BNHS students take ‘unforgettable’ trip to Germany

Posted Monday, Aug. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Like many high school students, Haley Erickson chose Spanish as her foreign language. But the Byron Nelson High School junior has recently gained a greater affinity for the German language and culture.

She was one of 15 Nelson students to spend more than three weeks in the Bavarian town of Amberg as part of the German-American Partnership Program. It’s the second time that this Northwest school district high school has sent a group of students to Germany as part of this program promoting greater understanding and appreciation of German culture by Americans and vice versa.

Nelson’s partner school, Max-Reger-Gymnasium, has also sent a group of its students to Texas to attend Nelson and stay with local host families. The Nelson students also stayed with host families in German during their July trip.

“My trip to Germany is absolutely unforgettable,” Erickson said. “I loved every minute of being there and now wish I had taken German over Spanish. My family travels frequently outside the country, but this was something totally different that far surpassed any other trip. By staying with a host family, I really caught on to the German culture quite fast.”

Erickson and her classmates sat in on classes at the German high school and even worked with some younger German teens with their English lessons. There were plenty of chances during the visit for the Nelson students to participate in uniquely German activities and learn about the history of Amberg, whose roots stretch back 1,000 years.

“The American kids experienced a whole different type of lifestyle,” said Kirsten Hellwege, Nelson German teacher and one of two faculty chaperones on the trip. “The kids were constantly outside and doing outside stuff.”

Hellwege, a Berlin native, said that while most of the students had taken German classes, it was not required. The focus of the trip, after all, was on taking in a new culture. These Texas kids spent almost an entire month going to school on a bike or taking public transport or walking.

The group took a canoeing trip on the Bils River from a spot an hour north of town down to the city center. They also explored the medieval town walls and an ancient prison. And there was a geo caching challenge. Geo caching is a sort of high-tech scavenger hunt that had the students exploring around the town using GPS to find certain sites and learn more about them.

Luckily, Hellwege said, the temperature was beautiful the whole time with sunny skies and highs in the 70s and 80s. German summers, she said, can be a bit like north Texas in April: an inconsistent mix of hot or cold, wet or dry and windy or calm.

Erickson enjoyed came to enjoy walking and biking everywhere. She also got used to being inside buildings without air conditioning. She also fondly recalls the German cuisine and the meals spent with her host family.

“My host family and I ate every single meal as a family together at the kitchen table,” Erickson said. “Because my host father was a baker, I had the opportunity to try many different German dishes. They were all amazing and to die for.”

Teresa Brown, the mother of Nelson student Mia Dessi, said her daughter enjoyed living the life of a German youth. “There was so much to enjoy, trips and tours, towns and castles, food and friends,” said Brown, whose family hosted a student from Amberg in 2012. “Every moment was life changing and a treasure.”

At a time when many schools in Texas and the United States are phasing out German language offerings in favor of more popular foreign language options, the German-American Partnership Program helps keep German a viable elective at Nelson and other high schools, Hellwege said.

“This program is important for showing the importance of continuing to offer German and other traditional European language classes,” Hellwege said.

The cultural exchange between Max-Reger and Nelson will continue this fall. Patrick Bayer from Amberg will attend Nelson and play on the football team. Nelson student Jackie Miller will spend the school year living with the same host family she stayed with in July.

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