and lived - among the 1,000 plus seniors, fine-tuning their English and learning invaluable lessons along the way.
"The biggest value was to learn to live in a different culture where people have a different mindset," said Felix Johne, 19, who lives near Munich. "This internship was my only work opportunity to experience a community like this from the inside."
"We learned not only from the staff but from the residents, many who have lived and traveled in other parts of the world and had very interesting lives," Johne continued. "I learned to respect everyone, no matter what stage of life or health they are in here."
Johne split his time between Asbury Methodist Village's TV station, where more than 30 residents volunteer their time, some hosting and producing shows, and the Wilson Health Care Center.
The students' stay comes through World Horizons and is reflective of a new trend in German youth.
Now that military service is no longer mandatory, post-high school/pre-university students may spend that year exploring new opportunities and career options. When the interns leave in July, they will be embarking on their college years.
"It has been great living with seniors. I have 100 new grandparents," said Nina Rotert, 19, from Cologne. "I want to be a teacher, and I got to talk to former teachers who gave me advice. I appreciated their wisdom."
Rotert, who worked in residential care management and the health care center at Asbury, gained self-confidence and a better ability to work independently and as a team.
So what advice do the students have for American students as they pursue internships? They all agreed on the value of studying abroad at some point just to learn what it's like to live in a different culture.
But even in domestic internships, they encouraged American students to try to get as much experience as possible and to try things they never thought they could do.
"Approach other people, always be friendly, learn to get along with others and start conversations about what inspires you," said Nicholai Schneickert, 20, who wants to major in marketing or media management. "I thought that perhaps seeing people dealing with the difficulties of aging would be hard, but to the contrary, many of the residents here are active, vibrant and have so many great experiences to share."
"We watched how they take chances, enroll in classes, go to lectures, learn new things and take advantage of opportunities to continue growing and being active," added Johne. "That, I think, is the key."
Of course, it was also nice having all those grandparent types around. "They love having us here," Schneickert said. "They would sometimes bring us cakes and cookies. It was very sweet and a great time."