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Cultural exchange: German students experience life in Hudson

A group of 24 students from Hanus-Seidel Gymnasium in Hoesbach, Germany, poses for a photograph in the classroom of Hudson High School German teacher Mike Knox. The students were accompanied by their teachers Juergn Wagner, standing far left, and Susanne Mahlke, standing second from the right. Hudson High School’s German-language teachers are Mike Knox, second row far left, and Chuck Bublitz, front row right. (Hudson Star-Observer photos by Randy Hanson)1 / 3
Juergn Wagner and Susanne Mahlke, left, English-language teachers from Hanus-Seidel Gymnasium in Hoesbach, Germany, visit with German-language teacher Chuck Bublitz, right, of Hudson High School.2 / 3
Hudson High School German-language teacher Mike Knox leads a discussion with students from Hanus-Seidel Gymnasium in Hoesbach, Germany.3 / 3

A group of 24 students from Hoesbach, Germany, and two of their teachers spent the past three weeks in Hudson experiencing American culture and education.

For the teens from Hanus-Seidel Gymnasium (the German name for a college preparatory school), it also was a reunion with Hudson High School students who visited Hoesbach for three weeks last June.

The German students stayed in the homes of their exchange partners, whom they had hosted in their own homes.

“For us, it’s easy,” said Tracy Habisch-Ahlin, whose daughter Cally was paired with Paulina Klotz of Hoesbach. “It’s more like having a relative come.”

The German students, who were on spring vacation from their own school, attended classes with their host partners.

They also made presentations to middle school and elementary students, visited the Minnesota State Capitol after discussing American government with HHS teach Matt Friedl, and visited the Minnesota History Museum.

They attended a welcoming party at Camp St. Croix, visited the Mall of America and UW-River Falls farms, experienced Easter in the United States, played laser tag and went bowling. Some were able to see a Minnesota Twins baseball game at Target Field.

“They’re typical teenagers,” Habisch-Ahlin said, reporting that the Mall of America was a popular stop for them, and that they also enjoyed hanging out in downtown Hudson.

The students and their teachers, Juergn Wagner and Susanne Mahlke, visited with a Star-Observer reporter early Friday morning in German teacher Mike Knox’s classroom at the high school. Their flight back to Germany was scheduled for the next morning.

“It was very interesting to see how Americans live, and the difference between German and American families,” said Paulina.

A fellow student added that in Germany families sit down together for meals. “Here, everybody stands up and eats,” she said.

The group was asked about the differences between the United States and Germany that they observed.

Jan Phillip noticed one from the window of the airplane at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. He saw a truck with a long engine hood. In Germany, the motors are under the seats of the truck cabs.

He saw American flags everywhere. Germans don’t fly their nation’s flag as much.

To Alyssa, it seemed that every Hudson High School student could sing and draw. Her own school doesn’t place as much emphasis on music and art, she said.

Teacher Susanne Mahlke explained that German gymnasiums don’t offer the variety of classes that American high schools have.

Students attend classes in the morning, and then are required to do more homework.

“We don’t have study hall or advisory time,” Mahlke said.

“When they are in school, they are always in class,” added her colleague Juergn Wagner.

Alyssa said she expected to find “big cars and big streets and big houses” in America, and that was the case. Her own town is as big as Hudson, but has no fast-food restaurants, she said.

Alina found Americans to be very friendly.

“They say some good things about you and you don’t know the people. And then you walk away and you never see them again. Crazy,” she said.

“I think there are a lot of similarities between people. Germans and Americans are not so different,” Jan Phillip answered when asked how the cultures are alike.

A girl said German teenagers listen to American music most of the time.

“I’ve been in the U.S. as a tourist only, so this was a most interesting experience for me to see an American high school from the inside -- actually be able to attend classes and watch colleagues teach,” said Mahlke, an English teacher at Hanus-Seidel Gymnasium.

Wagner had previously brought groups of students to Stillwater Area High School, so he knew what to expect.

American high schools are like what they call comprehensive schools in Germany, he said. They educate a wide range of students, and not just the college-bound.

Hudson High German teacher Chuck Bublitz said it was a valuable experience for the German students to see every-day American life -- not just the tourist, sightseeing version.

“From the perspective of the German program, it is fun for our students to get a chance to talk to someone who speaks German as their native language, and be able to use it outside of the classroom setting,” Bublitz said.

German teacher Mike Knox and science teacher Vickie McLaughlin accompanied the Hudson students to Hoesbach last summer.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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