July 30, 2013 > Willkommen! (Welcome) Students experience a trip of a lifetime
Willkommen! (Welcome) Students experience a trip of a lifetime
Submitted By students/teachers of Mission San Jose High School
Accompanied by teachers Mrs. Risha Krishna and Mr. Charlie Brucker, thirteen students from Mission San Jose High School (MSJHS) in Fremont participated in a cultural, social and educational exchange in Germany June 19 - 29. Personal reflections of this trip follow:
Charlie Brucker (teacher):
While most kids were excited about beginning summer break, 13 Mission San Jose High School (MSJHS) students kick-started theirs by heading for San Francisco airport, directly from their last final exam, to begin a cultural exchange program in Germany.
Our flight to Munich went smoothly, but we were greeted by high winds and severe thunderstorms in Munich which delayed the leg to Hanover by about three hours. Pushing on through the wind and rain, at long last we arrived at our destination, Gottingen. Among the many fantastic sights we would see, the first was our German host families applauding in the chilly wet darkness as we emerged from our shuttle bus in the wee hours of the morning. Thus began our cultural exchange experience in Germany.
From this very first moment, the warmth and love of our remarkable German hosts was the only sunshine we would need. In Gottingen, our host city, we visited the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium, were treated to a reception with the Mayor, explored Hanstein castle which dates from the 10th century, and carried out some fluorescence/phosphorescence experiments at the Georg-August University of Gottingen.
In Berlin, we sat in the plenary chambers of the German parliament, or Bundestag, at the innovative Reichstag building, made rainy stops at Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate. We stood in the same plaza as President Obama did four days earlier, and Presidents Kennedy and Reagan ("Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!") before him. While in Berlin, we also met the program director of the Fulbright Kommission who had the vision of creating such a program to connect students globally. As with the hope of the Kommission, it is also our hope students will take lessons beyond the classroom and adopt them in their everyday life. We hope they will share their epiphanies with those around them and gain inspiration to take into their future.
In Dresden, we marveled at the Frauenkirche, the Church of Our Lady. Reduced to pile of rubble by the WWII firebombing, the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche was financed almost entirely by private donations from around the world - a magnificent testament to hope and reconciliation. We all developed a deep appreciation of a culture beyond our own, and truly internalized this new culture and lifestyle. We walked on the very spots where great history has taken place. We experienced the power of the human touch vs. internet relationships. Ample proof of this was the animated faces, hugs, and words of appreciation for this opportunity from both American and German students, and how students communicated in a way that transcended verbal barriers.
It was Wednesday evening, and I was a little tired after our overnight excursion to Berlin and Dresden. After returning home to my host family's house, I had settled in to watch some German television, which I understood very little of, but enjoyed nonetheless, when my family's border collie began barking like crazy at the balcony. Slightly alarmed, I looked to my host partner for a little explanation. "One of Merlin's (the dog's) friends has caught a hedgehog in the garden. He has never seen one before, so he is really excited," my host partner tells me as she restrains her dog. I nod in understanding, trying not to get in anyone's way. Moments later, my host mom returns with a shoebox. I peered inside, fearful of what might be in there. Thankfully, it was still breathing, no blood, maybe a few spines bent and broken, but overall not too bad. It had balled up on itself, though, so I couldn't see its face, but I was excited. I had never seen a live hedgehog before, and they really are pretty cute. To keep their dog from getting at the poor little hedgehog, obviously frightened by its earlier dog encounter, my host mom placed him, in its shoebox, out onto the balcony of their flat, with a little plate of wet cat food so it could eat a little.
Later, about midway through dinner, my host mom looked out onto the balcony and into the shoebox to see that the hedgehog managed to escape onto their balcony! Considering that this balcony was a story off the ground, she knew that it had to still be out there somewhere. After locating the hedgehog, she found a smaller, plastic crate for the hedgehog to stay in. This time, the sides of its container were just a little bit taller, enough so that when it was standing on its back legs the hedgehog could put its front feet up close to the top, but he couldn't quite leverage himself out. My host partner and I watched it for a little bit, and after it finished two little plates of cat food, my host mom decided to release him back into the garden area behind their flat. And even after it had been released, their dog continued to search the balcony for his, and my, first hedgehog.
Berlin and Dresden were cities I had only read about in my history book until I went to Germany with 12 classmates for two weeks in June. During this trip, we went on an overnight visit to Berlin and Dresden and on tours of each historic city. For me, this adventure was most exciting because it was amazing to think about all of the history I had read about but could never really visualize, until now. We were able to see where the Berlin Wall stood for almost 30 years, an American Checkpoint which served as a symbol of hope and freedom for those living in oppressive East Berlin under Soviet rule, and churches that had somehow survived the intense bombings in Dresden.
