NOVEMBER 08, 2014 5:15 PM BY KY COCHRAN
MUSCATINE, Iowa — Several German students made Muscatine their home last week, and though they've since returned to Germany, the relationship they helped build between Muscatine High School and the Theodor-Heuss school in their home country will continue.
"America is fun," said German student Marvin Sauer, 17, when asked during an interview before he left why he wanted to take part in the newly implemented exchange program, which was formed when current and former MHS students traveled to Germany this past summer.
"It's fun to meet somebody from another country and live with them and live their lifestyle," he said.
Mitra Estiry, 18, and Selina Di Santo, 18, added that they had wanted to practice their English and to see what an American high school was like, both of which they said they accomplished.
"We don't have so many sports [teams] in our school," Lisa Bardoukas, 18, said of one of the differences between America and Germany.
Sports aren't usually associated with schools in Germany, but are available to participate in in separate clubs, Sauer explained. Bardoukas said she preferred the American way.
"I think it's great that when there was the football game, so many people were watching it. It's not normal in Germany that the whole school is there, not just families," Bardoukas said.
But there were some things the German students preferred about school in their native land.
"We have our own classrooms [in Germany] so the teachers come to us and we don't move, we stay the whole time in the classroom," Di Santo said. "I'd rather stay."
Their teacher chaperone, Katharina Rilling, 31, disagreed, laughing, "If you ask the teacher, I like the American system better."
The students spent 14 days in the American Midwest — four of which they passed shopping and sightseeing in Chicago before being inaugurated to Muscatine area with a hike at Wildcat Den State Park on Oct. 26. Before they left on Nov. 6, they'd had the opportunity to take part in America's Halloween culture.
"We went haunted housing," Bardoukas said. "We don't do that in Germany, so it was kind of exciting."
When asked if they enjoyed it, she admitted, "Yes and no. We felt scared."
The students discovered some other differences during their visit. Americans go out to eat more often than Germans do, they said, and "Everything comes in big sizes," according to Bardoukas.
"Shampoo is really big here," Di Santo said. "I mean they have it in small size, too, but normally the people get it in bigger sizes."
"What's a little bit weird to me is that Americans don't walk," Rilling added. "If we would go to a grocery store close by, we would walk or go by bike and here I've found everybody just takes the car all the time."
Germany has a better public transportation system, Bardoukas explained. She also noted that German roads are smaller than American ones, and there aren't speed limits on the German versions of American interstates.
Even with the slower traveling in America, the group said they would come back. In fact, Di Santo, Rilling, Estiry and Sauer all said they'd been before.
"I love it here," Sauer said. "I miss my family and friends, but ... the food is better in America, the cars are better in America and the people are better in America and the land is [more] beautiful in America than in Germany."
"He fell in love with the U.S.," Di Santo said with a smile.
They held a certain fondness for Muscatine, as well.
"It's a beautiful landscape here, with the Mississippi River," Rilling said, adding that she'd also enjoyed Wildcat Den.
Rilling said the exchange program between MHS and Theodor-Heuss would continue. Milaena Reade, the German-language teacher at MHS who had accompanied MHS students to Germany over the summer, said that the experience is a learning opportunity for all involved, not just the students who travel.
"I think exchange programs are incredibly helpful to students in Muscatine," she wrote in an email to the Muscatine Journal. "Only a small percentage of our students travel outside the country on a school trip, so having students from another country come here has a much larger effect. It opens minds and creates a sense of acceptance of those who are different from us."