Exchange Experience in FIRST


I, Christoph, am a German exchange student and became a FIRST rookie member on team 1983 – The Skunkworks. I would really like to share my experience in FIRST with some other people and hear how other persons in the same situation experienced their FIRST build season.
So here is my story:

I applied for the AFS program. AFS, the American Field Service, is one of the oldest student exchange agencies in the world and started out from an ambulance service on the battlefields in WW I and WW II. After WW II, AFS declared the goal to inprove the international relationships and communication by establishing a cultural exchange. My generation is the 60th year of student exchange. From a small town (Barntrup, Germany) I came to Seattle, WA, which is a huge change for me.
As an exchange student I had no influence on my placement. I was lucky to be placed at the Aviation High School in Des Moines, Washington. I have to say aviation is one of my passions. One of the many volunteers of AFS discovered my application and I was placed at this school.

Aviation High School is a very small but special school. Existing since 2004, AHS is about aviation; subjects like Aerospace Engineering are on the schedule. With only 380 students the school is quite small and expects more than my German school. Since AHS has no sport team at all it was hard for me to make friends because meeting other people playing football and so on was not possible. Hearing about robotics I joined the team although I never heard about FIRST.
There it started the FIRST off-season. It was a little confusing for me since I never heard about wrenches, screw drivers and spikes. I would know the German words for it but beginning from zero in English technical terms was quite hard. Last year’s team also was one strong unit, one real team, sharing stories and jokes I could not understand a lot of the time but this changed.

The team was very friendly and helped me with things I needed help with. I learned about robots and was helping for FLL in one regional and even volunteered for the state championships. Then the build season started. Well, first there was Kick-off. While most Americans were half asleep, I could hardly sit on the bleachers! Seeing the videos about this year’s game I realized how challenging the task will probably be. (I still have to say I love the FIRST intro-video, the video with “Your FIRST … Power Drill” etc.) At the beginning we were having six design teams to think about strategies we could go with, after this I joined the lift and slide subteam. Designing and building our ladder lift system was fun and I could give the robot a little personal touch by designing various parts such as mechanical ladder stops.

My special task should come though. During a class I took at my school I learned basics in Autodesk Inventor and improved them a little during a workshop over Christmas break, where I got to know some other FIRST members from team 1778, 492 and 488. After we decided what the final design looked like I started to build the model. After countless hours (I guess at least 150-200), countless wires and other little details, I knew nearly all the little details. While others were spending their midwinter break having fun outside I sat in front of my computer day and night. So about one day before deadline I finished my submission and I have to say that was a challenge but I hardly felt so good after accomplishing something before! Since I had a big knowledge about our robot, I was making the Skunkworks’ parts lists. The day after the submission was due, the first FIRST regional came:

The Oregon Regional, Portland
While I didn’t have a job for the first hour I spend my time enjoying the atmosphere in the pit and collecting as many buttons as possible. After that I mainly worked as a scout since I didn’t do much work on the robot before I didn’t make the pit crew. Looking back I have to admit, though, that scouting was fun and our scouting system turned out to function very well. After the qualification matches we were 9th pretty good for our second year team at the first FIRST regional this year. Unfortunately, our robot broke down in the quarterfinals during a crash with another team’s robot. (Well, you have FIRST overdosed when … your robot works!) After winning the first match, our alliance had lost the second and third match and therefore the quarterfinal. In between Portland and Tacoma we had time to work on our robot. After our first regional in Portland, I have been selected for our chairman’s award presentation team. For me this was a huge honor.

Microsoft Seattle Regional, Tacoma
With our greatly improved robot we took on the competition in Tacoma. We had to work nearly the whole practice day on it so that we only played the last two matches. While the pit crew was working hard. I spent my time on diverse designing and printing jobs together with team 1510. (I enjoyed working with you guys a lot!) The second day was the chairman’s presentation and I wasn’t that excited for a long time. It went well though and I was quite happy. While our presentation happened our whole school came down to Tacoma; and it got loud. I mean really loud. Teachers with ear protection and amazed students were the consequences. You could hear in the Chairman’s presentation room when our team came up. It was so loud it reached one floor down! After the presentation I went back to my scouting duties. Scouting didn’t sound a lot of fun but it definitely is. Our team had quite a scouting effort going which turned out to be helpful the next day. The placing round ended for us on the third place, we were picking for the first time. Since we had a lot more experience with our scouting system now, it was quite easy for us to choose our alliance partners. We decided to choose team 2046 and team 949, both teams that were at our school for our pre-ship scrimmage. We did really well together and advance very straight to the semi- and even the finals. Our first match was the closest so far. With 82-80, we were winning and the whole team happy. The second match was clearer and we won with 74-46. For me FIRST as a whole was an amazing experience but this day was really something very special, something I have never experienced before…winning a regional and seeing his robot work well after all the trouble you went through is just the best of all feelings. Then the award ceremony began and the Skunkworks missed out on most of the awards, even the Spirit Award, which I hoped to win since we were singing and cheering all the time, went to another team. Because of this I had some hope to get one of the “big ones”. Then our time for the Regional Winner Award came, walking down felt sooo good. Our team was so glad that we actually took three trophies with us…sorry team 949, well, we noticed on time that it happened but it was funny. Even better though was the rest of the Award Ceremony. While we didn’t get the Chairman’s Award, we were winning the Engineering Inspiration Award, which is, at least at my opinion, really the second place for Chairman’s. Celebrating with high fives and hugs, our team received the Award, which was even cooler for me since I actually worked more on it than on the regional win I also think that it is quite noticeable to win this award in the second year. I was simply glad, and proud to be a Skunk! The Few, the Proud, the Skunks! In my thoughts already at the announcing for the Autodesk Inventor Award finalists, I was helping to crate our robot in. We were the last team to leave the Convention Center, which was kind of weird since they really tried to get rid of us. Coming home, we were going out for dinner after we unloaded everything. When I came home I pretty much went straight to bed since I was so exhausted after the three days of amazing competition.

