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Former exchange student returns for visit

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Posted: Tuesday, January 8, 2019 10:31 am | Updated: 4:33 pm, Fri Jan 11, 2019.

Lilly Gohla, former exchange student from Austria, came back to Scottsboro for the holidays to visit with the many friends and family she made during her time here. Gohla attended Scottsboro High School (SHS) during the 2013-2014 school year. She is currently studying Political Science at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany. She also does a great deal of social community work in Tanzania.

“My time in Scottsboro shaped me into the person I am today,” said Gohla.

Gohla came to Scottsboro when she was sixteen years old. She came from a town of 900 people in Austria, so the change of scenery was not as hard to get accustomed to as her host brother, Carlos Martinez. Martinez was from Madrid, Spain and he attended North Jackson High School. Gohla and Martinez lived with the late Debbie Taylor during their time in Jackson County. Taylor was the former secretary to the mayor in Scottsboro. She said it was definitely a learning process coming to America. In Austria, she was legally allowed to drink. She could go out and party with her friends. Her parents’ only rule was to not drink and drive or get in the car with someone who had been drinking. While she was in Scottsboro, she had a curfew of 10 p.m. Even though she had these stricter rules, she made the most out her time in Scottsboro. She made many memories with her host family, like going to North Jackson football games as a family to watch Martinez, who was the kicker for the Chiefs. She remembered late nigh trips to Walmart with Taylor. Gohla said they would stay up watching movies or playing PlayStation, and Taylor would suddenly say “Let’s go to Walmart, y’all.”

Over the holidays, Gohla stayed with Pat Wildman, who is Taylor’s best friend and next-door neighbor. Gohla said Wildman is like a second mother or grandmother to her. She met up with Taylor’s family and spent Christmas with them.

Gohla made friends fast in Scottsboro. She said she got lucky when it came to meeting people.

“In the first week, I met all the people I still call my friends,” said Gohla.

She made countless memories with her friends in Scottsboro as well. Gohla said one of her favorite memories was when Hunter Lewis asked her to prom. She loved the whole high school experience. She rode the school bus when she first started at SHS, but after two weeks her friends made sure she always had a ride to and from school.

“The generosity of the people here is amazing,” said Gohla.

She made plenty of friends, and she comes back every one and a half years. Gohla said she found her friends and family here. She has been back four times since her time as a foreign exchange student. She really misses the free refills at restaurants in America. She jokingly said that was the real reason she keeps coming back. Gohla said her teachers at Scottsboro High school also made a big impact on her life. She said Betty Esslinger shaped her life the most. Gohla only had her for one semester, but said she was “absolutely amazing.” Gohla also got to go on the New England Odyssey (NEO), which is a trip SHS students take to major cities in the Northeast between their junior and senior year. Gohla said she was thankful she was placed in Alabama because of the people she met while she was here.

“Scottsboro showed me that you don’t need to call a place home, people are home,” said Gohla.

She said her time in Scottsboro helped her become open minded and self confident enough to know that if she spent a year in one culture, she could spend another year in a different culture. She wants to see the world and how everything works around the world. The lessons she learned in Scottsboro guided her to be the helping person she is today.

Gohla spent six months in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania doing social community work for the East African city. She is heading a project called Muli Muli, which means Christmas Lights, that is meant to bring people together, sharing different cultures, knowledge and just having fun. The Muli Muli project has a hostel, a fish hatchery, and different workshops. She wants to bring together guests of the hostel with the local community so everyone can share knowledge and benefit from intercultural exchange. They added Christmas light to a little house, and it has become a symbol of being together.

Another project Gohla is working on is financing an orphanage in Dar es Salaam. There is an orphanage and a school on the same property, and their goal is the build up the school in order to finance the orphanage. The existing school is a nursery school that serves children ages one and a half to seven. They want to expand the school to make it a primary school because then they would have the resources to finance the orphanage. The school is a privately run school, which means parents have to pay to send their children to the school. However, it is one of the least expensive schools in the city. Gohla said they wanted a private school because state run schools do not teach English, and they are notorious for not being good schools. The orphanage is also privately run. A husband and wife take care of twenty-six children. There are many orphanages in Dar es Salaam, and many get help from the state. Gohla said that she did not want help from the state.

“It was really important for me to have that personal connection,” said Gohla.

Gohla has fallen in love with helping people, and she plans on making humanitarian work a career. To learn more about Lilly Gohla’s project in east Africa, visit https://teddyshomehostel.com/

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