By Anna Cohen, Program Assistant for the Greenheart Club

On August 12, students from Germany, Italy, Mexico, and Vietnam had the opportunity to explore Chicago, get to know each other, and participate in teambuilding and volunteer activities through the Chicago Welcome Program, an orientation program for the incoming J-1 and F-1 high school students. Two German students in particular, Anna Meyer and Flora Kohlmeyer, were especially touched by this experience and how close they grew with their peers throughout the weekend.

The orientation began on the morning of Thursday, August 13, when students participated in an informational session led by Greenheart staff. Students were taught skills about how to have a successful year in the U.S. The group had the opportunity to check out the Willis Tower’s Skydeck and view Chicago from the tallest skyscraper in the city! For Anna, the highlight of her first evening was the speedboat ride on Lake Michigan:

“We all got wet but that didn’t change our super atmosphere. While the lights shined bright I had a great time and we all made new friends.”

Flora enjoyed learning about the Greenheart Club and doing a volunteer activity the next day: “we started the morning with an interesting presentation about volunteering, as a member of the CCI Greenheart Club and during the evening, we collected our first volunteer hours. Some of us worked at the “Inspiration Corporation” and the other group did some weeding in an urban garden. The volunteer work was straining but most important – it was a lot of fun!”

On Friday evening, the group toured Millennium Park and visited the famous “bean” sculpture along with other unique sculptures. Back at the hostel, the students had a closing ceremony and were given the chance to write themselves a letter that they would read at the end of their exchange experiences in the U.S.

Although the weekend was brief, the group made unique connections with each other and lasting friendships were formed. Anna felt excited to meet her host family the next morning but also sad to leave her new friends. “After this short time I had the feeling we knew each other for a long time and even though I was excited about my host family, it was sad to leave this great group the next morning.”

The Chicago Welcome Program is an optional add-on for J-1 High School and F-1 High School participants. Contact Anna Cohen, acohen(at)ccigreenheart(dot)org, if you have any questions or are interested in the Chicago Welcome Program!