Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Weeks 5 and 6: A Retrospective

Dear All,

pardon the delay, as you know, once you fall behind, it is hard to catch up. A German saying is appropriate: "Was du heute kannst besorgen, das verschiebe nicht auf morgen". Hopefully sincerity will compensate for tardiness.

Following our time in Berlin, we slipped right into a soccer frenzy. The US Women's Team fought its way into the semi-final, and in order to enjoy this match together (as we had in Berlin), arrangements were made to view the game at one of the students' host-family homes. We were graciously invited to enjoy the game on the garden terrace equipped with a large projection screen. Snacks and drinks were lovingly provided and to finish things off, we ordered pizza and decorated each other with red-white-blue war paint. The kids had a large time and thus we spent a wonderful evening together. That the US won that night, was just the cherry on top.

With red-white-blue paint flowing down the drain, the kids dusted off their wizard hats and readied themselves for the Harry Potter finale. The students were especially excited, because the film premiere was two days earlier than in the US - so they were to see the final installment before any of their friends back home. We had a fantastic time watching the finale as a big family.

On friday we were off to Cologne without a break. We arrived early to immediately begin our guided tour of the Cologne Cathedral and the immediate parts of the city. One easily gains a sprain in the neck, trying to take in the site of this great cathedral - the largest Gothic cathedral in the World. As one of Germany's most recognizable landmarks, the Cologne Cathedral attracts about 20,000 visitors a day - so include us 17 in that number! The students  were contemplative and in awe . For a teacher it is especially rewarding, when students quietly aproach one to reflect on the surroundings, to ponder what this experience means to them and for all the other people throughout history. Once we concluded our walking tour, we took a short lunch break and collected our strength for the next mission at hand - the soul-shaking climb to the top of the cathedral, which stands at 157 meters. Umm, that's 516 ft!

After every single one of us mastered the climb to the steeple, we were off to the next stop. This time the students had a choice. Half of the students went to the chocolate museum (yes, it is as delicious as it sounds) and the other half opted for the Kolumba museum, a modern museum sponsored by the Catholic bishopry and that is built around the ruined remains of a church bombed during WWII. Once the tours concluded we met outside of the Cathedral before announcing two hours of free time. As an additional option, we offered the students to join the instructors on a tour of the Schatzkammer (Treasury) beneath the Cathedral. This was an additional opportunity to explore some of the historical treasures of Cologne, which every student decided to join. This is very telling of the eager character of our students, is it not? Towards the early evening we were on our way back to Krefeld.

You might think that the weekend would offer the much sought after opportunity to sleep, but one of the host families arranged yet another alternate activity for our students. On saturday, the host families joined us at the Krefeld Beach Club for a grill party and volleyball. This was a wonderful opportunity for the host parents to mingle and share their impressions of their students and exchange some ideas for any last minute trips.

On sunday we were again invited to view the World Cup finale. Adorned with Americas colors, we enjoyed an exciting game, in which Japan finally came through as the winner. Though the students were sad to see the girls go home with the 2nd place, they proved to be gracious winners.

Finally we entered our last full week of school and starting with Monday, we all sensed a shift in the atmosphere. The students began to realize that our time together was nearing its end and that it would soon be time to say our good-byes. Our students seized the opportunity to enjoy the joys of Krefeld one last time. The students met every day in some capacity. They planned to play soccer in the park, tasted a plethora of new ice cream flavors and chowed down a Doener at every opportunity. The afternoon school activities were in full force in anticipation of our pending farewell festivites. And on Friday it was time for our final tour - this time to Aachen.

Needless to say, our trip to Aachen served as the grand finale of our tour. Upon our arrival we set off on a thoroughly guided tour of the Aachen Cathedral, the seat of Charlemagne, who for many is considered the Father of Europe. It was great to see the students apply the wide spectrum of their experience to this final event. Half an hour into the tour, our tour guide had not even realized that he was speaking to American students! We concluded our tour in the treasury and then headed to the city hall to enjoy some free time for lunch. Afterwards we headed to the Couven Museum, which is an original Rococo style home with all its delicate eccentricities. When we concluded the tour we left the students to their own to shop for any last minute souvenirs and be together. Eventually we met again to journey home via train and many of us had a good heart to heart. It was time to begin to say our good-byes.

