High school students from Gedern, Germany, began a three-week visit to Columbia, Gedern’s Sister City, arriving to a welcoming party on Monday afternoon.
Columbia High School German teacher Taylor Nickerson explained that he, along with German delegation teachers Andreas Heuser and Britta Schafer-Clarke and Heuser’s wife Christine, have the 18 traveling students live with CHS families to ensure a fully “immersive” experience.
“It’s total immersion in the American teenager lifestyle,” Nickerson said. “It’s getting to see how an American teenager and an American family lives on a daily basis. Really what our exchange is about is experiencing the culture, experiencing the school and really getting to know what life is like.”
Anna Kremer, one of the students visiting from Gedern, said she is particularly excited about the visit.
“(I’m looking forward to) the experience and seeing how they live here, what it’s like to live in the States,” Kremer said.
Nickerson said the few differences between the American and German teenager lifestyles are usually what the exchange students look forward to experiencing the most.
“There are probably a lot more similarities than differences, but there are things that the German schools don’t do,” he said. “For example, there aren’t any school sports in German schools. If Germans want to play sports, they typically play for a local club team. When they come they get to go to prom as long as it falls within the three weeks they’re here, and this time it does. That’s something they really look forward to … because they don’t typically do school dances and things like that.”
Also on the students’ itinerary is a “Monroe County Day” where the Germans will tour the courthouse, Rock City and other county landmarks, and a trip to the Gateway Arch, Missouri History Museum, a St. Louis Cardinals game and more.
“We try to make it a mix of educational and a little bit of fun, sightseeing stuff,” Nickerson said.
The exchanges not only provide the German students with a first-hand look at American culture – the people of Columbia also see a window into life in its sister city too.
Ingrid Soraghan, president of Sister Cities of Columbia, explained the organization helps the exchange facilitators, meaning Nickerson and Heuser, as needed during the exchange such as helping fund the activities. She said one of the highlights of the Gedern students’ visit is the educational presentations they give to local schools and Sister Cities of Columbia.
“This is all done in English, so it gives them an opportunity to practice the language,” Soraghan said, explaining presentation topics hone in on specific aspects of German culture such as sports and school.
Linus Schlaucher, one of the students from Germany, is giving his presentation on the soccer club he is part of back home.
“It’s interesting and I know much about it,” he told the Republic-Times.
Adding to Soraghan’s excitement is the fact this is the first Sister Cities exchange since the COVID pandemic.
“The students were disappointed when it was canceled, but once pandemic restrictions were rescinded and people were comfortable housing students … the plans moved forward,” Soraghan said.
Typically, Gedern and Columbia students alternate visiting each other’s cities each year, but the pandemic had other plans. In June, Columbia students will be visiting Gedern.
In September, a group of adults from Gedern will be visiting Columbia.