BY EMILY HAGENBURGER
Greeneville High school students had the opportunity to travel to Germany this summer and reunite with German students who had stayed with them last year in Greeneville.
The get-together was made possible by GHS photography teacher Anthony Feathers, who has developed friendships with German teachers at the Immanuel-Kant Gymnasium, or school, in Bad Oeynhausen, Germany.
This reciprocal relationship was developed after Feathers visited the Immanuel-Kant school in 2010 as part of the Fulbright Teacher's Exchange Program.
"The program encourages exchanges," Feathers said, and it was his idea, along with Principal Klauss Kessler of Immanuel-Kant Gymnasium, to begin sending students from Immanuel-Kant to GHS, and vice versa.
During the 2011-2012 school year, 12 students from Immanuel-Kant Gymnasium were hosted by students of GHS.
This summer, the GHS students, plus a few others, had the opportunity to be hosted by the German families of the same students who had previously lived with them here in Greeneville.
Leaving Greeneville on May 20, students Amanda Adams, Kacton Devoti, Haley Earl, Nic Evans, Macy Gass, Kalyn Harris, Zach Hutcherson, Abbi Jones, Mitchell Magill, Candice Rai, Tessa Shupe, Jake Thwing, Hannah Ward, and Rachelle Wells along with teachers Feathers and Kat Gemmer, flew to London.
After staying in London for two days, witnessing the preparations for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and seeing many sights, the group traveled by train to Germany.
Immanuel-Kant Gymnasium is located in the German city of Bad Oeynhausen, in the German state of North Rhineland Westfalia.
Originating as a spa town and hosting a number of health treatment facilities, Bad Oeynhausen is home to about 48,000 people.
Upon their arrival, the group was greeted by Mayor Klaus Mueller-Zahlmann.
While there, the high schoolers experienced much of what life is like for students in Germany.
"The students themselves weren't any different," commented Shupe.
However, Hutcherson said the school itself was a "culture shock." "They had chalkboards. I hadn't seen chalkboards since kindergarten," he said.
German student Tim Rahlmeier, who is staying with Thwing in Greeneville this summer, admitted that Greeneville High School does have the technological advantage, but that costs more money.
Because German teenagers can't get their driver licenses until 18, public transportation is used more often.
BIKING TO SCHOOL
Hutcherson and some other GHS students experienced biking to school and into town, a method of transportation not much used by high school students in the U.S.
Rahlmeier noted another difference is lunch time. The German students don't get a lunch break as American students do; at Immanuel-Kant they get a big break at 9:45 a.m.
"You see people walking around and eating sandwiches in the hallways," Shupe said.
According to Rahlmeier, the Immanuel-Kant students have five to 10 different classes per day.
"There is more time to focus on something here," Rahlmeier said of the classes at GHS, "but it's kind of boring having the same four classes every day."
The Immanuel-Kant Gymnasium is a combination of grades 5-13, but after this year all German schools will be transitioning to a 12-year system instead of the previous 13.
MOST HOSTS WERE FAMILIAR
Most of the travelers had the advantage of already knowing whom they were staying with, as their hosts were the families of students they had hosted in Greeneville.
However, students such as Hutcherson and Magill, who went on the trip but had not hosted a German exchange student, were placed with families via the Immanuel-Kant principal.
"My host family was great," Magill commented, "they took me to do things the exchange group didn't get to do, such as going to the Volkswagen headquarters in Wolfsburg."
Magill said that memorable experience "was possibly the most incredible thing [he] had ever seen."
Nine of the students, however, were gratefully reunited with the friends they had made from the exchange program.
Jones enjoyed staying with Minou Moallem, whom she had hosted in Greeneville, and Minou's family while in Bad Oeynhausen.
Likewise, Earl commented that being able to stay with Sophia Pleschnik and her family "allowed [her] to feel the full experience of being a German teenager."
The group also met up with former Immanuel-Kant/GHS exchange student David Lowis for a train ride from Cologne, Germany, to Brussels, Belgium.
The students experienced many things while in Germany.
They went to a disco, which, as Hutcherson said, doesn't actually have disco music. Discos in Germany are like clubs in the U.S.
Shupe commented that this particular one was huge, with four floors and different music genres in each room.
Apart from experiencing local nightlife, the GHS group ran an annual 2.5K race through the town.
Magill and Rai had some of the best times in their age groups in the race, and many of the students helped their Immanuel-Kant Gymnasium teams win the event.
They also hiked to the Kiser Wilhelm Monument, paddled Dragon boats on the Weser River, enjoyed a cookout with the German host families, and attended a professional handball game.
Additionally, a member of the German Parliament sponsored the group's trip to Berlin, where they toured the Reichstag Capital Building and participated in a discussion with parliament members.
Some differences between America and Europe the travelers enjoyed, such as the varying cultures, but other aspects of European life the American students said they found they could do without.
"You have to pay to use the bathroom!" was one of Rai's concerns. At gas stations and restaurants, a small fee is usually required for use of the restrooms.
They also enjoyed the opportunity to visit a German castle.
All in all, Feathers commented that the trip "went much better than [he] worried about."
Everybody got along well, and there were no mishaps -- well, except for a "magic trick" by a performer in London that made Feathers' watch "magically" disappear, in what ended up being an actual theft.
MORE EXCHANGES AHEAD
Feathers said that a new group of 14 students from Immanuel-Kant Gymnasium will be coming to GHS in the fall, including exchange program alumnus Rahlmeier's brother.
Then, in May 2013, a group of GHS students will go to Germany.
Feathers hopes to continue this program for years to come as a great cultural experience for both the American and the German students.