By Patrick McArdle
After a group of 14 students and two educators from Rutland High School spent two weeks in Germany during the summer, a group of 14 students and two teachers from Gymnasium Grafing are spending time in Vermont.
RHS has hosted other international exchange partners, but this is the German group, and RHS is Grafing’s first American partner.
Meaghan Marsh, the School-to-Work educator at RHS and an adviser for the high school’s Green Mountain Teen Institute, said she has been involved in some of the other exchanges, including a partnership with Japan.
“I love to travel. I think it’s a life-changing experience. I think the more students get to do that and have opportunities I think the better citizens and aware, concerned adults they become,” she said.
Marsh and her counterpart in the exchange, Daniela Meixner, brought together students from both schools who would communicate through a computer audio-visual service. The weekly conversations started in 2016 and, Marsh said, eventually led to the exchange through which the German students arrived last week.
Ninon Gaschik, a junior at Grafing, said she became close with her “exchange partner,” so spending part of her summer vacation in a foreign country was like visiting a friend.
“I think spending time in America is way better than going to school or meeting with friends. It’s something completely different. It’s a completely different lifestyle, and that’s interesting,” she said.
RHS senior Bella Gides said she was part of the Green Mountain Teen Institute that started the conversation with a school 3,700 miles away. When the chance came to make the trip, she was eager to be part of it.
“I was really in deep by that point. I was really interested to meet all these people that I had been talking to for the past year and a half,” she said.
Several of the German students said they found no real differences between teenagers from different countries, and enjoyed being part of RHS.
But the exchanges have a serious academic side. Grafing junior Hannah Baumgartel said she and her peers are working on what she called a “history project.”
“After the Civil War, they build some monuments in the South states for the soldiers. Now we are talking about if they should remove or if they should stay,” she said.
The Grafing students have already met with some history teachers, and Baumgartel said they heard many opinions on the controversial subject.
RHS senior Brianna Beauchamp said the Vermont students were working on an equally challenging subject: Looking at how German schools teach German history in comparison to what American students learn. The research included a tour of the Dachau concentration camp.
For much of the two weeks, the students still get to be teenagers. Paul Stoerke, a Grafing junior, said he enjoyed going to Lake Bomoseen, riding jet skis and having the chance to “surf behind the boat.”
Stoerke said he had never been to America, but it had been a “dream.” He noted that streets and houses are bigger in the United States and row homes are less common.
The RHS students said they were pleased by their time in Germany.
“Getting to know the family, my German family, was probably the hardest part because I’m not the most outgoing. But what made it really easy was my family was very welcoming, very open. They also knew very good English, which helped me a lot,” Beauchamp said.
Alex Stute, a junior at RHS, said he has family in Germany and wanted to know more about their culture.
“It was really great to be able to experience something other than what’s American life and what I’m so used to, to be able to get a taste of something different,” he said.
Baumgartel noted that in Germany, a small group of 20 or 30 students stays together all day, whereas American students go to different classes throughout the day.
Asked to describe what she might tell her friends in Germany about the United States, Baumgartel said the “landscape and nature is like Bavaria,” but everything around it is very different.
Gaschik said schools are “totally” different, but said she likes what she experienced.
“And I like the yellow school buses,” she said.