German exchange students experience U.S. presidential election


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Staff Writer

NORTH BRUNSWICK – Because of the timing of a high school exchange program, more than a dozen German students were able to witness a historic presidential election.

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Ben Schmoll, a teacher at North Brunswick Township High School (NBTHS), welcomed 15 students and their teacher, Herr Michael Kohler, to the town from Oct. 22 to Nov. 9.

Since their trip involved attending school at NBTHS but also sightseeing in Princeton, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., they found themselves in the middle of a Hillary Clinton rally in Pennsylvania.

“It was cool but nervous. There was so much going on,” German student Aline Grimm said.

“It’s different that politicians here attack each other. They do it a lot,” fellow German student Mira Heller said.

Since in Germany, citizens vote for the political party who then in turn nominate a candidate for a political position, Kohler said that polls close at 6 p.m. and the results are known minutes later. They also vote on paper, not in polling booths.

Therefore, the students were intrigued watching the election results roll in for hours on Nov. 8.

“America is still one of the powerfulist (sic) countries. It affects Europe a lot. I think it’s important,” German classmate Rita Heidrich said, noting that Germany does broadcast American election results.

The German general elections are held every four years; the position of chancellor will be voted on next year.

Aside from the election, the German students also lived with their host families, attended class at NBTHS, went to the Jersey Shore and shopped a lot.

They also went pumpkin picking and experienced Halloween, and also celebrated an early Thanksgiving.

“They experienced the life of a day-to-day life of an American teen,” Schmoll said.

“We experienced all new stuff,” Aline added. “It’s cool to see how life is here.”

North Brunswick has participated in an exchange program with the Theodor-Heuss Gymnasium in Pforzheim, Germany, since 2002.

“It’s pretty amazing two schools have been able to sustain a relationship on both ends,” Schmoll said.

Schmoll himself was born in the U.S. but lived in Germany from age six to college. His parents still live in Germany, his wife is German and his children are being taught to speak the native language.

“I have a foot in both places. It can be unsettling yet very comforting,” he said.

He hopes his students find that same comfort. This year, 14 NBTHS students traveled to the village from June 27 to July 18.

“It was my first time in Europe so it was a different atmosphere completely,” NBTHS student Kerry Cronin said.

She said that the high school is located in a city setting, with one tall building encompassing grades five to 12. The houses are closer together and are differently styled than in the U.S., with terracotta roofs.

NBTHS student Megan Pelszynski said that students take public transportation to school and walk around a lot.

NBTHS student Mary Mehalick said German schools do not offer extracurricular activities or sports, and the school day is very class-based. There are no art or music classes, and no designated lunch break.

The American students lived with their host families and went through a normal school day, including German classes similar to English literature classes.

“By being immersed in [the language] you have no choice but to learn it,” Megan said.

“You have to fend for yourself and trust what you know,” Kerry added.

They also attended two public viewings of the World Cup, which saw Germany make it to the semifinals.

“I think it’s incredible to have such close friends even across the world,” Mary said.

“It’s been a really moving group here. An inspiring group of young people,” Schmoll said.

Contact Jennifer Amato at


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