Sixteen high school students from Berlin, Germany, spent two weeks in the United States, the bulk of their trip in Blaine and Spring Lake Park.
The students, 14 juniors and two seniors from Gabriele-von-Bülow-Gymnasium, traveled here as part of a cultural exchange through the German American Partnership Program, sponsored by the German Foreign Office and the U.S. Department of State.
Spring Lake Park High School students will fly to Berlin in June.
Dan Buck, a German teacher at Spring Lake Park High School, initiated the exchange program in 2005, welcoming students from and taking students to Berlin every other year.
“When I take kids to Germany, I always tell them I’m taking them to the biggest classroom ever,” Buck said. Outside of the traditional classroom, a language and culture become real, he said.
Students stay with volunteer host families in both countries.
“You wouldn’t be able to repeat the experience,” said Peter Germershausen, an English teacher from Gabriele-von-Bülow-Gymnasium and one of two chaperones on the trip.
The exchange is unique because students are not tourists, he said. They have the opportunity to really explore everyday American life. Students shadowed high school students for three days and toured the police station, fire station, city hall and National Sports Center in Blaine.
The students arrived in the United States Sept. 21 and departed Oct. 5.
At the high school, German student Jessica Fricke found that relationships between students and teachers are much more casual in the U.S. “They’re so nice to each other,” she said. “They can talk to each other and make jokes.”
Students agreed that academically, classes are harder in Germany.
The after-school culture is very different because there are no sports teams at their school, only club sports outside of school, they said.
A three-day trip to the North Shore and excursions in Minneapolis and St. Paul punctuated their time in Anoka County.
Hiking at Gooseberry Falls, visiting the Science Museum and touring the State Capitol could not compete with a trip to the Mall of America for many of the students who listed it as their favorite part of the trip before heading to Chicago, Ill., where they spent the last few days of their trip.
Generally, impressions of the United States were positive.
“It’s so clean here; there’s no litter,” Patricia Alexandra Graf said.
“They’re a lot more friendly than Germans,” Saskia Wolniak said of Americans.
“The Minnesota miracle has worked,” said Margitta Becker, the group’s other chaperone, also an English teacher from Gabriele-von-Bülow-Gymnasium. The miracle to which she referred was the combination of warm weather and the personal warmth and hospitality students received.
Ten days seemed like 10 weeks because such close friendships formed, Becker said at the farewell potluck Oct. 2, before the group left for Chicago.
Becker has visited the Spring Lake Park School District three times to chaperone these exchanges. “It’s a success story,” she said.
The host students get a lot out of the visit, too.
“You lean a lot about your own culture,” said Jackie Johnson, a junior at Spring Lake Park. ‘You get to see it from someone else’s perspective.”
“And you get to make new friends,” sophomore Jenny Bostan said.
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