German partnership celebrates 45 years of student travel

Below is a slide show of some photos taken by some Huron High School German students on their summer trip to Tübingen. The trip was part of a German-American Partnership program between Ann Arbor and this sister city.

By Casey Hans
AAPSNews Service

Below: U-M offers scholarship for German-speaking students at Huron

Summer was full of language and learning for a group of Ann Arbor high school students who participated in the most recent German-American Partnership Program.

The exchange through the spring and summer marks the 45th year of the program in The Ann Arbor Public Schools, where German students travel to Ann Arbor and Huron and Pioneer students visit Ann Arbor’s sister city of Tübingen in southern Germany. The program is typically conducted every other year and about 40 students take part.

Huron HIgh School students (from left) Hanna Schwank, Nate Clyde and Maggie McCoy who were part of a partnership group to visit Germany.

An estimated 800 students have gone through the program since its inception.

Hanna Schwank, a Huron High School junior, said the experience was well worth it. “We got to be good friends with them,” said Schwank, speaking about the exchange families. Nate Clyde, also a junior, and friend Maggie McCoy, a Huron sophomore, all sat down recently to share some of their experiences with the program.

German students were here from May 11-June 1 and Ann Arbor students made the return trip overseas for three weeks in late June. In most cases, it was a true exchange: German students stayed in the same home, getting to know their “partner student” in Ann Arbor and then the Ann Arbor students visit, staying in the partner students’ homes in Germany.

German teachers Andy Smith at Huron and Robert Lederer at Pioneer have most recently coordinated the high school program. The two take groups to the same German city, but they partner with different schools so have different experiences, the students said. The German students submit essays/applications and the Ann Arbor students and families read them to determine who might be a good fit, Schwank said.

Smith said he still hears from graduates who went through the exchange and have found ways to blend German into their lives. “It’s about kids that live on opposite sides of the world forming friendships,” he said. “It’s something that a lot of them will carry with them their whole lives.”

According to Smith, students enrolled in German classes are eligible to participate, and partial funding comes from the German American Partnership Program, via grants from the U.S. federal government, the German federal government, and private corporations. Families and students pay for the remainder of the trip, this year about $1,800 per person. If students can’t afford all of their portion, organizers work with them to help them get the money. “We work hard to keep it affordable,’ he said.

Smith first went on the German exchange trips when he was a student at Pioneer. He started volunteering as a chaperone in the early 1980s and then went as a teacher.

“It’s just an incredible educational experience,” Smith said. “There’s nothing quite like the real thing.”

Smith said the exchange also gives students a global and international feel, which is part of everyone’s world today. “These kids are beginning to form ideas of what it’s like to be in a different country. The obvious advantage is the academic knowledge. They’re immersed 24-7 in the language.”

And that’s a key part of the exchange. Schwank said the students worked at speaking German when there, but at times were more successful than others. “I knew my sentences weren’t always correct, but I was getting my point across,” she said.

Clyde noted that the German students “were much better in English than we were in German,” something he noticed during their time in Ann Arbor.

Clyde and Schwank are in third year German at Huron this year and McCoy in her second year of study. Schwank chose to study German because it was a natural for her. Her father is Austrian, so she has many relatives who speak the language. Clyde said he loves history, especially studies of the World Wars, so German seemed an interesting language to study. McCoy had taken Spanish, but was tired of it and wanted to try something new.

While in Tübingen, Ann Arbor students got to experience World Cup soccer play, German-style, where large outdoor screens were set up for the entire community to enjoy. Schwank said German flags were flying everywhere and the pride was evident.

Another thing they noticed: Youngsters in Germany are much more multi-lingual than in the United States. “They were taught language from the second grade and then they add a language,” said McCoy, the youngest member of the Huron travel group. Clyde added: “They’re like tri-lingual.”

In addition to experiencing the culture in Tübingen, the students noticed some differences in the way German high school students function in their everyday lives compared with their own. Most everyone in Germany walks or takes the bus and train and, since there’s always public transportation available, families don’t worry as much about how their children get home, the students said.

Schwank said students made their way easily around the city and got to know it better than they know Ann Arbor.

Plus, there’s an independence about the German culture, Clyde said. “The freedom was nice.  We really liked the public transportation.”

When they went on day trips, “host parents would pack you some sausages uncooked and some bread,” Clyde said. “You would just roast the sausages on a fire. We mastered cooking.”

The group developed bonds among their own group that they didn’t have before their travels. “Most of us didn’t know each other very well. We made a lot of friends,” Schwank said.

Clyde said he likes to cook, so he’s hoping to get the travel group together this fall for a party and a pretzel-making party – one of the many snacks and foods the students enjoyed while in Germany. The students also enjoyed döner kebabs, a Turkish grilled meat that was enjoyed everywhere they went.

Schwank’s mother, Lynne Schwank, said the family decided the trip would be worthwhile and that Hanna gave up some things so that she could travel. Hanna’s father, Johannes Schwank, travels around the world for his work in addition to having relatives in Austria, so the family has visited that part of the world many times before.

But Lynne Schwank said the exchange program offers more than just a fun trip for the students as well as hosting families. “I would tell people don’t be afraid to open your home to somebody,” she said. “It’s mutually beneficial. It helps you look at your world differently. It enriches people to be aware of other cultures.”

Casey Hans edits this newsletter for The Ann Arbor Public Schools. E-mail her or call 734-994-2090 (internal ext. 51228.)


U-M offers scholarship for Huron High School students
who have German language skills

The University of Michigan is organizing a scholarship for Huron High School students who have had at least one year of German language study. The scholarship is being facilitated through the Germanic Languages and Literatures Department in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts.

According to German teacher Andy Smith, the Huron High School German Scholarship was developed after businesses told the university that knowledge of German was a skill they were seeking. Although students can major in any area to qualify for the scholarship, specific areas that need German language skills include: engineering, chemistry, physics, Life Sciences or business.

The scholarship offers $1,000 as a one-time award that will be made beginning with the class of 2011, Smith said.

The scholarship was started with seed money from several area business leaders and alumni including: Richard Sheridan, CEO of Menlo Innovations; Ray Digby, co-founder of Am Can Financial; Certified Financial Planner Dave Granner of Thrivent Financial; and Judith Dabertin, CEO of Boulevard Health Care. Other private donors have also contributed.

Granner, a Huron High School parent and Ann Arbor businessman, has a special reason for donating to the fund and said he was pleased to help encourage students to take a foreign language.

He spent his childhood living in different parts of the world and felt he should learn a language to enrich his life.  He took German throughout his schooling, enrolling in a German class during every semester he attended U-M.  “I had a resolution I would learn this language with the intent to speak it fluently,” he said.

Although it was not his major, he said he enjoys it and often uses bits of it when speaking with those of German heritage from the Ann Arbor area.

Smith said students interested in applying for the scholarship should see him and he will help them with the application process.

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