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Six local students recently made a trip to Germany as part of an exchange program with Wapakoneta’s sister city, Lengerich, Germany.
Stephen Miner, the son of Pam and Steve Miner, Alec Haehn, the son of Kathleen and David Haehn, Kati O’Neill, the daughter of Cathy and Rick O’Neill, Austin Ridenour, the son of Tina and Paul Binkley, David DiGiovanni, the son of Patty and Keith Richardson and Bobby DiGiovanni, and Emilee Youngpeters, the daughter of Eric and Sandy Youngpeters, spent 10 days in Germany and gained a wealth of knowledge on the trip, which lasted from June 23 to July 14. Pam Miner and Kris Ruppert were chaperones on the trip.
“A lot of people that make trips to other countries stay in a hotel,” Pam Miner said. “I think in some ways you don’t really get the whole experience. “Our students were able to stay in their homes and experience what it was like in their everyday lives.”
Stephen Miner, 16, who will be a junior at Wapakoneta High School this year, noticed several of the differences right away. For instance, finger foods are not a common food in Germany.
“When they eat, they always have a knife and fork in their hand,” Stephen Miner said. “”If you would try to use your fingers, they would look at you, like ‘What are you doing?’ But the people were very friendly. With the experience I had there, it made me want to go back.”
O’Neill said she had the chance to learn several new German words, a language she has taken for a year in high school. She also noticed Germany’s greater concentration on learning foreign languages.
“They start learning English at a young age,” O’Neill said. “They spoke English very well. The only thing was that in school, they learned the British-English, so sometimes it could get a little tricky.”
Things as simple as using the restroom allowed the students to learn same cultural differences on their trip.
“Every time you use the restroom, you had to pay,” said Alec Haehn, 17, a senior at Wapakoneta High School.
One of the most noticeable differences, a difference also noticed by the German students currently visiting Wapakoneta, was the presence of air-conditioning in most homes and other buildings.
“Some days it got hot,” Stephen Miner said. “They really didn’t have air conditioning except in some of the more expensive hotels. Air conditioning is a luxury. They keep their windows open.”
However, it was not a huge factor considering the climate.
“The weather is more moderate,” Haehn said. “There was a few times when it seemed a little warm, but mostly it stays in the high 60s and low 70s.”
Also, the group was surprised to find school still in session when they reached Lengerich, Germany. German students are only on school break for six weeks each year and were just winding down the school year when the delegation arrived.
The school buildings were unlike the more modern, larger structures in the U.S. and still employed chalkboards.
“They didn’t like having to go to school in July,” Pam Miner said. “They are not done until the third week of July.”
The group took many political- and historical-based tours, including going to the Reichstag Building in Berlin, Germany’s equivalent to the White House, and they visited some Holocaust memorials. They visited a concentration camp and the former location of the Berlin Wall.
“A lot of these children were not even born yet when the Berlin Wall came down,” Pam Miner said. “The students gained some very important knowledge of another culture. “They made some good friends, but at the same time they learned that living in the United States is an awesome thing.”
O’Neill liked the friendliness of the Germans they met on their trip.
“It seemed everyone was very friendly,” she said. “They went out of their way to make you feel welcome.”
Stephen Miner also said they learned about acceptance of others.
“When you experience another culture, a culture that is different, it shows you how to have tolerance for other people,” he said.