Twenty high school students from Germany learned a great deal about life in Litchfield in a short time.

The students visited Litchfield through the German American Partnership Program between the Litchfield High School and Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium Karlsruhe, The exchange has seen the schools share students for 47 years. The German students spent three weeks in Litchfield, staying with host families, attending school and receiving a full experience of student life.

Kristina Schneider said that during her 12 years of chaperoning German students to Litchfield, communication with them has evolved.

“We rely a lot more on technology now,” said Schneider, an English as a foreign language and German teacher at Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium Karlsruhe. “And the first exchange that I did, students actually still took notes about what I said. Now, they just send messages.”

Carrie Larson, a ninth-grade German culture, language and English teacher at Litchfield High School, has been spearheading the program in Litchfield since 2008 because she believes immersing students in a different language, culture and experience is vital to their learning and growth.

“For my students, it’s just a great opportunity to experience the lifestyle in the U.S., especially in a smaller and a friendly and open community,” said Schneider, pointing to what her students have expressed to her about Litchfield. “They quite often don’t believe at first, how people live here without locking their cars and how it’s all based on trust from the community here. And when they go to a sports event, they are surprised about the community’s spirit. Because in Germany, we have club sports, but not really school sports, so … community spirit at school is not such an important thing, unfortunately.”

Jannis Pfannendörfer, 15, said he’s learned several things that don’t exist in Germany.

“Pretty (exciting) and really good experience here,” he said with a surprised look. “I learned that in Minnesota, the people are really nice. In Germany, we don’t say thank you so often than here. Or other things like, so lovely or thank you very much. In Germany, it’s not so normal. I learned to be really nice to the other people … because everybody’s very nice.”

Pfannendörfer and Siri Matthiesen, 15, agreed that Minnesotans have a warm personality as compared to Germany.

“The people are very nice here,” Matthiesen said. “So I think they are more friendly when you meet them. The teachers are more personable. No (teacher) would ask you ‘how are you?’ (or) ‘what’s up?’ in Germany.”

During their stay in Minnesota, the German students traveled to see the Mall of America, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth and more. The group also visited Nelson Farm in Litchfield and the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center, in Spicer.

This year was the first time Astrid Loffler, music teacher at Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium Karlsruhe, visited Litchfield. She said it was a unique opportunity for her because GAPP is usually for English teachers.

She enjoyed her visit to Litchfield, saying she received many invitations for evening supper from local families.

“It was so nice,” Loffler said. “Everyone was — really — so kind and friendly. I liked it — really — a lot. It was a really great experience for me. I’m very thankful.”

“I just want to thank Carrie Larson for really supporting this exchange over the years and finding host families,” Schneider said. “And I thank all the people who were hosting.”

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