Last year, my both of my daughters were offered the opportunity to travel with the Iowa Ambassadors of Music, a group of Iowa vocal and instrumental students who travel to Europe every two years. My oldest daughter took that invitation and ran with it, loving every minute of her travels. My youngest made the decision not to go last summer, then found out about a German exchange program our school offers with Überling, Germany. Her first question: “Can I do both?”
Needless to say, that idea was shot down pretty quickly. But she shocked us a bit saying she’d like to be part of the German exchange. Pretty big step on her part, but my wife and I both wanted her to take ownership in whatever she wanted to do. This is an exchange that happens every two years for the past 30+ years with Überling, and has been a wildly successful program. Students come from their school to live with a family from our district for about three weeks to get a glimpse of American life. They have an educational purpose in mind, so they will travel around northeast Iowa seeing the different things that we have to offer here. In June, our daughter will travel to Überling to live with our exchange student’s family and do the same thing, get a glimpse of what German live is like.
Our exchange student arrived on Wednesday night late after a 10 hour flight and a four hour bus ride. Yesterday, she was treated to a day of high school, then a long afternoon of a cross country meet and finally back to our place. She’s a very sweet girl, bringing us gifts from her town along with some other German candy and fun.
The thing that struck me last night, she started learning English at 6 years old. Six! It’s amazing what the rest of the world can do with their educational system, and yet, we struggle with a system weighted down by the expectations of those who really have zero experience inside the profession. I wrote about time last week, this is a perfect example of this: why can’t we create time to start teaching a foreign language? Why should our students have to wait until they are at a point where the learning of a language becomes more of a struggle?
As we communicate with our student, you can see that she struggles, at times, coming up with the right word in English that she knows in German. My wife and I talked about this last night with our daughter, how she must be truly engaged right now because she communicates very well with us! How hard would it be, being dropped into a new culture, a totally different language, and try to follow, understand, and learn what’s going on around you? I’m proud both these girls, my daughter and our exchange student, and their willingness to step out and see the world. I’m inspired by their own courage to try something way outside their respective comfort zones.
After watching my oldest daughter enjoy Europe and then seeing some of the pictures of Überling, I’m planning on getting my wife to renew her password (she did something very similar to our daughter when she was in high school), getting my own passport, and a trip! And why not? Watching these young people (and working with 8th graders in my classroom) they are capable of amazing things on a daily basis.
And if I can’t gain inspiration from kids willing to dive into the unknown, I’m not sure where I’d ever find it! 🙂