German exchange students return to Visalia

German students visiting St. Paul’s school garther for a photo outside of DWELLE ACADEMIC CENTER. Pictured left to right…Back row: Julia Schneider, Luisa Schneider, Wiktoria Adamkiewicz, Helene Dembowski, Johanna Eirich, Lilly Saeger,Seth Jeloucan, Susanne Keller, Paul W. Front row: Alina Spomer, Lana Schuhmann, Nele Voit, Katharina Rohé.(Kenny Goodman)

St. Paul’s school welcomes German students back to the area after the school’s student exchange program was temporarily put on pause due to COVID-19

VISALIA – Students at St. Paul’s School, an independent Christian school serving preschool through eighth grade students, get to experience a slice of Germany with the return of the exchange student program.

After the program temporarily shut down due to COVID-19, students from the Dr.-Auguste-Kirchner Realschule secondary school have returned to Visalia. While they had visited during summer prior to the pandemic, St. Paul’s thought it’d be beneficial for the students to see what it’s like to attend class in America.

“We used to go in the summer and this year, for the first time, we’re planning to do the exchanges during the school year,” said Lea Maryanow, the exchange program’s coordinator.  “This group right now is the first group that has come to our school since COVID, and we’re sending our students over there in February.”

Maryanow not only runs the exchange program, she also helped to create it. Born and raised in Germany herself, Maryanow helped to create the program with an old friend of hers, who acts as the exchange coordinator for Dr.-Auguste-Kirchner Realschule.

“I grew up and was raised in Germany, and I did my student teaching there,” she said. “If opportunities come up to (exchange) with other countries, I’m sure we’d be open to that, but Germany is where we had the best connections with my background.”

The exchange program is offered to St. Paul’s eighth graders, who will spend two weeks with a family in Germany. This is similar for Dr.-Auguste-Kirchner Realschule students, whose two weeks in America end on Sept. 14.

“Usually they have a blast, both the host families and the kids,” Maryanow said. “The German teacher and I, we look at the host families and we look at the German students, then we figure out who’s the best match according to hobbies, diets and various other things to make sure that the kids find their best family.”

While here, the exchange students will not only shadow their American counterparts, but also visit the younger grades to teach them about Germany and its many traditions.

“Today, (the exchange students) did a presentation in our chapel to the whole school, sharing about food and historical sites and their town and their school,” Maryanow said. “Starting tomorrow, they’ll make their way from preschool all the way to fifth grade, playing German games and songs, maybe reading books with the younger kids.”

While the exchange is essentially an extended field trip, Maryanow feels that it’s a great way for both German and American students to observe another way of life, yet see that at the end of the day, they’re all the same.

“Once you’re in a different country, you suddenly realize that all these things you found ordinary are different, like ‘oh, Germany doesn’t have Costco,’” she said. “Last year, one of our students said, ‘at the end of the day, I realized that they make the same jokes,’ and it seemed to click that we’re all very similar in the end.”

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