What started out as curiosity for Turlock High School student Elisha Coleman resulted in the trip of a lifetime when he and 13 other THS students embarked on a journey across the globe to Germany this summer, attending classes, sightseeing and forming new friendships.
“I saw the posters and thought, ‘That looks fun,’” said Coleman.
The four-week trip came as the second half of the German American Partnership program – an exchange program approved by both countries’ governments and school districts – which saw 15 students and two teachers from Germany call Turlock home earlier in the year. This time, it was Turlock’s turn to travel to the German school Berufliche Schule Witzenhausen, where they each lived with the same exchange students that had visited the United States.
THS German and English teacher Julie Shipman-Norman was one of two instructors that accompanied the students on their trip. Shipman-Norman has been participating in the program since 2002, and this year’s group was the largest yet.
“One of the special things is how long these relationships between the kids last,” said Shipman-Norman. “I think that the relationships, self-confidence and willingness to try new things will carry on in their lives.”
The students described how different life in Germany was compared to the culture here in the States. It was shocking to them how lenient the instructors at their new school were, and the class hours tended to differ from what they were used to. Student Walter Jordan didn’t need to be at school until 11 a.m. on some occasions.
“You really have to adopt an entirely new lifestyle,” said Jordan. “It teaches you adaptability.”
Something that was new to student Emma Westby was having a healthy, home cooked meal on the dinner table every night. Fending for herself in an unfamiliar country also came as a challenge, but one that she appreciated.
“You kind of get a little taste of freedom before college and you get to see what it’s like to live somewhere without your parents,” said Westby. “You can’t just call your parents up when you need something. You have to learn to do things on your own.”
When they weren’t in class at Berufliche Schule Witzenhausen or hanging out at home with their host families, the students were able to take in many of the tourist attractions in Germany, including the forest where the Grimm Brothers wrote many of their stories, a cruise down the Rhine River and museums along the former border of East and West Germany.
“It was weird to think that where we were standing, history was made,” said Coleman.
The group also had the opportunity to watch the German soccer team play in the European Championship while in the country. Decked out head to toe in Germany gear, they rooted for their temporary home country while watching the game at the Fan Mile in Berlin, where the contest was displayed for thousands of fans on a giant screen.
After four long weeks of exploring and learning, the trip came to an end. After all of the sightseeing and adventuring, each student walked away with not only memories that will last a lifetime, but relationships as well.
“I feel like I gained a sibling,” said Coleman. “I have another sister, but she’s German.”