Language Learning in the Fast Lane
The German Exchange trip to Hannover
A group of twelve students traveled to Germany this past June with Herr Smith and Frau Geiger on the annual German Exchange Program. In addition to a stay with a host family in Hannover, these students also visited Berlin, the Rhine River, Mainz, Trier, and Cologne. This photo is taken at the ruins of the castle "Rheinfels". Pictured are in the front row from the left: Theresa Ritzmann, Claire Peters, Louise Page, Sarah Culver, Frau Geiger, Michelle Warner and Herr Smith. In the back row are from left: Emily Rodgers, James Read, Margaret Culver, Anne Seighman, Dave van Hoof, Adam Hoffman, and Emily Bedell. In October, a group of 16 German teenagers will be visiting State College.
Ask the typical American what he or she knows about Germany and the chances are that the answers will include some mention of the Autobahn, the fabled highway system where drivers of Mercedes, BMW’s and Porsches can drive as fast as they want. There is no speed limit! This image of Germany is superficial and not even entirely true of the Autobahn; nevertheless, the seven State High students who participated in this year’s exchange trip to Germany did learn that Germans drive fast and much, much more.
The German exchange has been going on now for almost 20 years. It works this way: a group of German students visits State College High in the fall for about 3 weeks. During this time they stay with families in the district, attend classes at the school and go on field trips to places like Philadelphia, Niagara Falls, Washington, and NYC. At the end of the school year, in June and July, our students have the opportunity to make the return trip. They can also experience the German school day because the German school year goes longer into the summer than ours does. Because this is an exchange trip the cost, paid entirely by the participants, is very reasonable: about $2,000 for a three-week stay.
Some of the destinations on our trip are Berlin, the Rhine River (where students spend the night in a 750 year old castle), Cologne and the North Sea island of Norderney (see photo). But it is interesting that year after year our students seem to like our host city of Hannover the best. This city has much of its own to offer. Students visit the VW factory there and have a reception at the neo-gothic town hall. On one day they get up at 4:30 a.m. to visit a typical German bakery and see how that delicious bread is made which they eat so often. Some students visit the Herrenhauser Garten, a beautiful baroque garden like a mini-Versailles, or the world-class Hannover zoo.
Most important of all are the relationships that our students make with their host families. It takes courage to step into another family in a foreign land and to communicate in a different language. That is what our students do. Language learning is never more intense or more real. Our students learn the truly necessary words like “to shower” which their teacher has neglected to teach them. They learn the everyday language and can ask the “experts,” the native speakers, how to say things. This intense personal language experience and the emotional bonds that go with it are things that students carry with them forever. It motivates them to learn more and gives them new confidence. There are tears when it is time say good-bye but in this case the German words “Auf Wiedersehen” are more fitting – “until we see each other again!”
For a student' perspective click here.