This concludes the report of the last two weeks.

All the best for now,

Your Krefeld Team.

Monday, July 18, 2011

We heart Berlin.

Dear All,

shamefully, we are only now finding the time to write the thorough report of our whereabouts that you deserve. Please understand that we have been absolutely overwhelmed with wonderful activities - and with such a tightly organized schedule, there is little time for writing late at night.

We want to get straight to the good stuff. Last we left off, we were preparing for our journey to Berlin. You have seen the photos, so it is reduntant to say that we had an incredible time. The students were so excited on our four-hour journey to the capitol that they refused to sleep and the pounds of Gummybears and other candy made sure they couldn't. We arrived at Berlin central station (Europe's largest cross-roads - Indiana much?) and made our way straight to Potsdam to check in into our youth hostel and ready the rooms. The youth hostel was situated in a gorgous and quiet turn-of-the-century neighborhood that as well equipped with a rustic kitchen, play grounds, a movie room and beautiful, naturally lit rooms. Once we checked in, we quickly gathered to head on to our first point of interest, the palace compounds of Sanssouci in Potsdam. This was the former and favorite residence of Frederick the Great and was ecquipped with a beautiful Orangerie and New Palais all in the classical style. The students were quite taken by the style of the (former) rich and famous and were especially tickled when the street performer dressed in Prussian garb played the tune of Hogwarth in the Harry Potter series. On our stroll home, we explored parts of Potsdam, including the old Holland district, where the houses in red brick stone stood as symbols of the old trade relations in Europe. We returned hungry in our youth hostel, enjoyed a dinner and partook in a series games, finished off by a game of team basketball. When the fun concluded, we watched the Germany/France FIFA game in the recreational room and were glad to celebrate Germany's victory.

The following day, we had a culture filled day planned. We were off early and headed to Hohensch√∂nhausen and visited the old Stasi prison compound (http://en.stiftung-hsh.de/). Maybe it was a reality check, but the students appeared contemplative. Many of the blatant truths were reminiscent of the life in a concentration camp - something no one could have imagined to have existed after the terrible World War. These young kids quickly had to realize that Berlin is saturated with beautiful and thought-provoking, not-always-so-easy history. When we concluded our tour, we headed to Alexanderplatz (in former East-Berlin) and did a walking tour past the famous landmarks, including Engels and Marx, Museum Island and the Berlin Cathedral, which is called the Berliner Dom in German. Oddly enough, the cathedral is not in fact a cathedral, which is by definition the seat of a catholic bishop, but a protestant Church, built as a grand church. Since our trip, this church has been named the most beautiful site by our students. They were really taken by it. Perhaps because, aside from the gorgeous interior, it also hosted a crypt underneath it. When we concluded our tour, we continued on foot, over to the Humboldt University, the site of the unfortunate book burnings during the Third Reich, all the way to the Gendarmen Markt (the former French district), where we hopped on a tour bus, to take in the sites from a more comfortable point. Most students were already exhausted, and were additionally inspired by the heat, to take an occasional quick snooze between the flurry of pictures. We ended the tour at Potsdamer Platz after visiting Check Point Charlie and remnats of the Berlin Wall. The students were left to their own to gather souvenirs and food for some time, until it was time to meet by the Sony Center for the Blue Man Group. We had first, second and third row tickets - so we were right in the action and several students were even included in the show's interactive program. Needless to say, the kids had a grand ole time.

Our final day in Berlin was reserved for politics. We visitd the Brandenburger Gate and the Holocaust Memorial before we finally made our way to the Bundestag. We had the fortune of joining a political debate - and it wasn't just any. It was our luck, that in the hour that we sat in on the debate, things were just coming to a head on Germany's most important political vote - here you can follow up on the debate, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preimplantation_genetic_diagnosis. It couldn't have been planned better, but Lady Luck ensured us that we saw Germany's most supreme politicians, including a grand finale by Mrs. Angela Merkel herself. It was exhilirating. When our hour was up, we were invited to meet with Krefeld's representative Mr. Heveling in one for the back rooms reserved for panel discussions. While he enlightened us on the political procedures of the German political system, the sirens reminded us of the gravity of the situation. We were wrapped up right in German politics. Our stay in Berlin was finally coming to an end, and so we made our way towards the central station to grab an early dinner and finally board the train. Some of the students were in exhausted deep sleep before the train even left the station. Happy kids sleep deeply. :)

Here we must take a break and reserve the next post for the next opportunity to write. We thank you for you patience and wish you a happy and quiet last week before the students' great return to the States.

