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Paynesville Press - September 25, 2002

PAHS hosts students from Ulm, Germany

By Jennifer E. Johnson

Since 1973, German students from Paynesville Area High School have visited Germany 18 times as part of a cultural exchange. Twelve of those trips have included five-day homestays in the city of Ulm.

For the first time in nearly three decades, 19 students and two teachers from Ulm made a reciprocal journey to Paynesville this month. Their stay began on Monday, Sept. 2, and ended on Tuesday, Sept. 17, when they left for a three-day stop in Chicago before heading home.

Studens and teachers from Ulm, Germany This was the first time any of the Humboldt Gymnasium students had been to the United States. It was also a new experience for one of the teachers, Juergen Michmas, while the other, Barbara Jeremias, has visited the United States once before.

Nineteen students and two teachers from Ulm, Germany spent two weeks in Paynesville for a cultural exchange.

Through the years one or two students from Ulm have come to Minnesota on an individual basis, attending classes at PAHS for a short time before returning home, but this month's group is the first school-organized exchange from Germany.

PAHS English teacher Amy Flanders was instrumental in orchestrating the exchange program. Last year the Flanders family hosted Chris Walosek from Ulm, and it was through his encouragement that the whole group decided to come here.

Ulm, which is the birthplace of Albert Einstein, is nestled in the heart of southern Germany, between Stuttgart and Munich. The city of roughly 115,000 people is ringed to the north and west by the hills of the Swabian Alb. The Danube River borders Ulm to the south, separating it from the smaller Bavarian town of Neu-Ulm.

Making the trip to the United States in September made some students uneasy, they said, but for the most part they didn't worry much about the flight overseas. Security was very tight, and it was a strange feeling going through all the checkpoints, they added. Some were asked several different times to remove their shoes for inspection.

While in Minnesota, the high school age students toured the state capitol, the Mall of America, Fort Snelling, the Walker Art Museum, and many other spots with their homestay families.

Students from Paynesville (in parentheses) hosted the following Ulm students: Charlotte Lang (Kendra Johnson), Corinna Seliger (Cassie Chrast), Franziska Greiner (Amanda Glenz), Christina Hartmann (Kelly Schultz), Christoph Mayr (Derek Burris), Noemi Merkle (Susie Swyter), Johannes Keilmeyer (Josh and Nic Binsfeld), Pascal Simon Grote (Nic Nelson), Mara Heide (Melissa Andrie), Christian Mychajliw (Amber Spanier), Philipp Hartmann (Mike Mueller), Max Roemer (Fred Stock), Anne Marie Berchtold (Kayla Welle), Simone Miller (Ann Stalboerger), Steffi Kantzow (Jessica Paul), Michael Denoix (Ryan Glenz), Cecile Jeremias (Kim Hess), Marie Jeremias (Brooke and Brittni Schmitz), and Felix Kraus (Pat Noonan).

Commenting on her host family experience, PAHS senior Susie Swyter said, "We tried to speak German a few times at home, but mostly we spoke English."

Though they came from different places, the teenagers found they had shared interests. "We actually had a lot in common, some of the same interests: music, favorite movies, or foods," added Swyter.

Still, there were differences. The Swyter family brought Noemi to see a football game. "She had no idea what football was," Susie laughed.

PAHS German teacher Darrel Carstens hosted Michmas, while English teacher Amy Flanders housed Jeremias, who wanted to be sure that everyone in Paynesville knew what a remarkable time the group had. "We've just had so much fun and everyone has been so kind," she said.

Several students said that they wished they could stay longer. Charlotte Lang, a buoyant redhead, said she wanted to visit Paynesville, "to get to know America" and also "to better my English."

The German students mused on the many differences between their home and America, as seen in Paynesville. When asked if they would recommend the program to other students at their school, the class all spoke a resounding, "YES!"

One student was amazed that some Americans had little knowledge of Germany. "Someone asked if we had refrigerators," she said incredulously.

Many found it strange not to be able to go anywhere they wanted by taking the bus or other public transportation. "Everyone here has a car," noted another student. "You have to always organize someone to take you places."

The Ulm students were unprepared for the warm reception they received here. "I was surprised everyone is so nice," said one female student.

They were also surprised at the amount of time students spent at school after classes. In Germany, social life is less focused around the school campus. After classes finish for the day, most students leave for extracurricular activities elsewhere. "Here the whole life is at the high school. At home we have sports clubs or take lessons that are separate," said one male student.

Students also compared the patriotism found at PAHS with their gymnasium. It would be highly unusual for them to sing the national anthem or see the German flag within a classroom at home, they said.

Another cultural difference was the way Americans eat on the run, consuming fast-food, while in Germany it's still customary to share meals, including breakfast, if possible, with the family together at the dinner table.

Academically, many felt that the curriculum here is quite a bit easier than what they're accustomed to. In Germany, gymnasiums are for university-bound students in the top 25 percent of their grade. Students are put on the gymnasium track by instructors early in their school careers, entering gymnasium by ten years of age. They begin learning English by the age of 12, and most students move on to university by 18 or 19.

In March 2003, 41 PAHS German students will make the return trip to Ulm with the option of either staying with the same students that their familes hosted or with someone new. "About 20 have opted to stay with German students they already know," said Carstens.

Looking forward to the coming trip, Swyter said, "I'm sure it will be a good experience. I know it was for Noemi."

German teachers Michmas & Jeremias Ruminating on the German visitors, Carstens said, "I think we learned a lot about culture and their country while they were here. We had a lot of great discussions between the German and Paynesville students."

Humboldt instructors Juergen Michmas (left) and Barbara Jeremias (right) point to Ulm on the map. In March 2003, 41 PAHS students will travel to Ulm for homestays with friends both old and new.

He went on to say, "The group has had a great influence on our students, as we have had on them. It has been a great language learning opportunity, a cultural exchange, and a development of many wonderful friendships."

The cultural impact of getting to know teenagers and teachers from another country stretched beyond the borders of Carsten's German classroom, summing up the experience he said, "The whole school benefited from this experience as we widened our horizons to the world."

As an added bonus, Carstens helped Juergen cross one of his lifetime goals off the list. "I've always told my wife that I dreamed of mowing a great big lawn on one of those 'riders'," Juergen laughed, "where I'm from we only have small yards or none at all." Carstens seemed happy to oblige, donating his riding lawnmower and grass in need of trimming to the cause.

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