Fourteen exchange students from Germany, along with their teacher/chaperon Petra Guenther, arrived in Stettler this month for a three-week stay.
William E. Hay Composite High School has partnered with Gymnasium Sanitz, a school located in the northern German town of Sanitz, for the exchange.
Sanitz and Stettler are similar-sized communities.
This is the fourth time Guenther has brought a group of exchange students to Stettler. She became involved after her daughter, Marie, visited Stettler on a student exchange in the 2003-04 school year.
Guenther said she enjoys coming to Stettler and building an ongoing bond between the two communities.
“It makes me proud that younger siblings are now becoming involved in the exchange,” Guenther said.
Previously, the German school tried exchanges to U.S. schools, but the partnerships never lasted more than one year.
“The program is very popular,” said William E. Hay principal Norbert Baharally. “It involves an application and interview process to qualify.
“We are fortunate here to have people in the position to organize it.”
Baharally credited administration assistant Trish Schwarzenberger for co-ordinating the exchange, which began Sept. 7 and runs through next Thursday, Sept. 27.
The first international exchange program at Stettler began eight years ago, under the direction of Grace Fix.
The German exchange students and their Stettler host students are all grades 10 and 11 students.
“By staying with host families, the students have the opportunity to absorb entire family life, including the culture and food,” Baharally said.
Guenther said the host families in both countries want to give back the love and caring attention their students have received.
The visiting German students are Alex Beese, Calvin Clasen, Tanja Gesk, Henry Gruenwald, Isabell Kanas, Heike Kreutzmann, Eike Moeller, Annie Naujoks, Paulina Noss, Hendrik Richter, Nele Schammer, Elisa Schroeder, Gordon Schulz and Jenny Schulz.
Guenther says the German students “love it here” and have been looking forward to attending a North American “high school” — like they have seen in the movies — “for the experience, to use their English and to meet Canadian kids.”
The education system differs in Germany. All students attend school together until Grade 6; after that, students are split in two directions, with the academically inclined going through to Grade 12 in preparation for university entrance. The other students attend school to Grade 10, at which time they are ready to enter apprenticeships in the trades.
University education is paid for by the government in Germany.
Guenther said the German students are really excited about the option courses, like food studies, building construction, cosmetology, drama, mechanics and fabrication, because those classes are not offered in German high schools.
Four of the German boys received permission to play football with the Stettler Wildcats high school team. The experience would be considerably different than the football they play in Germany, as their game is more similar to soccer in Canada.
The German students, according to Guenther, were also anxious to see the Rocky Mountains.
Field trips have been planned to Banff, Drumheller and Calgary — for a CFL football game and to a local Hutterite colony.
Guenther said she’s intrigued by the unique lifestyle on the Hutterite colonies. The Hutterites speak the Old German language, which differs from modern German and makes communication difficult, she said.
In Germany, students begin learning English in kindergarten.
“The Stettler students will have a more difficult transition academically,” Baharally said about when the Stettler students return the exchange in March 2013.
Most of the Stettler students don’t speak German and of those who do, their German is limited.
All the classes in the high school in Germany are taught in German. William E. Hay offers a German class in the second semester.
Stettler students heading to Germany in March are Nicholas Baharally, Grace Chapman, Kennidy Fisher, Katherine Fraser, Corey Garbutt, Taylor Marko, Aislinn Ruele, Trent Sanders, Dakota Schwarzenberger, Hannah Shepherd, Morgan Sorensen, Amy Stratulate, Morgan Van Dusen, Autumn Woelk and Haileigh Yome.
“For some, the exchange experience is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Trish Schwarzenberger said.
“The friendships and bonds made last a lifetime,” Baharally said.
“Sometimes, you have to look over the rim of your teacup,” said Guenther, referring to looking beyond familiar territory to what the rest of the world has to offer.