Students from Weilberg, Germany experience Canadian culture at WCHS

By Garrett Simmons

Lethbridge School District No. 51

Communications Officer

Twenty high school students are getting a crash course in Canadian culture.

The students, from a high school in Weilburg, Germany, have been in Canada since Sept. 19, and have spent two school days at Winston Churchill High School, as part of a student exchange.

“The exchange started in 2013 with Margita Witzke,” said WCHS teacher Kevin McBeath.

When Witzke retired three years ago, she asked if McBeath would connect with Henrik Riesen, who organized the exchange on the German end, and carry on the exchange. Since then, WCHS has hosted German students from Weilburg, Hessen, Germany in 2015 and again this year.

“The exchange is reciprocated in the spring when we travel over our Easter holidays to Weilburg and experience life in a German home, as students are billeted,” said McBeath. “Normally, we host about 20 Germans and send back about 12 Canadians.”

Riesen, who traveled to Canada with the students, said international travel is a highly-valued aspect of the education system in Germany.

“We count it as a very important part of education. Our provincial curriculum encourages us to organize these school trips. The exchanges contribute to the mutual understanding of different people and different nations, and helps with their language skills. Some will also get a vision for future studying in Canada.”

The student exchange grew out of an Alberta-Hessen provincial partnership, which resulted in a teacher exchange that took root in 2010, Riesen explained. Presently, students from Weilburg make the trek to WCHS every other year, and vice-versa.

For the German students, the differences between the two countries are immediately apparent, those both obvious and subtle.

Weilburg student Samantha Ott commented on how much bigger everything is in Canada, in particular the houses and roads, while Tabea Ratz mentioned the warmth of the Canadian people.

“I think most people here are nicer than they are in Germany.”

That’s a sentiment shared by Sebastian Cromm, who added it’s much easier to talk to people in Canada, as people in the Great White North are much more open to striking up a conversation with him, as opposed to his German compatriots.

Cromm and his German classmates spend five hours a week working on their English, a subject they have taken in school since the third grade. English is a basic second language in German schools, according to Alexander Strohmann, who added students are required to know one more foreign language on top of that.

Strohmann went on to say the demands at high schools in Germany are quite different from Canada, as he remarked about the atmosphere at WCHS.

“It’s very encouraging here and it’s not as serious, and the teachers will actually joke around with their students.”

 The students also mentioned the fact Lethbridge is a much more multicultural area, as compared to the small German city of Weilburg, which is just over 13,000.

Students have had plenty of opportunities to indulge in southern Alberta culture, as their stops have included Writing on Stone, Head Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and Frank Slide, and a number of Lethbridge attractions such as the Galt Museum and the Helen Schuler Nature Centre, just to name a few.

The visitors, who also commented on the school pride exhibited by students in Canada, compared to German school who do not host their own sports teams, also took in A WCHS Bulldogs football game Friday night.

The trip wraps up for the German students on Wednesday, Oct. 4, when the group will depart for Calgary and fly home. Churchill students will head to Germany on March 27, and arrive back home on April 10.

Date posted: Sept. 29, 2017