From its immense castles and magnificent greenery to its charming, picturesque towns, Germany is overflowing with history and beauty just waiting to be discovered. While the country in itself is incredible, it would be to one’s advantage to be able to speak the language. Here at South Lakes High School, we offer a set of classes that could improve one’s knowledge of the German language and culture. In addition to the benefits gained from being multilingual, students are given the opportunity to test their newly acquired skills in a setting beyond the confinements of the classroom walls.
On the evening of the June 13th, students and accompanying adults will embark on their excursion into the far off Deutschland. This particular exchange program has been in place at South Lakes for ten years, and one of the current two teachers in charge, Frau Finley, has been overseeing the operation for its full duration. Another teacher, Frau Lewis, has jumped aboard only this year but is equally excited for the impending trip. The exchange occurs every other year, and due to all of the planning required, students sign up the preceding school year.
“The purpose of the German exchange program is to allow students the opportunity to become more globally minded and culturally aware as they practice the language and to participate in a cultural exchange to broaden their perspectives,” Frau Lewis summarized. It is called an exchange program, because this upcoming September, the exchange students will switch roles, and the students in Germany that are participating will be spending some time at our school.
Just as students from France visited us earlier this year, two weeks will be spent with host families, giving students a taste of what it’s like to be a high school student in Braunschweig, Germany. The remaining time abroad will be packed with sightseeing from both a student and tourist perspective. They will explore an art museum, various history museums, and take a “Berlin on Bike” tour in order to dig deeper into subjects discussed in class such as the Cold War. They will also take a river tour, visit a concentration camp in Berlin, and pass through Heidelberg University, Frau Lewis’ previous university and Germany’s oldest university. At the school, students will participate in a German graduation and end of the year celebration. Since she has not returned since she graduated, Frau Lewis is looking forward to revisiting the place she once called home. “There’s a famous phrase that is ‘I lost my heart in Heidelberg,’” she reminisced, “and it’s something that I’ve always kind of held very dear, so I’m most excited about that.” Students will also traverse the castle that served as an inspiration for Disney’s movie Frozen and castles in Heidelberg and Linderhof-three of Germany’s more renowned castles.
This program not only allows students to meet new people and go on an adventure, but it is also an chance for growth and improvement as German students and as individuals. Being a part of something like this that is so extraordinary is rewarding for both teachers and students, and while Frau Finley has been organizing this exchange for years, the joy that it brings still hasn’t faded. “From a teacher perspective, I really love watching my students learn and experience the culture. I love their questions and their comments about what they’re learning-not just the language but about people and culture. Even though we go to the same castles every time, it’s a different experience, because it’s a different group of kids,”she explained. The reason that this opportunity is so unique is that the knowledge and skills students will obtain cannot be replicated in a classroom setting. By travelling and broadening their horizons, these students are making a real impact on the world, no matter how miniscule the changes may seem to be. Our days as high school students are numbered, so remember life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.