German students travel to Cloquet for multi-faceted cultural exchangeA group of 15 German students and two teachers from the AmHoptbuhl Gymnasium arrived in Cloquet Sept. 6, and they will remain here for three weeks. Everyone is staying with a host family and attending school at Cloquet High School, so it’s a very different experience from being a tourist.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
When Iris Keller asked the German students who are visiting Cloquet what they found most surprising, the answers were good and bad.
“Two of the most common things I get from the German students is how BIG everything is here — Wal-Mart, our cars, our roads, our food serving size, our drinks — and how everything is plastic,” she said. “Plastic wrapped in plastic. Food is rarely fresh, they say, mostly canned, frozen or packaged.”
On the other hand:
“They love our nature, and how friendly and open we are,” Keller added. “They also love our nature — the great outdoors.”
The group of 15 German students and two teachers from the AmHoptbuhl Gymnasium arrived in Cloquet Sept. 6, and they will remain here for three weeks. Everyone is staying with a host family and attending school at Cloquet High School, so it’s a very different experience from being a tourist.
“It’s a total immersion,” said Simone Epperlein, who teaches English and biology in Germany. “We have the opportunity to get insight into the life and culture of our partner country, especially family life, the day-to-day experience. Of course, the top priority for us is experiencing the language.”
The exchange is annual, with a group of German students coming to Cloquet in September of each year, and a group of students from Cloquet traveling to Germany each June, toward the end of their longer school year.
Keller, who is a sign language interpreter at Cloquet High School, has been helping coordinate the exchange with Epperlein the past three years, although the exchange began in 1994.
“I like to think that they come over and see that we are not like ‘Jersey Shore,’” said Keller, “basically we’re not what they might see on TV. And for us, our students go see that they don’t all wear lederhosen.”
Learning about the Native American culture is something the German students also appreciate, and something they don’t know much about, beyond watching old Western movies, said Raphael Harm. He had just left the Indian Education room at CHS, where he and the other students were greeted in Ojibwe by CHS sophomore Warren Mountain, who is learning to speak Ojibwe and read a prepared introduction to them, telling them his name, his clan, where and when he was born, where he lived and thanking them for listening.
When he asked if anyone had questions, AmHoptbuhl Gymnasium teacher Heike Gruninger asked Mountain why it was important to him to study the language of his ancestors.
“It’s important because more of our elders who speak the language are getting older and dying and we want to revive the language,” he said. “We don’t want the language to become a dead language. And I think it’s very interesting to learn more about my roots.”
Mountain taught the German students a few phrases in Ojibwe, including the words for “thank you” (Miigwech) and “See you later” (Gigawabamin).
“We don’t have a word for goodbye,” explained Shirley Miner, a homeschool liaison with the Indian Ed program. “The only time we would use ‘goodbye’ is when someone passes on. Otherwise we say ‘see you later.’”
Miner also shared some maple syrup on ice cream with the German students and showed them part of a movie called “The Powwow Trail,” which seemed to make an impression on the Europeans.
German student Tim Grauer agreed with Harm that learning more about the Native American culture was one of the most surprising parts of his visit so far.
“Meeting people that are Native American is interesting,” he said, before heading off to his next class.
Epperlein said the opportunity to interact with Native Americans “is one of the most exotic attractions” during their visit.
“That you have other people of a different culture here, living mixed to some extent and side-by-side,” she said. “Students learn young ‘how the West was won,’ but having Native Americans as classmates and neighbors, it’s fascinating for them and for me.”
She told of being invited to Native American author Jim Northrup’s home on a previous visit.
“I felt very privileged to be there,” she said, explaining the invite came because some of Northrup’s relatives were hosting a German student. “And for the students who were living with his family, it was a very unique experience.”
Epperlein explained that her school has a waiting list for the Cloquet exchange program, because there are fewer and fewer exchanges with the English speaking world as schools drop German studies for other languages such as Mandarin.
“If I ran the world, I would say that every kid should travel abroad before they graduate,” Keller said.
Epperlein agreed, noting that a three-week stay isn’t exactly a long-term exchange, but it gives the students exposure to another culture and world outside their own.
It’s certainly not the Disney channel, or Jersey Shore, no matter which Cloquet family a student ends up with.
“We do have students who keep in touch with their host families, and some that have come back and stayed for a longer period, maybe six months to a year,” she said.
“It’s a spark.”