South Kitsap Students get trip of lifetime

She learned the nuances of the language’s complex grammar, admired the country’s cathedral architecture and heard about the blur of a Mercedes passing a BMW on the Autobahn.

But South Kitsap High School senior Kaitlyn Spellman said she had to see it firsthand.

Spellman is among myriad students who have had that experience through South’s German exchange program through its partner schools — the Immanuel Kant Gymnasium and the Otto Hahn Gymnasium. She said she became interested in the possibility when teacher Katie Kegler passed around a sign-up sheet last year.

“I just felt it was a huge culture shock that would benefit me,” she said.

Last year, Spellman was among 16 students from South and Bremerton High School to make the two-and-a-half week trip to Tuttlingen in Baden-Württemberg, a state in the bottom left section of Germany. Students attend class daily in Germany where schools run throughout the year and stay with a host family. Both schools — Bremerton’s goes through South — use the nonprofit German American Partnership Program.

South senior Ayla Howell, who enjoyed the experience so much that she is contemplating a move to Germany after she earns her degree in veterinary medicine, said her host family was active outdoors. Howell said she initially was surprised with how little they drove, but the area is clustered around green meadows and hillsides.

She said her most memorable outdoors activity came when they took her inner tubing behind a sailboat.

“I put my name down not knowing it would be the trip of a lifetime,” Howell said.

She felt Germans were more relaxed, in general. Howell said students sat in the windowsill in a classroom that was “seven or eight stories high” and never were chided by teachers. She said students also would go home for lunch, and depending on their schedule, might not return in the afternoon.

“Teachers are more trusting over there,” Howell said.

That does not mean there is not structure. Kegler has an outline that breaks down each of the 17 days away from home. With the exceptions of weekends, which are reserved for host families, each day is filled with classroom and tourist activities. Those include day trips to the Black Forest and Mercedes-Benz Museum.

The host families in Germany typically are ones who spent their teenagers to South during the fall. Similar to the experience for her students, Kegler said they strive to expose German exchange students to American culture, such as a football game.

“It’s not like they come here and you just plop them in front of a TV,” she said.

Ideally, Kegler likes it to be a reciprocal effort. But it does not always work that way. She said a Bremerton student served as a host during the fall, but was not able to go to Germany this summer. That opened a spot for South junior Jennifer Hunt.

“This is my second year taking German and we have talked a lot about their culture,” said Hunt, who leaves June 28. “I thought it would be interesting to experience.”

Kegler said there is a significant benefit for students who make the trip. In her third-year class, she only speaks German.

“Their learning expands exponentially,” said Kegler, adding that anyone who is taking German is eligible to participate in the program. “It’s so rewarding for them to come into class. They’re a great resource for other students.

“They’re becoming a global citizen. They can be more tolerant and curious about people around them.”

As a 17-year-old in 1998 in Michigan, Kegler did a similar exchange program that took her to Bad Neustadt an der Saale in north Bavaria, Germany. She said it was a catalyst to her becoming an educator.

“When I became a German teacher, this is something I wanted to give back,” Kegler said.

The program will enter its 30th year this fall at South. Kegler said Tony Kingsley started it at Central Kitsap and then helped introduce it at South under since-retired Diana Heald. She said Bremerton joined South’s program when Central discontinued its German exchange about 10 years ago.

Kegler said the trip will cost about $2,000 this year, which includes airfare. They will be chaperoned by South counselors Kathy Hamill and Mary Hawksley.

“We want to make it affordable,” Kegler said. “Families are suffering and it’s not really easy to get to Europe.”

She said she already is planning for host families and has a meeting set with parents in May. Contact Kegler at (360) 874-5803 or for more information.


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