Columbia will say goodbye to 26 German exchange students and their fellow teachers this week when the group returns home to Gedern, Germany.
Their three-week long stay here is part of an ongoing exchange between Columbia and Gedern, which is run locally by the Sister Cities of Columbia program. The exchange allows not only students from Columbia High School but also students from Gesamtschule Gedern in Germany to visit one another annually.
Stateside, Ingrid Soraghan is president of Sister Cities of Columbia while Andreas Heuser and his wife Christine, as well as teacher and chaperone Britta Schäfer-Clarke, make up the Gedern delegation. The exchange program is also partially funded by the German-American Partnership Program.
Soraghan and Heuser said the program is a unique cultural and educational experience for both American and German students
“It’s wunderbar,” Heuser said. “It’s amazing because without Sister Cities, we would not have done something like this.”
During their visit to Columbia, the exchange students, who stay with local host families, are immersed in American culture, including full school days at CHS and field trips to Cahokia, the Science Center and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, among others.
One of the biggest treats for the German students was riding on a yellow school bus that picked them up from the airport, according to Schäfer-Clarke.
“They were just so excited to see an actual American school bus,” she said. “Everyone was tired but they had their cameras out, you know, because they’d only seen them in movies.”
A spotlight event for the German students was an evening of presentations given in English at the Sister Cities spring membership dinner on April 16 at the American Legion Hall in Columbia. The presentations featured topics such as soccer and education in Germany; the city of Frankfurt and its traffic; and holidays.
The exchange students’ visit to Columbia will culminate with prom, where they will join their CHS peers at The Falls this coming Saturday night. Prom, Heuser explained, is a new experience for the German students.
“It’s not something they have back home.”
Next year, it will be Gedern’s turn to host CHS students.