Fifteen years ago Nora Redhardt came to Sheboygan as part of a foreign exchange student program from Clemens-Brentano-Europaschule in Lollar, Germany.
Today, she is back at Sheboygan North High School, but this time as a teacher, escorting 20 German exchange students on a three-week visit to Sheboygan.
"I realize how amazingly busy it is arranging the program. I takes so much time and energy, but it's very rewarding," Redhart said. "The cultural awareness, it's very nice to see the friendships coming along."
Susan Kirchner, German teacher at North High School, has been involved with the program since 1997, shortly after she began teaching at North. She enjoys hearing about the interaction the students have with each other.
"I like that the students are able to make a personal, life-lasting connection with someone of another culture by hosting a student from Germany," said Kirchner. "The German students stay at some of the most generous families of North High School students, most of which are students enrolled in German classes at North."
The students spend their days shadowing the American high schoolers with various excursions to such places as the Wade House and Milwaukee.
"It's very interesting that we can go to high school and make this experience very different than German school," said Carina Priebe, 17.
In June, the American students will have the opportunity to travel to Germany and stay with the same students they originally hosted.
"Being able to live in another culture and being part of a family in another country gives all of the students involved first hand experience as to what real life is like, in comparison to just taking a bus trip and staying overnight in a hotel while traveling," said Kirchner. "Many of my past students and families involved with this exchange program have kept up with one another over the years with cards, emails and even an occasional visit."
The exchange program at North began in 1992.
"Typically we have hosted between 15 and 20 Germans every other year," said Kirchner. Two teachers/chaperones typically accompany the German students.
"I also think that having the German students in our homes and in the German classroom has increased my NHS students' enthusiasm towards learning a world language," said Kirchner. "Just being able to ask questions, discuss and directly interact with the Germans has been a lot of fun for all of my North High School students in my German classes. In addition, I feel that many of my students realize that the Germans are much like us Americans and therefore seem more open-minded about our differences."
The students from Germany have been enjoying their time with their new Sheboygan classmates.
"It's cool to be in the family and see how family is," said Selina Bonke, 17.
Even though they are here for just a few weeks, the students have had the opportunity to engage in activities they may not have been able to enjoy on a vacation.
"We see their lives not as tourists, because we live with family," said Bonke.
"It's really cool to be here homecoming week because we don't have that in Germany," said Marcel Schnabel, 16. "I danced with an American. I really enjoyed it."
Sampling American food has been one of the biggest differences the German students have observed.
"There's so much fast food and junk food, but it is America," said Priebe.
According to Priebe, the high school class structure is different in America compared to Germany. While North students have about six subjects to focus on, they have 14.
"We are more stressed than students in America," said Priebe. German students have some school days that go until 5 p.m.
In order to participate in the program, students had to submit applications and participate in a family/home visit.
While here, the Germans "are expected to observe and may participate in class and discussions at North High School." They also give oral presentations in the North High School German classes, said Kirchner.
Listening to the German students during the presentation can prove challenging, but is also a positive experience for the Americans, letting them hear the dialect as it's spoken by natives.
"My students especially like it when they can listen to these presentations in either German or English, depending on the level of the students. These topics are always interesting," said Kirchner.
One message that was made clear by the German students is about Americans. "Everyone is very accommodating," said Elisa Kollenda, 17.
"People are friendly, interesting and open-minded," said Laura Hupel, 18.
Why venture halfway around the world?
"We see it on TV so often and I wanted to get my own impression," said Hupel. "I want to experience the culture."
The group will spend a few days in Chicago before returning to Germany.
Marco Schluenz hopes to one day return to the states, but probably to a bigger city.
The one thing he wants everyone to know: "We Germans don't wear lederhosen every day."
Sheboygan Press - Allison Thompson, Correspondent