Best, the Krefeld Team.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Independence Day!

Dear All,

this will be a short entry to keep you posted on our most recent whereabouts. Before we begin, we would like to extend our warmest well-wishes to you and, of course, wish you a wonderful Fourth of July.

On this past Friday we took a trip to the local Castle Linn and palatial hunting lodge. It is a modest but curious castle, that was once part of the Kleve estate. The name Kleve may remind you of Anne of Cleve, one of Henry VIII more fortunate wives - she was, in fact, of this family. The students really enjoyed themselves, especially because they could roam freely and explore the compound for themselves.

Today was reserved for American celebrations. It has become the tradition of the program to host a potluck picnic next to the castle Linn and the families truly outdid themselves. The parents went through a lot of trouble to find American candies (Jelly Beans!) and American-style dishes. There was even a gorgeous taco salad, which the students and teachers devoured - Mexican food seems to be the mutual item we all miss from home! After the dinner, the students sang both the American and German national anthem and put on a one-act play (a comedy!) of the Founding Fathers signing the Declaration of Independence. As the party came to an end, we let off firecrackers in the courtyard (thank you -  you know who you are!) and played some serious "Go, Ninja, go" -  a game we teachers have yet to understand.

Well, tomorrow is the big day. We will meet the students in the wee hours of the morning to begin our journey to Berlin. We are all looking forward to this trip and really hope that the students will have a great time. The stories must wait for now - they must be made first.

From Germany all the best,
Team Krefeld.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Livin' with these little monkeys...

Dear All,

we are already approaching our Fourth of July festivities and our much anticipated three-day field trip to Germany's capital BERLIN. The students are very excited, but as teachers we cherish the fact that the students cannot begin to conceive what is in store for them. We have lovingly planned this trip for them specifically, so that we can attempt to show them a substantial part of the city. Unfortunately, like so many beautiful cities, such as New York City, London, or Paris, it is impossible to see everything. On Monday we will host a potluck supper for our families in honor of Independence Day (America has history, too, after all :) ) and in the wee hours of the following morning, we will herd the students into the ICE (Inter City Express) high speed train directly to Potsdam (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potsdam) , in close vicinity to Berlin City. We will be staying in a youth hostel close to the palace Sanssouci (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanssouci) of the Prussian King Friedrich the Great (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_the_Great) and appropriately we'll explore the area. These are just some of the plans that are in store for the students -  the full report will be included in next week's post.

Let's take a look at the events of last week. On Friday we offered an optional excursion to the Krefeld Zoo. It is a modest but very fine zoo and we had a wonderful time watching, interacting and petting some of the animals. Sometimes it seemed that the animals were returning their curious stares to the students - one must wonder who was really watching whom? Some of the highlights included some content and well-fed seals, a young rhino with some spiffy soccer skills, tropical butterflies, and, finally, the Ape House.

After the weekend we resumed our sport activities in the city park. All were involved in an exciting scrimage game of soccer (Oh, and we hope that you are aware that the World Cup in Women's Soccer has just begun and is being hosted in Germany this year. One of our students has already had the fortune of attending one of these games), but since it was such sweltering heat, we soon concluded the match and cooled off and rehydrated in the park's Biertgarten. No worries, the students all opted for a much healthier alternative, Apfelschorle, a refreshing combination of apple juice and sparkling mineral water. Once we were sufficiently cooled off, we all boarded paddle and row boats and cruised on the lake and creeks.

