10/27/2013 6:03:00 AM Student exchange immerses German students in Prescott Valley high school life
Cindy Barks/The Daily Courier
A group of students and teachers from Zeitz, Germany, spent about two and a half weeks in Prescott Valley this month, attending school at Bradshaw Mountain High School and staying with host families. The group gathered Thursday morning before heading home to Germany.
PRESCOTT VALLEY - Seventeen-year-old Anne Laake could barely stem of the flow of tears Thursday morning, as she said her final goodbyes to Bradshaw Mountain High School.
"It's hard, because I met so many lovely people - nice, kind, and loving people," Laake said.
She was among the 10 high school students from Zeitz, Germany, who had spent the past 16 days living the lives of American teenagers.
As a part of Prescott's new Sister City partnership with Zeitz, the students and two of their teachers traveled to Prescott Valley on Oct. 8 to attend school at Bradshaw Mountain.
Local Sister City organizer Margo Christensen explained that the group chose Bradshaw Mountain rather than Prescott High School because of Bradshaw's German-language program - one of the only such programs in Yavapai County. Meanwhile, Christensen said, PHS has expressed interest in a future exchange that would focus on subjects other than language.
Plans also are in the works for Bradshaw students to travel to Zeitz next year for language immersion in German.
And host families and students agreed: The Prescott Valley visit did wonders for the German students' English.
While the students all had at least five years of classroom English behind them, the two-and-a-half weeks of speaking mostly English served to hone their skills.
Beth and Keith Cross of Prescott Valley said they had seen marked progress in the fluency of Juliane Dietrich, their 14-year-old guest. "It's amazing; she's really improved," Beth Cross said.
Fifteen-year-old Max Fuchs noticed a change in his own language skills. After studying English for about eight years, he said the two-and-a-half weeks in the U.S. helped to put all of that classroom work to good use. "This is nice practice," he said. "Here, it's real life."
Along with the educational experience, the students and their hosts said the visit offered many cultural exchanges as well.
The German students talked enthusiastically about attending football games, visiting the Grand Canyon, eating Mexican food and hamburgers, and just getting to know their stand-in families.
"The time here was great," Fuchs said, as he gathered for a last goodbye photo with his host Ryan Chaffin and friend Travis Applegate. "I collected many nice experiences."
For Fuchs, the school itself may have left the strongest impression. "The school days were exciting," he said. "It's so huge. We have only 230 students in my school. Here, there are 1,500."
Dietrich said the lure of the Grand Canyon was one of the reasons she made the trip. After spending time with the Crosses, she listed her host family as a highlight of the trip. "Everybody was so nice," she said.
Indeed, the bonds of friendship were on display everywhere as the group of students, parents, teachers, and Sister City representatives met outside Bradshaw Mountain Thursday morning to see the German group off.
"It's amazing to see the kinships," Bradshaw Mountain Principal Kort Miner said as he watched the long, emotional goodbyes taking place. "It shows how close and related we all are."
Miner, who hosted the two German chaperones in his home, said the exchange offered his students a glimpse of another culture.
"We tend to live in a world of 'woe is me,'" Miner said. "This is an opportunity to talk to other students. I think our students learned to appreciate what they have."
Keith Cross, whose family had hosted an exchange student when he was growing up, expressed a similar view. "It's looking at yourself from the outside," he said of the hosting experience.
Host mom Michelle Willer said her family's motivation for participating in the program was simple: "The goal was to have friends for life," she said, adding that the program was a success. "My kids were in tears when (exchange student Jessica Kaupa) walked out the door this morning."
Zeitz teacher Rainer Ecker, who helped to coordinate the trip, said he has organized 20 to 25 such exchange programs during his years of teaching. "It's a great experience," he said, noting that the Prescott Valley visit offered his students "immersion in American society, school, and family life."
Christensen helped to spearhead the recent push for Prescott's new Sister City bond with Zeitz, and she emphasized that regular visits and reciprocal exchange programs "will allow us to build solid friendships between Prescott and Zeitz and give our young people experiences and memories that will last a lifetime."
And while the German students all emphasized different highlights of the trip, they appeared to agree on one point - the desire to return someday for another visit.