From Germany to Woodgrove: Exchanging People and Culture

As seen in the print edition.

By Shelby Greene and Diana Tinta.

(Left to right)Haun, Gaetke, and Thies  together outside of school. Photo by Shelby Greene.
(Left to right)Haun, Gaetke, and Thies together outside of school.
Photo by Shelby Greene.

Woodgrove High School initiated several foreign exchange programs this year. At the end of August, three German Exchange students arrived in the United States. These students will be living with “host families” and attend Woodgrove for the school year, with hopes of absorbing the scholastic and cultural means of America.

The second program run by U.S. Government teacher Mr. Alex Bennett, includes ten students from Cologne (Köln), Germany who will be staying with Woodgrove families for two weeks in October.

Bennett himself connected with a German foreign exchange student when he was in high school. In 1998, he sat next to a foreign exchange student named Caroline in history class but had a girlfriend at the time. Years later, the two reconnected on Facebook and Bennett asked her to his cousin’s wedding. The two connected, fell in love, and Caroline became Mrs. Bennett in 2011.

When asked if German exchange students and Germany hold a special place in his heart because of his wife, Bennett said, “To not have it hold a special place in my heart would be wrong.”

Students attending for the entire school year are Jana Gaetke, Miriam Thies, and Jacob Haun. All three are juniors and come from different parts of Germany. Thies is from Cologne (Köln) in West Germany, just over 100 miles from Frankfort, Haun’s hometown and Gaetke is from Hamburg, about four hours away from Cologne and Frankfurt. Although the students are all from around the same area, they each have their own reason for becoming involved in the program. Both Haun and Thies wanted to experience the country and become better at English.

Gaetke, though, says that she came, “Because of my brother. He was here three years ago and he told me so much about it that I wanted to do it [the foreign exchange program] too.”

Bennett and with Caroline on their wedding day. Photo courtesy of Alex Bennett.
Bennett and with Caroline on their wedding day.
Photo courtesy of Alex Bennett.

Life in the United States and Germany is very different. According to all three German exchange students, they go to school at 8 am and leave at different times depending on the day.

When Thies was asked about the distinctness between Woodgrove and her previous school she answered with, “We have different subjects. We don’t have those fun subjects like photography, for example.”

Thies doesn’t think there is anything unusual about the United States, but one thing Gaetke finds odd is, “The Bread. The bread is so fluffy. You can squeeze it together and it jumps back to normal size. I don’t like the bread. In Germany we have good bread, really good bread.”

During their time here, the students hoped to have different experiences. Thies enjoyed her visit to Washington D.C. and Chicago. Gaetke praised the mini vacation she had one weekend, where she got to stay in a cabin and enjoy horseback riding and canoeing.

According to Haun, “Every day is an experience. I do something new or I meet new people.”
All three have expressed their pleasure with attending school here.

Haun likes that, “The school and people are typical high school people. They look like they could be in a high school movie.”

Bennett’s group arrived on October 4th for a two week stay.

Junior Brooke Basinger looked forward to hosting freshman Magnus Medla and Vincent Luke from this group because they shared a common interest in sports. When asked why she participated in the program, Basinger said, “My siblings left for college so I’m an only child now and we wanted other people in the house.”

The third program is called Student Partnership Exchange Program (SPEP). This group of students arrived on Septemeber 28th and left on October 12th through the SPEP program Woodgrove will also be sending several students to Germany in late Novemeber.

Though two weeks seems like a small time period, Bennett justified this, saying, “You hope to give them a glimpse of American life. Hopefully after their visit they will have a desire to come back.”

With many German students participating in the program, Bennett hopes that during the summer the school will be able to send some students to Germany and fuel the culture exchange further.