Homecoming, Walmart, a learner’s permit to drive and Oreo cookies.
These are a few of German students’ favorite things about Puebloans’ way of life.
For the past decade, the German American Partnership Program has allowed high school-age students from Germany an inside look at the American education system, via Centennial High School, while learning about the things that define life in Pueblo.
This fall, 22 11th graders from Remstalgymnasium Weinstadt in the southwest of Germany lived for three weeks with host families, attending classes at Centennial and participating in extracurricular events like athletic contests, dances and visits to big-box retailers.
Sponsored by the German and American governments, it’s all designed to open hearts, minds and borders, with a special emphasis on the promotion of foreign language instruction.
“This is not simply a trip to a new country,” said Sabine Moosbrugger, who teaches German at Centennial and chairs the world languages department. “The students are involved in every aspect of everyday life. And since many of the students at Centennial cannot go to Germany, due to family or financial reasons or because of disabilities, we bring Germany to them.
“All of the German students are distributed throughout different classes, so all the students have a chance to meet someone from another country.”
One of the notable differences between the American and German education systems is the emphasis on foreign languages. In her home country, Lara Ruhle said students begin learning the basics of English while in elementary school.
“Learning English really starts in the fifth grade and you continue to learn until you graduate,” Ruhle said. “It’s the international language and you have to know it nowadays if you want to be in business or another field.”
The fact that American teenagers can get behind the wheel earlier than Germans caught the eye of auto-loving Malte Nuding.
“You can drive at 16 here, which is nice because I like to drive,” Nuding said. “And although I didn’t get to drive here, my family took me on an off-road trip for three hours. It was really cool.”
For Noemi Tigrato, experiencing her first and perhaps only homecoming football game and dance will remain a cherished memory.
“I like the school spirit here, with everyone cheering for their team,” Tigrato said. “In Germany, that would never be possible because the students would think it’s boring. Plus, there are no high-school sports in Germany. And most Germans would never have fun and dance like we did at homecoming.”
Gina Orf, who has long hosted the young German visitors, said that in addition to Pikes Peak, local zoos and the Pueblo Reservoir, a staple of the American shopping experience is always on the “to see and do” list.
“We have to make sure to visit Walmart, because it’s a big deal for the kids,” said Orf. “They always want to see what’s it like, because to my knowledge, they don’t have Walmarts in Germany.”
Another host, Ted Johnson, said that in addition to a love for Oreo cookies, his family and guest Lea Wendlick bonded over The Beatles and American television shows and movies.
“What was interesting is that we clicked really well,” Johnson said. “It was amazing how much we had in common.”
German educator Eva Holzmeier-Huber, Moosbrugger’s counterpart in the GAPP program, accompanied the German students to Pueblo. Along with Moosbrugger, she spoke to the Pueblo City Schools (D60) board of education at the conclusion of this year’s exchange.
“This is my first time here and we are having a wonderful time,” Holzmeier-Huber told the board. “I like the exchange a lot because you stay with families, and both the American and German students have learned a lot from the program.
“And even me, staying with an American family for the first time, I had a great experience.”
Veronica Aguilar, a Centennial senior and president of the German Club, has twice visited Germany through GAPP.
“I learned a lot about the culture, language and the historical impact between the two countries,” Aguilar said. “The biggest difference that was most impressive to me was the commuting and the fact that they recycle a lot more. To get around, they use mostly trains, bikes, buses or walk. There aren’t a lot of personal cars.”
Having studied the language since she was a freshman, Aguilar scored high enough on a German Language Certificate exam to study at a German technical college.
“I do think I’ll take the opportunity to study in Germany, because of the cost. It’s free over there,” Aguilar said.
“It’s pretty cool.”