Frau Ava Wyatt and her 14 students from Dalton High recently returned from their trip to Wernigerode, Germany, where they had a unique opportunity to see how the other half of the world lives.
This was nothing really new for Frau Wyatt, who has taught German at DHS for several decades and has led numerous cultural exchange trips to Germany during her tenure there.
But for the young people in the group, many of whom have never traveled overseas, it was quite an eye-opening experience.
As many of you know, I’m a native of Germany, having been brought to this country before I started kindergarten (which, by the way, is German in origin — a word meaning “children’s garden”). During my childhood, all the way through my college years, only German was spoken in my home, so I was bilingual without having really had any formal instruction in the language. To read German newspapers, I had to sight read — to sound out the words myself because I had never studied the language. It took forever.
My daughter, Marylyn, who went on the trip, has had the formal education in the language that I never had, but she hadn’t had the day-to-day immersion experience that you have when you live with others who speak one language daily.
When Marylyn returned, I was very eager to know just what she’d missed about life in the U.S., and what she was missing about Germany now that she was back home.
She hadn’t been home long when she said how much she’d missed watching television, her cellphone and her car.
But when I asked her what she missed about her three weeks in Germany, she didn’t miss a beat: the simplicity, she said.
What Marylyn discovered, and what shouldn’t be surprising to us, is that the German way of life is very different from ours. Televisions don’t play a huge role in Germans’ day-to-day lives, and car ownership by teens is almost unheard of. Marylyn actually rode a bike to get to the high school where she and her American peers spent their days in Deutsch-speaking classrooms.
When she returned home to her host family, she enjoyed “sit down” meals and dinnertime conversation with the husband and wife couple — both doctors — who welcomed her into their home. Not to say that we don’t do that ourselves as often as we can. But in Germany, it seemed to Marylyn as if activities, including sports, dance and even after-school jobs, were scheduled such that mealtimes were not continually put on the back burner. Eating together as a family seemed to be a real priority there. She liked that.
A result of this togetherness, Marylyn felt, was a very, very good quality of life. She noticed that the Germans have a high quality of life, but that they “work hard at it.” They work hard, she observed, to provide quality time with their families.
While it surprised Marylyn that German students attend school year round, with small breaks scattered throughout the year, I see American schools edging more in that direction as time goes on. What was in my day a three-month-plus summer vacation has shrunk to a nine- to 10-week summer followed by more breaks during the school year.
Something else that surprised Marylyn was the amount of freedom that German teens have. The crime rate there is low, and it was not unusual or alarming to see 16- and 17-year-olds out visiting until 2 a.m. in the morning in coffee shops in their village. Her host family didn’t watch their children or Marylyn’s every move 24/7, as we tend to do with our children. As a result, she returned from Germany demonstrating a higher level of personal responsibility and confidence that should serve her well in the coming years.
While Frau Wyatt has made this trip to Germany regularly, she also gained some insights into this particular experience.
“I think one of the largest cultural differences that we observed between Germany and the U.S. was the abundance of green energy sources,” she notes. “We saw solar windows and wind turbines everywhere. The high cost of energy has forced the German population to become a leader in this area.”
“Germany’s economy is improving faster than ours,” she continues, “but they are lacking in students. For that reason, many schools have closed and teachers are forced to drive great distances to have a job.
“I realize how fortunate I am to have a job at such a wonderful school, with a great faculty, a plentitude of technology and fantastic students.”
I, for one, realize how fortunate we all are to have cultural exchange opportunities for the young people in our community. These programs give them the chance to spread their wings and make it easier for these young citizens to flourish in the multicultural world we live in today.
To Frau Wyatt, Dankeschon, for providing such a rewarding experience, and to her students, Wilkommen zuruck!
Werner Braun is president of the Dalton-based Carpet and Rug Institute.
Werner Braun: INVISTA employees help with river cleanup
With all the intensive rain and flooding going on in and around the Dalton area as of late, it’s impossible not to be aware of the fickleness of Mother Nature.Continued ...
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