They can’t believe the past 10 weeks have gone so quickly. German exchange student Leon Lorenz and his host, Vernon secondary school student Nathan Allen, have visited Calgary and the Rockies, canoed on the Shuswap River, hiked the Kettle Valley trestles, attended classes, gone to hockey games, did some jamming and planned Allen’s trip to Germany next March.
Lorenz counts himself lucky to have had the opportunity. The Canada-Germany Exchange program has been operating for about 40 years and there were 250 applications for four spots in Bremen, Rhineland Palatinate. With fewer applications from Canada, most of the students who applied were accepted.
“I was very excited when I got the letter that I had been matched. I was waiting for Nathan to get in touch for awhile and when he did, then I knew it was really going to happen,” said Lorenz, who has studied English in school since Grade 5. “I had always wanted to go to another country to see everyday life with a family and to share what my life is like with another student.”
He and Allen, both 16 and in Grade 11, soon found they had lots in common, including an interest in the outdoors, such as hiking, skiing and swimming, and in music. Lorenz plays the accordion, Allen piano. Lorenz wants to study business management after graduation and Allen wants to go into engineering.
There were some minor preconceptions to get rid of.
“I thought a European would be crazy about soccer and I don’t know anything about soccer so I couldn’t show him what’s done here but we have kept busy with so many things,” said Allen, who has studied German since Grade 8. “I have been to Germany twice, traveling with my family, and I loved the people, the country, the language, the culture, the food and this is a great chance.”
Allen’s father, Mike Allen, is a French teacher at VSS.
“We have enjoyed having Leon with us. He fits right in with our family,” he said. “Nathan’s grandparents have enjoyed getting to know him. These students enhance our lives and our schools.”
Lorenz taught Allen’s sister, Neave, 14, ballroom dancing and hip hop, and the students find the difference in schools interesting.
“Here you have only four subjects at a time but we have 10 or 11 and that is a lot of homework. Also, you have regular hours while ours vary. I will have to make up what I miss so I took fun subjects here — sports, photography and cooking — and I am a peer tutor in German,” said Lorenz. “Also, it is different here how you travel. At home I can bike or go on the bus or train anywhere, but here you need a car for everything. But I loved living in the outdoors. And the food, there is not so much fast food in Germany.”
Allen, whose family lives on the Shuswap River near Lumby, wanted to show Lorenz a lot of the Canadian outdoors.
“I think we’ve been able to cover that with canoeing, swimming and hiking. We went to a Calgary Stampeders game, saw moose and bison, fish spawning, Nakusp Hot Springs and Fintry Park.”
Lorenz has lots of photos and a suitcase full of maple syrup for gifts, and clothes for himself, which he found were much cheaper than in Germany.
“It has all been pretty cool and I was lucky to get this family. Where they live on the river is far more beautiful than where I live,” he said.
Now they’re planning for Allen’s visit.
“We will mountain bike and maybe ski. And see the old buildings, I work as a tour guide at a castle,” said Lorenz. “We can go to Berlin and some theme parks. There will be a lot to do. My family looks forward to meeting Nathan.”
Students who have been in the Canada-Germany exchange program have good memories.
Glenn Stetlz took part in 1984, staying near Mannheim.
“It was a formative and very important event in my life, an adventure that helped me be independent and confident. Herbert Kranz and I started a life-long friendship and we have visited each other with our children. I would recommend this program, or any exchanges for young people,” he said.
Randi Delisimunovic went to the Rhineland in 1991-92.
“There was no internet then so it was not so easy to learn about it before going,” she said. “I learned a lot when I got there and my host family took me to Switzerland and Italy. We have kept in touch and I am encouraging my children to apply for the program.”
Rolf Hirschkorn, VSS German and social studies teacher, facilitates the exchange program in Vernon.
“This is a great opportunity for students to be immersed in another culture and language,” he said. “I truly believe that this experience breaks down stereotypes and builds understanding between individuals and countries.
“It has been very rewarding for me to see students who have gone still having friendships with their exchange partner years down the road. It’s a life-changing experience that goes way beyond the 10-week exchange,” he said.
This exchange has now been opened up as a cultural exchange which allows any student in B.C. to participate. For more information, contact Hirschkorn at email@example.com.