Out of all of these memories, the most outstanding one was visiting the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. As we took pictures in front of it in the pouring rain, I was overwhelmed with a sense of history, knowing that former President John F. Kennedy gave his famous 'I Am A Berliner' speech there in 1963 and current President Barack Obama had given a speech just one week before our visit. I also marveled at the statue on top of the Gate. Napoleon stole it from Germany in 1806 but it was retrieved by Germany in 1814 after Napoleon's downfall. My experiences in Berlin and Dresden, in addition to many of my other experiences in Germany, have increased my appreciation for history and will definitely remain with me for years to come.
Joining Mission San Jose High School on their exchange program to Gottingen, Germany was one of the best opportunities I have ever received. Traveling with 12 other students to this wonderful city, I was able to experience life in another country, be immersed in German culture and meet and establish relationships with American and German students. I stayed with Lara Nowicki and her family in a small village just outside of Gottingen called Bovenden. She showed me her day-to-day life and introduced me to all of her friends. My favorite part of the trip was learning that even in Germany teenagers are pretty much the same - always on their phones, going to parties, and spending the majority of their time with friends.
During the trip, the American students and teachers traveled to Berlin and Dresden for an overnight stay. Although our time in Berlin was dark and rainy, the city was still beautiful. The Reichstag building was incredible and the dome on top allowed us to see the wonderful green trees and majestic buildings, ancient and modern. In Dresden we went on a guided walking tour and learned that the city was almost completely rebuilt after the war; they have come a long way. Dresden was my favorite city. It has a wonderfully modern side to it with nice shopping areas and apartment buildings, but also a gorgeous historical side as well. This trip allowed me to learn about another culture, make some lifelong friends, and open my eyes to what it's like living elsewhere.
My trip to Germany was an experience of a lifetime, more than just exposure to another culture. I formed what I know will be life-long bonds with my host student partner, Jurin, and his family, as well as other students - American and German. Through conversations and tours to various sights, museums, and cities, I gained a personal and historical perspective that helped me understand Germany and its people.
One of the most indelible aspects of the trip was the time I spent with my host family. I was deeply touched by their warmth and hospitality from the moment I met them, my German mom, dad, sister and brother. Although I thought their lifestyle would be very different from ours, the similarities were uncanny; they were really no different than my family and me, just with a German twist or, from their perspective, an American twist. But in the end, we're all individuals living a daily life, attending school, with parents working; families and communities taking care of one another.
Another amazing connection and highlight of my trip was when I visited my distant German relatives, Karin and Ari, whom I had never seen before. We met at one of the last existing checkpoints of the Berlin Wall, now a museum. Coincidentally, it was the checkpoint's 40th anniversary. Ari, a retired civil engineer, explained that he had designed parts of this checkpoint. The visit with my relatives was unforgettable and made Germany's history even more personal and meaningful.
Discovering Germany beyond what I have read in history books was enthralling. Our tours through Gottingen and visit with the city's Mayor, plus excursions to Berlin and Dresden exposed me to a historical side of Germany that I now deeply appreciate and comprehend. Living with my host family was incredibly valuable and helped me understand Germany from both a historical and cultural perspective. I will always cherish the ten extraordinary days spent in Germany and can't wait to reciprocate by hosting my German student partner next April!
The Germany student program was truly a pivotal point in my life. The trip brought a new perspective as well as an opportunity to learn firsthand about the life of others around the world. It's often said that the best way to learn about a person is by walking a mile in their shoes. Although we were only there for ten days, I can honestly say I learned a lot about not only my host family but the people of Germany, by being able to live like one. We were quickly thrown into German culture: public transportation, ethnic food, and language. I was amazed by the frequent use of public transportation, number of carbonated drinks consumed and language but those differences were relatively minor. Other differences were also evident such as the presence of two flushing buttons on the wall of the bathroom at the airport. As days went by, I noticed many more differences, but as I learned more, they were revealed as unimportant... little things.
My host family quickly taught me that even though there may be a lot of differences, we are similar in the most important ways such as our morals or family dynamics. This was by far the most important thing I learned throughout the entire trip; it is easy to point out differences but you learn more by focusing on similarities. I have my host family, Mrs. Krishna, and everyone who took part in this exchange to thank for teaching me an important life lesson that I can utilize not only when traveling but in my everyday life.
Being one quarter German myself, I have always been fascinated with the German culture. What better way to immerse myself in Germany than by actually living with a family there? There were so many stunning, interesting and historical sites. For ten days I had an opportunity to be part of a very loving German family. It amazed me how similar my host family and host sister, Kira, is to my own family and myself. Even though we live so far away from each other and were complete strangers just a couple months ago, we had more things in common than I thought was possible and were even were able to complete each other's sentences! I realized that while I am living my own life, people in other places are doing very similar things. As simple as that concept is, living in Germany for a couple days gave me new perspective. I realized that the world does not revolve around me and I take so much for granted. Even though this adventure was relatively short, I know that I will forever keep all the valuable memories and always have a family in Germany.