Most students at Frankfurt School spend one or more semesters abroad during their Bachelor or Master programmes. While abroad, they live in dorms, shared flats, small apartments or sometimes with a host family. Herb Gross from San Diego USA, is probably the host with the longest history of welcoming Frankfurt School students to his house. In 1998, he started hosting exchange students from Frankfurt School during their semester abroad at San Diego State University. In an interview with Frankfurt School, he explains why he decided to take in students in the first place and why cultural differences are overrated.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where do you live, what do you do?
I live in San Diego, California. For 32 years, I was a high school teacher and counselor. During those years I also worked with foreign exchange students who came to our school district for one year stays. I helped them to coordinate assembly programs in the ten high schools in the district and got to know these students very well. I taught world geography and history. Since retiring from being an educator, I became a part time travel agent, which afforded me the opportunity to travel all over the world.
Over the years, you have hosted many Frankfurt School students for their semester abroad. How did it all start and why did you decide to host the students in the first place?
After my wife and I separated and our two sons were adults, I had a large empty house. It seemed natural for me to have foreign exchange students living in the house. Among them were students from the former HfB program (editor’s note: HfB – Hochschule für Bankwirtschaft was the predecessor of Frankfurt School). The first one had heard about me from a mutual acquaintance, who was studying at HfB at the time and told this student about me. Since this first HfB student in 1998, I have had several students from the business school. Many times, I met them first on my travels in Europe. This Fall, I will have another student from Frankfurt School, who is working part time at Commerzbank and heard about me from a former student who stayed with me.
What was it like to live under the same roof with young students? Where there any cultural differences?
There has never been a problem living with these students. They are comfortable with me and I feel the same. With my background it is easy for this to happen. Since I have been involved with foreign students for so long, and because of my travels, the cultural differences are no problem for me. I am also considered a good cook and the students enjoy the food. I cook and they clean – a good situation for both the students and me.
What is your favorite memory from that time?
I have many great memories from these experiences and most importantly, I am in contact with many of the students. Some come back often and as a matter of fact, three of them consider me their “American father” and they are my “German sons”. They come back every year during their vacation time and we have travelled together many times – mainly on Caribbean cruises.
What’s the secret to maintaining friendships over different generations and continents?
I believe having close relationships with these former students has happened because of mutual trust, and enjoying each other’s company. Even with different interests, including age differences, most of the time there is a comfortable feeling of friendship and loyalty.
I never expected this involvement to be part of my life, but I do embrace it. I am thankful for having had this opportunity.