German students experience Old Bridge school life during two-week stay


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OLD BRIDGE — The German Exchange program is about more than just learning culture and language – it has become a way to create friendships and memories that last a lifetime, according to Anahita Keiller, director of Arts and Culture for the Old Bridge School District.

“Each year, students and families from across the ocean get to experience life in a new land, flavor the tastes of a different land, and be immersed in a new culture,” she said. “While we are able to awe at some of the unique characteristics of a new culture, we quickly realize that it is our similarities which bring us together.”

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Old Bridge High School (OBHS) recently hosted 17 students and two teachers from the Steinbart Gymnasium in Duisburg, Germany, as part of a Homestay Exchange program. In the spring, the OBHS teens will travel to Duisburg, where they will attend classes, visit local sites and practice their language skills.

During their two-week stay, the German students and chaperones attended classes, ate in the school lunch room, met with other students and teachers, and toured New York City.

Michael Spliethoff, a German teacher from Steinbart, who has participated in the program for the past three years, said the students got to know the high school and family life in the United States.

“[The students] visited sites like Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and the Museum of Natural History,” he said. “They took a bus tour of Old Bridge and took part at the Pink Out game.”

Spliethoff said the teens also individually experienced life in New Jersey with their host families, including taking a hayride, attending a New Jersey Devil’s hockey game, and participating in a Zombie paintball activity.

This year marks the sixth year of the program, which was originally set up by OBHS German teacher Anna Cotis, who is familiar with the program firsthand; when she was in high school, she participated in the same exchange program.

The 17 teenagers from Germany were paired with 17 students who are enrolled in either German III or German IV at OBHS. Each of the German students was assigned a host family with whom he or she ate meals and slept at their Old Bridge home.

OBHS German teacher Brita Schmitz said she believes participating in an exchange program is the best way to learn not only the language, but the culture and the daily life in a foreign country.

“It always amazes me what all the students discover and how many times they come back and say, ‘I did not know that in Germany, people …,'” Schmitz said. “No matter how many times we tell our students about cultural differences, there is nothing that can replace experiencing them firsthand.”

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