German students visit Victoria, learn Texas slang
Oct. 17, 2011 at 5:17 a.m.
Just more than a week ago, 10 German students and two of their teachers embarked on an American education - Texas style.
Sitting in the Victoria West High School cafeteria - more than 5,000 miles away from their school in Westerburg, Germany - the students rattled off their experiences in clear English, peppered with some Southern lingo.
"My hosting family taught me some Texas slang," Stefan Bubolz, 15, said. "Most people don't say, 'We are about to get to somewhere.' They say, 'We are fixing to.'"
The students gathered around a lunch table and mentioned picking up on "howdy" and "ya'll" and said they were surprised by how often they heard another word they never learned in the classroom: "alrighty."
They were surprised, actually, to be sitting in a cafeteria at all. Their school begins at 7:15 a.m. and is usually out by 1 p.m., which means students get their lunch after school.
But that was just one of the differences in school systems, culture and language both the German students and Victoria students were noticing.
"Learning a foreign language and meeting different people opens people's eyes to see more," said Janet Killebrew, who teaches German at both Victoria high schools. "And I want my students to see more. I want them to be tolerant of other people. I want them to be flexible. I want them to be kind. And I firmly believe this fosters all of that."
Killebrew said she's been wanting to do an exchange program for 34 years. She lucked out this year when Axel Spiekermann, an English teacher across the Atlantic, was seeking the same thing.
In December, a mutual connection paired the two language teachers, and an exchange was in the works.
"They were a little bit nervous about where we were coming to, but I think it's perfect here," Spiekermann said of his students. "I think their self-confidence has increased much because now they know they can survive somewhere else."
The German students stayed with host families and have been exploring all around south Texas - including the San Antonio River Walk, NASA, the Corpus Christi beach, an American football game and downtown Victoria, which is bigger than their German hometown of about 6,000.
It was the first meeting that will be flip-flopped when Victoria students visit their new friends in Germany in June.
"I'm excited to go to school with them and see how it's different there," said Alesia Partida, a 16-year-old at West High School whose family took in a German student.
Jessica Schönberger, 16, has been staying in Alesia's room, and the girls have seized the opportunity to learn more of the everyday vernacular in their respective foreign languages.
They've also been discovering just how different the two cultures really are.
For example, the German school, Konrad Adenauer Gymnasium, doesn't have electives like welding or forensic science. And sitting underneath West Warrior banners, the students said their school doesn't have sports teams either. Rather, those activities are done in after-school clubs.
Then, there are the roads. Whereas a several-hour drive in Germany would take the students across country borders, the exchange students said the long Texas highways all look the same, as do the houses and cars.
"I think most people drive with much bigger cars than in Germany. Everything in the USA is much bigger than in Germany, so that's really different," said Konstantin Düngen, 16.
That applied to the food, too.
The students said they missed their German vegetables, fruits and sparkling water, but they have taken advantage of free drink refills, which they don't find at home.
They said the portions of food are fried and often huge - like the chicken-fried chicken, chicken tenders, french fries, cheese steaks and taco salads they've had.
Alesia said when the group went to Texas Roadhouse, her foreign peers were taking pictures of their plates.
It was German student Diana Jung's birthday, so she got the typical Texas celebration at the restaurant.
"They did the line dance, and I had to sit on the saddle. I think it's very crazy," Diana, 15, said.
West High School student Josh Bednorz, 16, said those social interactions are what he thinks both groups of students have found most fulfilling.
"I can see just by the way their eyes light up when they meet someone else and learn something new, that they enjoy it thoroughly," he said.
Despite all the differences the students may notice - the abundance of country music included - they're all just curious kids, interested in knowing more about each other.
The American students "were all really nice to us and really friendly and open," Stefan said. "Still, they have the same interests as we have - like all teenagers have."