Source: Sherman Publications

LOHS hosting five German exchange students

November 16, 2011

By Olivia Shumaker

Special Writer for The Review

Living in a new country may not be easy but, with five German exchange students at Lake Orion High School, at least there is comfort in numbers.

Students Aileen Falkenberg, Lou Debus, Luisa Peschel, Milena Mohri, and Nils Wassmuth all live with host families in the community.

Debus is a sophomore from Siegen, Germany, staying with the Lieblein family. This is not Debus’ first experience outside of Germany—she actually went to England last year on a study abroad trip—but America is a new experience nonetheless.

In Siegen, her public school has only 600 students in eight grades. Unlike Lake Orion, Siegen has several high schools. Debus said she did not expect school to be so challenging here, but she has adjusted. She wants to get to know American people and culture, and gets along well with her host family, while pointing out that her luck is not the same for everyone.

“I really like my host family, but I also know people that weren’t so lucky with their host family. So I’m glad I got a good family,” Debus said.

Peschel also likes her host family. She is a junior from a small town in Germany called Zittau, which is in the east side of the country. Like many students, she is staying the full year with the Kistler family. Despite laughingly noting American food will make her fat, Peschel added, “I like the American pizza.”She originally wanted to go to Australia but, in the end, the United States was a more cost-effective option, and certainly would provide a different experience from Zittau. For example, Peschel commented that everyone she has met so far has dogs, which is not common among the people she knows in Germany. Peschel said her friends in Germany are very jealous that she is in America, and that being an exchange student has been a good experience.

“I hope that I can see lots of things and learn a lot about America,” Peschel said.

Mohri has some of the same sentiments. A sophomore from Wuppertal, Germany, she is staying for the majority of a year with the Knight family.

“It’s made us aware a little bit more about the world in general and the benefits that we have living in the United States” said Richard Knight, Mohri’s host father. “We’re delighted to have her in our home.”

Mohri had a preparation week with her exchange organization, where she learning about our culture. Coming here, Mohri brought an album with pictures and information about her hometown and Germany, which she showed to her host family. One major difference between Lake Orion and Mohri’s hometown is that Wuppertal has a suspension railway, a type of public transportation. Wuppertal is the only city in Germany with such a railway. This makes it easy to meet friends often, Mohri said. But even the process of making friends is different between Germany and the United States. Mohri explained that in Germany it can take a while to make a friend, whereas in America, one can make a friend in a day – or lose a friend just as quickly.

Still, “I hope to get to know a lot of people, to learn about them and their culture,” Mohri said.

For Wassmuth, a sophomore from Hamm, Germany, the American culture shared foremost importance with the host country’s primary language when making his selection of where to go.

“My only choice was to take an English speaking country,” Wassmuth said. “In Australia, there haven’t been a lot of placements and in Great Britain the weather is always bad. “It’s very good here.”

He said his hometown of Hamm, a city about 100 miles away from Cologne, has the distinction of having the biggest elephant in the world—that is, a building constructed to look like an enormous glass elephant.

While Lake Orion has no elephants, Wassmuth seems to be adjusting just fine. Host mother Shannon Garvin explained that Wassmuth shares interests with her husband in judo, math and science, which was among the reasons why they decided become a host family.

“They [Wassmuth’s exchange organization] actually contacted us because Nils does judo, and my husband is a judo instructor,” Garvin said. “They try to really keep them in the same sports or hobbies as at home.”

As the Garvins have no children, it was an adjustment to suddenly have a teenager in the house. Still, once they got used to living with each other and the increased food bill, Wassmuth and his hosts have been getting along fine. The student likes their dogs, in particular.

“He brought us a bunch of gifts, and one of them was dog treats that hypnotized my dogs for a week,” Garvin said.

For all of their differences in age, geography, and background, most of the German exchange students mentioned similar observations when comparing the two countries. For example, most think Germany has a better public transportation system, allowing greater independence.

All of the students also mentioned that school is decidedly different. Unlike in the United States, German students are required to learn English starting in the third grade, and their schedules are worlds apart. Rather than a block schedule, they have six or seven classes each day at 45 minutes each. In addition, rather than staying in the same classes for 10 weeks, German students have a different routine of classes every day, repeating classes on a weekly cycle that lasts all year, with exams for every class at the end of the year.

Wassmuth explained that if he had a history class, he might only have it for 90 minutes every week. Peschel, considering the difference in systems, admitted to finding the Lake Orion system somewhat boring.

All told, the students cited their positive experiences in the United States, which will hopefully continue throughout the year.

“I think it’s an important step for growing up,” Peschel said. “I think it’s a good step to win more self confidence.”

(Falkenberg was traveling outside of Lake Orion and could not be reached.)