Back at normal life (means school and at only three robotics meetings a week :-P), my task was to design flyers for a presentation at the museum of flight in Seattle and for the Championships in Atlanta.

At April 4, my big day came. The Autodesk Inventor Award finalists were announced. After checking the Internet before, during and after every single period of my school day, it was finally 6th period when the results were up. We are finalists. Everybody was wondering why I was doing a dance but the robotics team mates understood. Our head mentor wrote an email to the other teachers so that the whole school congratulated me the next day. That was a sick feeling. After I was spending a lot of hours and my entire midwinter-break on it, it felt really, really good. Congrats to all other teams that made it and actually all teams that took on the challenge to compete in this award. It is an extraordinary achievement! I was surprised that team 1477 was not in the finals though. You did a great job and the light in your rendering is just amazing! I was pretty impressed. Well, for me, it’s the time of waiting and making people aware of the popular voting. So please go to, register and vote for one of the submissions in each category and of course, participate next year in the competition. If you have questions about the process, my model or anything else, feel free to email, pn or otherwise let me notice. Just about 10 days left until Atlanta, I am looking forward to it. It will be so amazing. Go Skunks! I will probably enjoy the scouting in our division! A report on my experience in Atlanta will, of course, follow. But so far from my experience in FIRST.

After all, I have to say that the most really good friends I made are on the robotics team.I really enjoy spending time with them and all the other persons I got to know through FIRST robotics. FIRST has given my life a totally new aspect. I had never as much fun and frustration at the same time. FIRST members will understand that. Within days I became a FIRST-addict. I am so addicted that I will try to convince my school to start a robotics team in Germany. FIRST is simply to amazing to not be done. So after all a big thanks from me to all FIRST volunteers, mentors, students, parents, simply everyone! FIRST touched my soul and changed my life and after all I think that’s what FIRST is looking for…

In Tacoma, I met two exchange students on team 2660. I enjoyed talking to them and that gave me the idea to make this thread. I would like to hear about experiences other exchange students and team with exchange students made had during their year.

Questions and comments are welcome!

Best regards and good luck to all teams

Chris, Germany
Team 1983 – The Skunkworks
Autodesk Inventor Design Team

its really friggin awesome to hear about FIRST from someone else. I better be seeing some teams pop up in Germany soon because there are a lot of teams who have had exchange students from Germany such as ours and I want to see that happen.

For several years, our team (341 Miss Daisy) has done bi-directional exchanges with FTC teams and high schools in Singapore. They have now come to visit us three times, and we plan on visiting them for the second time as a team in August.

Our head coach, Alan Ostrow (CD username: OZ_341) posted several threads and pictures that document our experiences.

The experience of having a group of Singaporean students cook us dinner at their hotel, and then singing to us, when they were over here made me break down in tears. Going over there was likewise one of the most eye-opening times of my life.

We’ve also been involved to a lesser extent with teams in Mexico.

With the globalization of FIRST, I strongly recommend that if you have the money, time, and dedication to support an inter-cultural exchange, you do so.

The experiences have changed my life - and the lives of both our students and the students abroad - in ways I didn’t think possible.

the exchange with the schools in Singapore is definitely great and I think FIRST is definitely worth being spread out over the whole world.

I strongly recommend that if you have the money, time, and dedication

You know, I will certainly try what I can. My biggest worry is not the money for most big German companies do not sponsor FIRST teams yet, a first FIRST year would be consisting of a lot of presentations in whole Germany!
My problem would be a little more to find a really dedicated mentor/teacher at our school since the time commitment is huge!
Thanks for sharing your experience