There was a time when Ethan Watkins of Boiling Springs High School wasn’t exactly comfortable standing out.
But those days are over, said Watkins, a junior, thanks in part to a 17-day trip with his classmates to Germany’s Bavaria region as part of a cultural exchange program.
“Just the prospect of going overseas, yeah, that was a scary thing for me,” Watkins said. “I grew up in that kind of sheltered life, but the journey took us out of there. It was way outside my comfort zone, but I realized that wasn’t a bad thing.”
Watkins even showed up to school on Thursday wearing German lederhosen, short leather pants traditionally worn in German-speaking regions, especially Bavaria. It’s a very different look than what you normally see in upstate high school hallways.
“There’s no way I would have done this before our trip,” Watkins said. “Never.”
In March, Watkins joined twenty classmates on an overseas expedition to Ergolding and Landshut in the heart of Bavaria.
He said the rolling hills and rural meadows of the country stand in stark contrast to his native springs, Boiling Springs. There are similarities too, as a BMW plant in the nearby town of Dingolfing is a key source of work for locals.
Heike Wrenn, a German teacher at Boiling Springs High School, said the trip was organized as part of the German-American Partnership Program, an exchange intended to foster interest and understanding between the peoples of the two nations.
Over the past four decades, some 375,000 students have traveled between the two countries, lived with host families, and experienced a high school with an international flavor.
Boiling Springs High School welcomed 19 students from Ergolding last year, Wrenn said. This year, the roles have been reversed.
Zeke Walsh, a high school student from Boiling Springs, said his main purpose in traveling abroad was to get a taste, without preconceptions, of how people live in another country. Both Walsh and Watkins said their goal also eventually evolved into changing the perception of the average American in the eyes of the people they met.
“They were so kind and very warm to us,” Walsh said. “I think some people had this idea that Americans were loud, arrogant, lazy and ignorant. We honestly went out of our way to make sure we always asked them questions, making sure they understood that we were listening to them. a difference.”
At one point, an all-night party included a traditional stunt by holding a mug of beer. Competitors hold a glass beer mug (in this case filled with water) parallel to the ground.
Walsh said Watkins was the last man standing, beating even his German counterparts.
And Walsh has determined that German cuisine now holds a clear advantage over American cuisine.
“There’s no comparison between a real pretzel we had there and what we have here,” Walsh said. “I will never eat another American pretzel again.”
For Boiling Springs High School World Languages Department Chair Monika Harris, who was accompanying students abroad, the trip gave students a crash course in world travel, responsibility and self-awareness. .
“At the start of the trip, (Wrenn and Harris) were two hens with lots of little chickadees running right at our feet,” Harris said. “And in the end, we had to give them deadlines on where they needed to be and when because they had scattered all over the place and were going through this in their own way. For me, no schooling can replace that.”
Wrenn said the next class of German students will likely be welcomed by Boiling Springs families in the fall of 2020, with Boiling Springs High School students then heading overseas in the spring of 2021.
“We struggled to find local host families last year for German students,” Harris said. “But I don’t think we will have so many problems next time.”