Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - June 29, 2007
Show and tell
When husband Art, our daughters and I planned our recent trip to Europe, one of our main goals was to visit Nadja, who had been our German exchange student at Riley County High School during 2005-2006. We didn't know when we set our agenda that one of Nadja's final projects in her English class was to talk about her year in the United States.
We parked our car at Nadja's apartment and rode the street car to her school, the Wilhelm-von-Siemens-Oberschule. The several days spent in Berlin earlier in our trip had made us experts at navigating the city's public transportation system, which included crisscrossing street car, S-Bahn, U-Bahn and bus routes.
We arrived at 9 a.m. at the large modern red-brick structure. Nadja met us and introduced her friend Lizi, who had also studied in the United States while living with a family in Ohio. They escorted us inside where we met Monique, another student from the class who was going to be the moderator of the presentation.
The school building was bright and open with cream-colored interior walls and bright green accent colors.
Arriving at the third-floor classroom, Nadja said, "I'm so nervous!" We assured her she would do fine.
The three immediately began setting up. They pulled out an overhead projector and a computer cart. They found they didn't have the correct password. Others began to arrive and soon the proper one was found. I smiled. We were half a world away from home, but things weren't that different. The school building could have been in any U.S. city, and knowing the right password seems to be a common problem everywhere.
Nadja introduced her teacher, Regina Pérez, who said she was glad we were in her classroom. She teaches Spanish as well as English and she knew a little about the student exchange business because her son had just returned from a year attending a school near Grand Island, Nebraska.
The girls did a good job, talking about their schools, the families they lived with, the new friends they made, the sports and other activities they participated in and many other topics. Both were impressed with how their families made them feel at home, how parents and communities supported their schools and how much fun it was to celebrate holidays in a different country. They also spoke about their initial fears about leaving everything and everyone they knew and loved to study abroad.
I could tell from the girls' comments that their year abroad had made them more confident. I was proud of them.
The other students asked only a few questions. "They are afraid they'll make a mistake in their English," Nadja said, grinning self-confidently.
We talked about how much fun it was to have Nadja in our home and how she was like a sister to our two girls. We also discussed some of the differences between the United States and Germany. Both Art and I mentioned how, in general, Germans seem to be more attuned to what is happening in the world, primarily because of the preponderance of different cultures, languages and political views in Europe.
One student asked Art how he liked Germany. He said he liked it a lot and that he found it interesting not only how the countries were similar, but how they were different - how he felt one did some things better while the other had better solutions for other problems.
The teacher asked him to give examples of what he thought Germany did better and he mentioned public transportation. I mentioned recycling and concern for the environment.
When the class was over, I took a few photos and then we left to change to more comfortable clothes. We returned an hour later to meet Nadja at the end of her school day.
She didn't know which street car we'd be on, so when we got to the school's stop, daughter Mariya poked her head out and motioned Nadja to hop on. We traveled to the Alexanderplatz station, where we got off and had lunch of döners (Turkish "wraps" filled with meat - usually lamb, red cabbage and other vegetables) and French fries.
A few days after the class, Frau Pérez sent a note with Nadja telling us she was lucky we did her job that day. I'm glad the timing was right so we could be an integral part of Nadja's presentation. But, while I have spent many years in the classroom, I cannot recall a time when I was a part of the "show" in "show and tell."