Two Waterloo students recently returned from a trip to Germany, praising several of the differences in the European nation’s culture.
Waterloo High School graduate Jessica Ubbelohde and WHS senior Kayleigh Jost traveled to Porta Westfalica, Germany from June 27-July 26 through the Sister Cities of Portaloo student exchange program.
Both girls enjoyed the trip, saying Germany’s environmental focus was a cultural difference that stood out to them and that they enjoyed.
“They’re much more environmentally friendly,” Jost said. “They’re much more concerned about themselves, but also the planet.”
“They’re more aware of environmental things than we are,” Ubbelohde agreed. “They’re always bicycling everywhere. They recycle everything and compost everything. They try to limit their use of plastic bags. And I think that’s cool.”
The teens got the opportunity to go on the trip after they learned of it through the WHS German Club.
Both students eagerly applied.
“When I heard about it through German club, I was like ‘oh, I could actually do it’ because my sister did it, and she seemed to have a lot of fun,” Jost recounted. “So I was like ‘yeah, let’s do it.’”
“I’ve always been interested in seeing different cultures other than the United States,” Ubbelohde added. “This opportunity was just so great because you don’t have to pay much for it and they basically work everything out for you.”
Although they were the only two students to apply, the teenagers still wrote an essay and interviewed with Sister Cities officials.
With that done, they headed to Germany for four weeks, staying with four host families.
While there, Jost and Ubbelohde attended school, which they both enjoyed.
“I love their school system,” Ubbelohde said. “Of course, they’re year-round so that’s definitely different. Their classes are set up kind of like our college where they’re not the same every day.”
Jost said she liked the more laid-back atmosphere of the German school.
“It’s more relaxed, but it’s also more fun,” she noted. “They’re strict, but you can say and express yourself more freely. And they also have more classes that are a wider variety than what we have.”
The girls also had plenty of free time, visiting the Emperor William Monument, the town of Minden, the city of Hanover, a nearby castle and Berlin.
Much of that time touring was spent shopping.
Jost said the trip to Berlin was her favorite part of the venture.
“It was cool to see how it has grown over the years because we got to see from the Berlin Wall to the newer things it has progressed to,” she said.
Ubbelohde was less specific about her favorite part, saying she liked those cultural differences already highlighted.
“It’s hard to pick my favorite thing, but I think the coolest thing was seeing the difference between everything – not even necessarily going to places, but seeing the difference between everyday life there and everyday life here,” she said.
Both girls said it was not particularly difficult to adjust to those differences, though the country’s green focus did require some changes.
For example, at McDonald’s, customers recycle their food containers in separate bins and food is thrown away as little as possible no matter where one eats.
Despite those obstacles, the Waterloo residents said they enjoyed their trip and encourage others to go if given the chance.
“I definitely would do it again, and if I did have the chance to do it again I would definitely stay a lot longer – like maybe a year,” Jost said.
“I loved it,” Ubbelohde said. “It was very educational, and it was just such a cool experience. Kayleigh and I were able to prove to ourselves that we could do this without parents. And you get to experience things with kids your own age but living in a different world.
“I think it’s just a really cool opportunity that people should take.”