Tuesday was an unconventional day. Instead of our usual schedule, the students joined their host siblings in a German school. Yet due to the unusually hot weather, most of them were dismissed by noon - there are no air conditioning units, after all. While the students were out of our keep, we met with the hostparents in a comfortable setting at the city hall, over coffee and a delicious cake. One of our student's host parents are real, traditional bakers in a bakery! We very much enjoyed the feedback of the parents. They had wonderful things to say of the students and focused on exchanging ideas for excursions and family acitivites. We had a wonderful time musing over the students' humble beginnings in their attempts to adjust to the family and German food.

Today, after our regular scheduled activities, we offered another optional trip. Because of popular demand, we once again went swimming. We had a large time swimming in the outdoor pool with the three slides. At one point it began to storm but we kept swimming. It was a wonderful and strange experience.

Well, that is it for now, it s after midnight and there is still more work to do in anticipation of our trip!

Best Greetings from Germany,

Your Krefeld Team.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Row, row, row your boat, gently down the Rhine.

Dear All,

we are overdue for an update and this week has been jam-packed with activities. On Thursday we enjoyed improv theater with one of the instructors of the nationally acclaimed youth KRESCH theater. The students were an absolute riot. They simply had no inhibitions as we played out various scenarios. The most common theme of their comedy routine was their take of the French flight crew from our Air France flight via Paris. We had no idea that they had been so observant of French accents and mannerisms. After the workshop had concluded, the instructor approached us to tell us how wonderful the students were and how much fun it had been to work with them.

As you knew from our first entry, we partook in a Rhine river tour downstream to oggle at castles and fortresses and the so oh-so-famous Lorelei. We gathered on a rainy sunday morning and travelled two hours south on a charter bus to board a Rhine river boat that carried us downstream past ruins of fortresses and some of Germany's most recognizable landmarks. The host families were invited along for this first adventure and it was wonderful to engage in getting acquainted with one another so early on in the program. Can you believe it, not one of the natives had ever been on a Rhine river tour? This goes to show how we tend to take the treasures of our own home state for granted everyday - have you ever visited the dunes in Indiana? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indiana_Dunes_State_Park)

The parents busied themselves with exchanging trip and entertainment ideas for their host children, while the students, along with their host siblings, were to be found on the upper deck taking pictures and having a grand time huddled together in one large group. They laughed and joked and not soon after we had left shore, the rain stopped and the sun cast its light on the river rock. We made our way past the Lorelei, and, you would have laughed, the cameras were "chck"-ing noisily as the giant ROCK moved by. The students found it to be spectacular - moreso than any other ROCK, because they had become familiar with the famous poem. At the end of a comfortable two hours we arrived at the foot of the hill upon which the Marksburg stands. After a group picture we made our way through the old city of Braubach with its quaint and rustic timber-framed houses all the way up the fortress walls. It was a hard hike, but that made the journey all the more rewarding, when we finally arrived on the terrace before the castle. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch on the fortres walls and made use of the time to check out the goods offered at the gift shop. We then explored the fortress on a guided tour. It was simply spectacular. The mediaeval toilet has since remained a point of great interest among the students. When we finally concluded, we made our way to the parking lot, where our chariot was awaiting our return to take us back to Krefeld (and to bed!). It was a wonderful trip and hopefully the students will remember this adventure fondly.

On Monday we had our first sports day and since the weather was still questionable, we planned an afternoon at the swimming pool. We started off in the indoor pool, comepeting for the title of Best Cannonball. Since there is an outdoor facility with three super slides, we decided as a group to brave the cold and head for the ladders. What a strange sensation to swim while it is raining, but it was hilarious as we catapulted down the winding slides. Our laughter and shouts of MARCO - POLO attracted the curiousity of the locals - we have caused quite stir in these parts. :)

On Tuesday we were invited to the city-hall for brunch with the vice-mayor of Krefeld (Mrs. Meinke. http://www.krefeld.de/C1256D44002DCFAF/html/A2BBB7676EC94773C1256F35003158DB?Open). Before we entered, photographers of the local papers took our group pictures in front of the American flag that had been hoisted in honor of our visit. The mayor greeted us generously and took her time in answering all of the thought-provoking and mature questions that the students had prepared ahead of time. We then concluded our visit by signing the city's guestbook to document our visit in the Krefeld archive. We each received books of Krefeld as official gifts from the city. We then returned to our school (which is located immediately next to the city hall) and enjoyed a long break before we started our first session of theater and choir. It was a long but wonderful day.

