For the first time since she began teaching at City High in 2010, German-language teacher Casey Wilmesmeier led a group of ten upper-level students on a three-week tour of Northern Germany this past June and July. And the trip—consisting of homestays in several towns, day trips to cities like Hamburg, Hanover, and Bremen, as well as a four-day visit to Berlin—was, as they say, “wunderbar.”
“I enjoyed it a lot,” Tia Smith ‘13 said. “I had a very positive experience in Germany. It was a better start to my summer than I could have ever imagined.”
One of the first things students noticed upon arriving in Frankfurt was the first-rate quality of German cuisine.
“It was much richer than what I’m used to,” Erika Bethke ’13 said. “I had so many options and the food had much more flavor than anything available to us at home.”
Other than its superb food and the much cooler weather, life in the group’s first destination, the northern German state of Niedersachsen, seemed to differ little from everyday existence in summertime Iowa: City High students joined their hosts in popular daily pastimes such as going dancing, shopping, and swimming. Plus, watching every match of Die Mannschaft, Germany’s national soccer team, in the 2012 Euro Cup.
“Teenagers are teenagers,” Patrick Dey ‘14 said “They’re the same everywhere. My host and I would hang out downtown with the rest of the group. Usually we would just talk and eat for hours.”
According to Smith, students did significantly more walking in Germany than they would have at home in Iowa.
“We never drove anywhere unless we were going to another city,” she said.
When not playing ping-pong or video games, Dey and the rest of the City group were able to experience what German high school is really like. Although the mere thought of having to go to school in the summer may have been a bit of a turnoff for others, this group was excited to spend some time in the German classroom.
“I was really interested to see how it would compare to American schools,” Brooks Henry ‘14 said. “And I was very excited to meet a lot of new people.”
Classes proved to be somewhat different than those in the U.S. Each class lasted a total of one and a half hours, although the school day itself went only from 9:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. With only three periods and a different schedule each day, students rarely got bored.
“School was great,” Kait Coffin ‘13 said. “I enjoyed all my classes. We had lots of fun.”
Even though the group did not have to take final exams like their German counterparts, they still experienced some stress.
“I couldn’t understand anything the first few days,” Dey said. “Everyone used too many nouns and spoke way too fast. I was confused the entire time.”
However, as the summer days in Germany rolled by and students got into the swing of things, the challenges of communicating in a foreign language steadily decreased.
“By the end of the stay, I had gotten used to the accents and how fast people spoke,” Smith said. “I really saw my German improve. It didn’t feel as forced when we left.”
As with everyone else in the group, the most difficult part of the three-week-long trip for Nikki Schmeling, ‘13 was to say goodbye to her new friends and family at the end of the experience.
“Leaving Germany made me realize that I had made some friends for life,” Schmeling said. “And that was really special.”