Have you ever wondered what our country, city and culture would look like to a person from another country? According to Rowena Bamer and Lucas Trutwin, America is: “Just like it is in the movies.”
Bamer and Trutwin are two of the German students that have spent three weeks in Dalton through a student exchange program at Dalton High School. The exchange has taken place since 1996 with the actual exchange happening every even year.
In June, students from Dalton High traveled to Wernigerode, Germany, for their three-week stay. They stayed with host families, went to school during the week, and traveled during the weekends.
Dalton High School German teacher Ava Wyatt said she wanted her students to go to a city in east Germany because less English is spoken there than the west side of the country. “I wanted them to really learn German,” Wyatt said. “They also learned about themselves, about their culture and where they’re from, and what family means.”
Anyone enrolled in the German program at Dalton can apply to be in the exchange program. Wyatt said students in the first level of the language have gone and have managed, but it’s usually best to have a few years of German before participatinng in the exchange.
For Wyatt, there has always been a magic about Germany and the language. Even after majoring in French in college, she felt a calling from somewhere else, so she did a study abroad in Freiburg her junior year.
“I’m in love with the German people,” Wyatt said. “They are easy to love. I never fell in love with the French people. It feels like home when I go back (to Germany).”
Sixteen students and two teachers went to Germany, and 18 German students plus two teachers made the trip to Dalton.
To apply for the exchange, the German students had to say why they wanted to do this experience. They had to state what they would do when they would be the host families and what they would take their visitors to see. They also had to be in good academic standing. The trip costs around 1,000 euros (about $1,292). They also each got a scholarship for 500 euros.
“They need to be outgoing and want to meet new people,” said teacher Annette Loessner, who is on her second trip to Dalton. “I like being with my family and seeing what a normal American day is like. Everyone makes me feel like I’m at home.”
As for 15-year-old Bamer, she did the exchange to get a new experience and see America.
“I wanted to make my English better and actually use it,” she said. “There are more people here and everything is more modern. My school in Germany looks like Hogwarts.”
Sixteen-year-old Lukas Paetznik, whose sister participated in the last exchange, said America is a little different than he expected. “I didn’t expect it to be so big,” Paetznik said, “and there a lot of people.”
“I wanted to learn more about the US and learn a new culture,” 16-year-old Trutwin said.
While he has been in America, Trutwin has picked up on many popular shows such as How I Met Your Mother, Castle, The Big Bang Theory, and Two and a Half Men. Germany does have these shows, but the seasons come out a year or more behind when they premiere in America.
The visitors have also enjoyed getting a taste of what food in America is actually like. Loessner said she came to America thinking all food choices would be fast food, but she was very happily surprised of all the healthy food choices.
Bamer had her first taste of Mexican food while here, and she loved it. “My lips hurt because it was so spicy,” she said.
While the students liked many restaurants (Paetznik became a fan of Chick-fil-a and Fuji, while Bamer liked Sonic and Bojangles), all three mentioned Steak ‘n Shake as a place they really enjoyed. They indulged on classics such as burgers and milkshakes (Bamer had chocolate banana, and Trutwin stuck with vanilla).
“There are so many burgers,” Trutwin said of all the places to grab something to eat—Germany’s fast food places only consist of McDonalds, Subway and Burger King.
With nothing planned on the weekends, the host families were free to take their guests to sightsee. They have been to many places such as Atlanta to see CNN, the Georgia State Capitol, and the World of Coke, Chattanooga, Rock City, Nashville and Stone Mountain.
Nashville was Paetznik’s favorite place to go—his host family took him to see the Vanderbilt-Auburn game.
“It was great,” he said.
Trutwin also got to go to a football game—he got to see a Falcons game in Atlanta. “It’s thousands of people that meet to watch this cool game,” Trutwin said of his favorite experience.
Bamer loved seeing the skyscrapers in Atlanta since they were so different from the smaller and older buildings she is used to seeing back in Wernigerode.
As for their last week in Dalton, the students were excited to go to the Homecoming activities—especially the dance.
“It’s so American,” Loessner said of the dance, “and they want to see if it’s like what they see in the movies.”
Bamer said even though she misses the people back home, she’s not homesick because she stays busy all the time. “There’s so much to do here,” Bamer said.
The students left Dalton on Sunday headed for a stop in Washington, DC, before flying back to Germany.
“I would come back if I could,” Trutwin said. “It’s so cool here.”
“The people have been really nice,” Paetznik said. “I hope to come back.”
“It’s different from the movies, but it’s also the same,” Bamer said of America. “It’s better.”
By Lindsey Derrick, Dalton Public Schools Contributor