A lens on America

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DRC/David Minton
Guyer High School German teacher Stephen Shade helps foreign exchange student Bianca Korbus try on some riot gear Wednesday during students' visit to the Denton Police Department.
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German teenagers get view of life as Guyer High students

Frederik Thieme said he came to Denton to see another side of the world.

“To see another country and another culture, that’s something I think you have to do in life,” the 16-year-old German exchange student said. “I think it’s important.

“I think sometimes the problem here in Texas, they don’t really know other places except Texas, and that’s what we want to do in Germany — we want to see the other side of the world.”

Frederik was among a group of 23 exchange students and two teachers from Alexander von Humboldt school in Berlin who recently came to Denton to improve their English language skills and to absorb life in the United States.

For three weeks, Frederik, a 10th-grader, called Denton his home away from home. He ate the local fare, attended classes at Guyer High School, toured the University of North Texas and the Denton police station and visited with Mayor Mark Burroughs at Denton City Hall.

“Denton is so much smaller than Berlin,” Frederik said. “In general, America is just totally different from Germany.”

He said he found the change “impressive.” Here, he said, he did things he’s not accustomed to, such as visiting with the mayor and touring the local police station. Frederik captured those moments in photos.

Looking the part of a Guyer High School student, wearing a Wildcats hoodie, it wasn’t uncommon to see Frederik peering into the viewfinder of a camera while snapping photos of the Denton landscape and candid shots of his peers.

“Everything was new and interesting,” he said.

For nearly a decade, Stephen Shade, a German teacher at Guyer, has participated in a program that links students in Denton with teenagers in Berlin. Every other year, the students travel from Germany to North Texas in the fall as Denton students and their families serve as hosts.

The Guyer High-Alexander von Humboldt partnership is part of the German American Partnership Program, a high school exchange program sponsored by the German Foreign Office and the U.S. State Department.

The 23 students and two teachers, Ireen Trautmann and Jörg Meister, arrived in Denton on Sept. 15 and boarded a flight home Friday.

The German students missed two weeks of school. This last week was the first half of their two-week fall break back home.

“The main purpose of the exchange is for the kids to experience life. The German kids get to experience life here in the United States, in Texas and, of course, the school system itself,” Shade said. “It is a true exchange, and what that means is that the 23 American students from Guyer who are hosting their German counterparts will in turn travel over as soon as we get out of school. We’ll land in Berlin on June 10, and we will have three weeks in Berlin at our partner school there.”

In the three weeks they were here, the German exchange students and their Guyer hosts and instructors traveled to West Texas and hiked Guadalupe Peak; they visited New Mexico’s White Sands National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns National Park. A little closer to North Texas, they went on outings to a Texas Rangers game, Six Flags Over Texas and Ray Roberts Lake. Some also attended Guyer’s homecoming festivities and the Denton Blues Festival.

At school, the students from Berlin shadowed their Guyer counterparts for two days before having the opportunity to attend classes of their own choosing.

Some described the classes as different from what they’re accustomed to in Berlin.

“You’re allowed to listen to music or be on your phone, and in Germany, it’s not like that,” 15-year-old Martin Kuntze said. To speak out in class back home, one must be acknowledged by the teacher and given permission, he said.

He said he enjoyed his first trip to the U.S.

“I really love it here, and maybe I’ll come back, like going to the university in Denton,” Martin said. “I wouldn’t have a problem, like, living here a year or so for another exchange.”

Fifteen-year-old Antje Hübner said she enjoyed getting to know and talk with new people.

“It’s been really great,” she said of the experience. “I had a really great host family and partner, and I really like it here.”

On one of their final days in Denton, the exchange students boarded a school bus and toured the city.

Their first stop was Denton City Hall. There, Shade talked about the origins of Quakertown Park, and the teens visited with the mayor. Burroughs discussed the structure of the City Council and the city’s sustainability efforts, including its use of energy generated by wind, the sun and the municipal landfill.

Frederik said that gave him a “good opinion” of Denton.

The students also toured UNT. From the campus administrative offices, they walked to the Pohl Recreation Center and were amazed by the facility. On a walk over to Crumley Hall, where they viewed a dorm room, they asked questions about the cost of tuition and fees. The university tour ended at Apogee Stadium, where they viewed suites and walked the field, taking time to pose for photos and inspect the field’s turf, which is partly made of recycled tires.

Their trip ended at the Denton Police Department. For several, it was their first time in a police station.

They visited the dispatch center, a room where fingerprints are processed, and the juvenile booking station — where they took turns taking one another’s mug shots. At the city jail, the students saw the inside of three of the jail’s 14 cells, including the “drunk tank.”

The visit ended with the Special Weapons and Tactics officers. The students had an opportunity to sit in and on police cars, trucks and motorcycles, try on SWAT gear and view weapons used by the officers.

The foreign exchange program puts “learning into practice,” in a sense, Shade said.

“To me, this exchange exemplifies what we talk about in Denton ISD, that we want our students to become lifelong learners,” he said. “And in my opinion, there’s no better way to get them to become lifelong learners than for them to see the practicality of what they learn when they put it into use in the real world.”

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876. Her e-mail address is btabor@dentonrc.com.


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