Wir gehen zu Deutschland!

Millard West students partake in an exchange program

Alexandra Dobesh, Staff Writer

Four thousand seven hundred eighty eight miles. Seven time zones. Limitless knowledge and experiences.

Twenty students, ranging from sophomores to seniors, are preparing to embark on an exchange program to Wieblingen, Germany from June 5 to June 22. Each student will be paired up with a student from Germany and live with their family over the course of the trip. The group will get first hand experience of German culture and attend school at the Salier Gymnasium. The process will then be repeated when the German students come to live in Omaha this fall.

“This exchange will help students in class because they will have more cultural references to draw from,” German teacher Wendy Langer said. “Language and culture are so interwoven, so it will make them more comfortable with using the language. They will see the relevance which makes it easier to learn a language.”

The exchange is through the German American Partnership Program (GAPP) and is being organized by Langer and German teacher Andrea Turner. GAPP works with the German government and coordinates exchanges throughout all of the United States. The Omaha-Wieblingen connection started through Bellevue German teacher Patricia Branson knowing a teacher at the Salier Gymnasium. On their GAPP applications, they put down that they wanted to do the exchange between their two schools. Turner has done prior exchanges through GAPP three times at Bellevue, and the company asked her to continue when she was hired on at Millard West.

“Students should go on the trip because it helps them become better world class citizens,” Turner said. “It will broaden their cultural understanding by teaching them to be open and empathetic to differences as opposed to afraid of them.”

The group will fly from Omaha to Denver, and from Denver, to Munich, a flight just shy of 10 hours.

Once in Munich, everyone will take the S-Bahn, the German subway system, to their hotel. When they arrive, they’ll drop their luggage off and begin their excursions. The group will spend six days in Munich getting accustomed to the time change and German culture. They will go on bike tours, tour castles and visit the former concentration camp, Dachau.

“We go to Munich first to give students a chance to get over their jet lag,.” Langer said. “It also helps us bond as a group, be exposed to the language daily and become aware of differences students didn’t know about. It’s also fun to see another area of Germany besides just where we’re staying.”

After some time in Munich, the students will head to Wieblingen. There, they will say with their host family. Each student will become a part of their host family. They will eat meals with them, attend events with their partner and be expected to do chores. Each Millard West student will shadow their German student at school. They will attend classes with their partner and give presentations in English classes. Previous groups have gone to fifth grade classes to talk to small groups about themselves. This gives the younger students a chance to work with an actual English speaker.

The group will also get a chance to see the sights of Wieblingen. They will be going to the Mercedes Benz Museum, the Ritter Sport Chocolate Museum and making pretzels at the oldest bakery in Wieblingen.

The group has begun monthly meetings to prepare for the trip, the first on Monday Feb. 12, where students chose who they would be staying with. Earlier this year, the Millard West students filled out a Google form outlining their hobbies, interests and needs (dietary preferences, allergies, etc.). The German students provided similar information as well. Turner divided students into groups based on whether or not they students were willing to host a boy or a girl and handed out sheets with information about the German students. From there, the Millard West students picked who they would be staying with.

“I hope we form a friendship that lasts a long time, and we keep in touch even after the exchange,” sophomore Anna Underwood said. “Hopefully, we both notice differences and learn something new both when I’m over there and he is here.”

The exchange group will be practicing their German together at meetings as well. They will stage a dinner to practice ordering at restaurants, and students will inform Turner and Langer of any other concepts they want to practice. They’ll talk about proper gifts to bring their host families and prepare for the students’ arrival in Omaha.

When German students arrive in Omaha this coming September, they will have an experience similar to the American students: shadowing their host, going on excursions and participating in Millard West’s German classes. The plan is to take the German students on three field trips: the Henry Doorly Zoo, a team building activity at the Carol Joy Holling high ropes course and a tour of a Nebraska business such as Rotella’s or Nebraska Furniture Mart.

“We want to open the minds of the German students to life in Nebraska,” Langer said. “They know about the big cities like New York, but they don’t know about middle America.”

The group will continue to meet throughout the rest of the year in order to prepare for the experience of a lifetime.