By Jo Mathis
AAPS District News Editor
The surprises began even as their plane descended into Detroit Metro Airport on January 24, so by the time 11 German students and their teacher return home on Friday, they should have lots of stories to tell.
The delegation from Ann Arbor’s sister city of Tubingen, Germany have been staying with Huron High School families, attending classes at Huron, and getting to know the Ann Arbor area, as well as Detroit.
Huron High School German teacher Andy Smith says one of the goals of the exchange program is getting past stereotypes of Americans that they’ve seen in the media.
“The German kids get to practice their English, meet Americans, and see southeastern Michigan,” he said. “America” goes from being a vague concept to a concrete reality.
“When our kids go there, it’s the same thing, in reverse. In addition to learning language and culture, it’s a personal growth type thing. It takes some courage to move in with a family in a foreign country that speaks a different language. And they learn to figure things out—how to take a bus or buy a sandwich or any daily task, which become mental challenges in a different language and a different culture.”
Christian Haselberger, the teacher from Uhland-Gymnasium Tubingen high school who accompanies the exchange, said that the United States is the most talked about country in Germany.
“Most of my students already knew about many parts of American culture, but it was something else altogether to be actually experiencing it first hand,” he said. “What they looked forward to the most was trying out different American food, watching sports games, experiencing life at an American high school and most of all meeting new people from another culture.”
Asked what most surprised him and the students, he noted that the surprises started on the plane when they looked down and saw just how symmetrical and organized American roads are compared to those in Germany.
“Many families here have different rules,” he added. “In Germany it’s not as common to say grace before dinner or to just help yourself to anything in the fridge. They were impressed by how much travelling had to be done by car and by the sheer distances between cities and places of interest.”
He said the biggest differences include the fact that American high schools are comprehensive schools, while it’s more of a tier system in Germany.
“In the U.S., teachers have their own classrooms,” he said. “In Germany it’s the opposite and teachers have to switch rooms after every lesson, while the students can usually stay. German kids have different subjects every day and take far more of them per year. In the U.S., there are more options to take and fixed daily schedules. Another huge difference is the role that sports play here. Most German sports are done outside of school in clubs. Here every school has its own pool, gyms, and fields, and hosts large sporting events.”
AAPS will participate in another exchange later in the spring at Pioneer, when students from a different German high school—Wildermuth—visit.
This summer, students from both Pioneer and Huron will be going to Germany for three weeks, the Huron students to the Uhland school and the Pioneer students to the Wildermuth school.
With a few exceptions, AAPS students go on the exchange every other year, usually staying with the same students who stayed with them.”They do a bit of fundraising, and there is a small amoung of grant money from both the U.S. and German federal governments, and from private corporations. That money goes to cover insurance and to get good prices with airlines.
Smith said the host families are often surprised by how much they enjoy it.
“At first, they look at it as a duty, but then it becomes fun,” he said. “Showing your hometown off to a foreign student makes you look at your area with fresh eyes. And even simple things, like playing a game of cards or going to the grocery store, become occasions for interesting conversations and a lot of laughter.”