They say to know about culture, you must live there, which serves as the message behind student-exchange programs.
Twenty German exchange students were recently recognized by the Nevada County Board of Supervisors for their involvement in the German exchange program’s 25th year of existence.
Students from Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Göttingen, Germany, are visiting the U.S. for three weeks, two of which will be spent with host families in Nevada County, and one will be spent in San Francisco.
The student exchange program began in 1988 after coordinator Rainer Koester took part in the Fulbright Teachers Exchange in 1986, where he taught German at Nevada Union and Nevada Union teacher Rick Duber taught English at Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium.
Koester, who teaches English and physical education, coordinates the program with his wife, Petra Siebert, who is also an English and arts school teacher.
“We both enjoyed it a lot,” Koester said. “The whole exchange is very important. We want to support German culture and language and get (American) students in the German classes.”
The three students from the exchange, all high school juniors, said they are loving the experience of staying in America.
“It’s awesome,” said Till Bornemann, 17, who said electives in Germany have more of a focus on the arts. “The sports here in America are different. In America, you have school sports, and in Germany you have different clubs. There is more community spirit here.”
Tine Schrader, 16, said she visited New York before but preferred the experience of living with a family through the exchange program. “New York is very big and international,” Schrader said. “Staying with a host family is better. I learn more about culture and family life.”
The students also gushed about the mild weather in Nevada County, vastly different from the snow-covered winter back home.
“And the students are very open-minded and friendly,” said Vicky Schuele, 17.
Koester and Siebert took the students to local landmarks like Coloma, where Schrader uncovered four small gold pieces while gold panning, the state Capitol in Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, in which Bornemann braved the cold and swam.
“If you go to Lake Tahoe, you have to swim,” he said.
The group leaves Sunday for San Francisco and plans to visit Fisherman’s Wharf and Chinatown, and bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, Siebert said.
“Ooh, clam chowder,” Schrader said, with excitement.
Food was something with which the students said they were all impressed, especially barbecue.
“Have you ever had the Mongolian barbecue?” Bornemann asked with heightened interest. “I had eaten it for the first time here. It is so good.”
Students also found transportation to be very different in the U.S. than in Germany, where buses are the norm and even run until midnight, Siebert said.
“People are always depending on cars,” said Siebert, who explained that Göttingen is predominantly a college town where many people also bike every day.
Everything in America is also bigger, the students said.
“The fridges here are huge, and the cars are big and the garages,” Siebert said.
“Everything is so big,” Schrader added. “They have more cars than people.”
The stay in America also afforded an opportunity to better understand English, Bornemann said.
The program is subsidized by the German government, Siebert said, and students are given the opportunity as freshmen to visit other countries to prepare for expansion of cultural understanding.
“It makes them think, ‘I can do anything,’” Siebert said.
The teachers both said they enjoy seeing the surprise and excitement of the students when they take them overseas.
“We both had spent a year abroad, and I know how it changed my life,” Koester said. “Once you’ve done it yourself, you see what you can take back. I am hoping this helps the German program expand.”
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.
“We both had spent a year abroad, and I know how it changed my life. Once you’ve done it yourself, you see what you can take back. I am hoping this helps the German program expand.”
— Rainer Koester