The Herald Bulletin

August 25, 2013

Immersed in language and culture

Pendleton Heights' German students return to class with better understanding

By Dani Palmer The Herald Bulletin
The Herald Bulletin

---- — PENDLETON — Even when you have a good foundation for a foreign language, you’re going to be a bit lost when you first visit the country.

The natives speak faster and “you’re just unprepared for that when you get there,” Pendleton Heights High School senior Beau McGinnis said.

But a few days into their June trip to Germany, McGinnis, fellow senior Ryan Reske and sophomores Jacqueline Horine and Sara Spurgeon could understand and communicate with their host families.

“I feel like that you don’t realize how much you know until you get there,” Horine said. “And then, when I got back, I know everything we’re doing in class now, it’s basically a study hall now. So it taught me a lot more than I thought.”

“That’s exactly why I wanted to take the trip,” German teacher Amy Claxon said. “It’s reaffirming for them and reaffirming for me. We’re seeing a lot and learning a lot.”

It was the first time in about 10 years she’d taken a class. Claxon said she does it because “it’s really exciting for the kids to see that what they’ve been learning is real.”

Of course, there were challenges. The students have been learning High German, and their host families spoke in dialect that they had to get accustomed to.

While Spurgeon got homesick during a layover in New Jersey, Horine said she was homesick that first day.

“I was alone. I didn’t know what anyone was saying and they were laughing at me, but after that, it was all uphill and wonderful,” she said.

The teenagers learned more about the family dynamics — Horine saw how the parents and kids had a very trusting relationship that led to more freedom but also a lot of family time – and spent time in the schools.

McGinnis said it was weird to see the German students “buy a beer, drink it and then go back to school.”

An Arabians soccer player, he also got a taste for their futsal and was “really excited to play with the Germans, to play their sport.”

While they loved the shopping and food – Ryan was the most adventurous, trying just about anything, though he said he ate a lot of Steak ‘n Shake when he got home — they were in awe of the structures there.

A self-proclaimed history buff, McGinnis enjoyed Ludwig’s castle, buildings damaged by World War II and the churches.

“I didn’t have anything to say when I walked in,” he said. “It was breathtaking.”

Spurgeon’s host family not only took her around on everyday tasks but showed her structures like the cathedrals she liked.

Then the students encountered traditions they hadn’t heard of, such as a groom-to-be collecting money for his bachelor party by dressing as a woman and having people pay to wax off his leg hair, Reske said.

By the end of their two-week visit, they came back to Indiana with a better understanding of the German culture and language – Horine learned that the word “pickle” actually means “pimple” in German as she was eating one and proclaiming her love for it. But they also acquired new friends and a better appreciation for their own lives, they said.

“What made the biggest impact was just how they (the Germans) live life every day,” McGinnis said. “Even though they may not have the fancy things we take for granted every day, they make it by and were happy. They made me really appreciate what I have here in the U.S.”

Claxon said she saw a huge jump in their confidence and was gratified that her students said “they understood so much more.”

That was the whole point.

Like Dani Palmer on Facebook and follow her @DaniPalmer_THB on Twitter, or call 640-4847.