Today we were off of school for the state sanctioned holiday Corpus Cristi. Many students had made plans with their host families and some travelled to the Netherlands or nearby towns for a short family trip.

Since our arrival the students have enjoyed our original holiday, called Doenerstag, which we celebrate at least once a week. The name derives from the German word for Thursday, Donnerstag, and Germany's most famous fast food, called  a Doener, and marks the occasion when we eat as a group at our favorite Doener shop just around the corner. The students sneak this snack as often as they can, in addition to the Spaghetti ice-cream. Check out the Doener at the following, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doner_kebab .

Classes will resume tomorrow and we plan to go to the Krefeld Zoo. Next tuesday the students will join their host siblings in school, so they can gain impressions of the German school system.

We hope this update finds you well and satisfies some of your curiousity. Best,
Your Krefeld Team

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

First Steps...


Dear All,

we are sure that you are craving some news, so here it goes! We've made it through the first few days and it has been wunderbar! Upon our arrival in Duesseldorf the students suddenly fell silent, with nervous smiles frozen on their faces. It took us instructors a moment to realize that it had gotten quiet - we were suddenly able to hear ourselves think again! Our students had been chatting and laughing non-stop since we had left the States. They were truly great - they immediately bonded over games, snacks and mutual excitement! When we had made our way through baggage claim, we were received by the eager families and our students were quickly whisked away for food and some much deserved sleep!
We met on Tuesday morning at the VHS (our instruction site), to begin our examination. Our students were visibly excited and quickly weathered the examination. They demonstrated such independence and curiousity, so that we didn't even have to bridge the silence by prompting or steering conversation, but answer countless and insightful questions instead! By noon the students were picked up by their families to be shown around the city and partake in family activities.
All of our students arrived early for the first day of school today (Wednesday - Did you know that this name derives from Wodan, another name for the Norse god Odin? Well your kids do now, ha! ) and were already engaged in excited conversations before the instructors even arrived! We were so pleasantly surprised - we had thought that we would be early! After a few announcements (and singing Happy Birthday!) we began our classes. Our students were fully engaged in topics of culture, grammar, conversation and literature. Each student surprised us of their command and complete ease with the language. They operated at a level that we had not anticipated until at least the second week! As teachers who love to share German culture and language, we are incredibly excited for the weeks to come. And I think the students are as well...
When we finally wrapped up our first school day, we took the students on a city tour of Krefeld. There were a lot of cameras! Around 3 p.m., we finally made our way back to campus and the students were free to do as they please. Many of them explored the city in groups on their own (straight for the stores and in search of Spaghetti Ice-cream they had heard so much about!) or made arrangements with their host families. All in all, they all made a very relaxed impression.

Tomorrow we are joining a local improv theater company after school, which was originally intended to "break the ice". Well, the ice has melted a while ago and so, we guess, we are swimming! :)

This sunday the instructors, students and their host families are going on a Rhine River tour to visit the culturally significant Loreley (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorelei) and view castles and fortresses that decorate the water banks. We will also be visiting the Marksburg, a fortress straight out of a fairy tale! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marksburg). I don't think the students even realize what is in store for them!

Trivia: You may have heard the NBA player Dirk Nowitzki has assisted the Mavericks to recent victory, but there is another German "hero" we will be rooting for tonight. The ice-hockey player Christian Ehrhoff (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Ehrhoff) will be representing Krefeld in the Stanley Cup finals tonight. So be sure to tune in and cheer on one of our Krefelders!

If you are on facebook, we encourage you to join our official fanpage to view some first pictures.
Good-bye for now and best greetings from Krefeld,

The Krefeld Team.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Orientation - Wir laden euch ein!

We want to invite you to the Indiana Memorial Union in Bloomington, Indiana, on Sunday, the 2nd of April, 2011. Registration begins at 9 a.m.. It is an important day because we have much to finalize, but you will also have the opportunity to meet your instructors, get an idea of the average day in Krefeld, and meet some of the program's alumni of Summer 2010. We are very eager to meet you soon and looking forward to a wunderbaren summer!

Your Krefeld Team.