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Jeffersonian - Foreign exchange student finds many differences in new home

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school Alexandria, 56308
Alexandria Minnesota 225 7th Ave E
P.O. Box 549
56308

Each year, Jefferson High School accepts a number of students from other countries who wish to see a bit of the United States. It's called the foreign exchange student program.

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This is a wonderful opportunity for those who wish to travel. It is also a valuable period of time in which we, as Americans, are able to inquire about other nations and cultures.

I got the chance to sit down with one of these students and discuss some key points of her country and her visit to the United States. Hannah Burkhardt is from a small town near Bremen, in northern Germany. She had lived in the United States when she was younger, but moved back to Germany for the majority of her years. She is now 17 years old and a senior in high school.

We spoke of the differences between Bremen and Alexandria, as well as her host family.

"Alexandria is much bigger than my town. I am very excited to see some snow. We don't get much in Bremen. My host family, the Brandts, have been incredibly welcoming to me."

Hannah spoke regarding the differences in our educational systems. "Jefferson High School is very different. In Germany, we have 14 subjects each year starting in 10th grade, and each class is 45 minutes long. Also, you must take English as a second language beginning in the 5th grade. You must take a third language beginning in 7th grade. Then, if you want, you can take another language starting in 9th grade. Which languages are offered depends on the school. At my school, you can take French or Latin."

I asked Hannah about the typical lifestyle in Germany. For example, what are the most common stores?

"The most popular store is H&M. There are places like Wal-Mart, but they are more of a junk store. There are no stores where you get groceries and clothes. There are stores for each type of item. I have never seen anything like a Super Wal-Mart anywhere in Europe."

What are some differences between dating tendencies?

"In Germany, it isn't common to 'date around.' If you like someone, you are with that person for years, not just a few months. Here, it seems like people have more than one girlfriend/boyfriend more frequently."

And, what is the standard of living?

"Almost everyone has a cell phone because if you're not in a big city and you get stranded, you'll need to call for help. In the country, families generally have one to two cars, but in the city, public transportation is so widespread that hardly anyone has a car. A lot of people have televisions, but hardly anyone has a huge flat screen."

I had a few questions regarding the government in Germany, such as what type of government does Germany have?

"The government is a democracy. There is a chancellor, who is like the 'head of state,' and there is a bundespräsident, who can veto and sign laws that congress passes. Each state has a congress. The government tries to remain in the center of the political spectrum."

Is there a constitution?

"Yes, there is a constitution, which is a book of laws. The first 'amendment' says that individual rights cannot be taken away."

Does religion play a role in the government?

"Absolutely not. It is said in the constitution that religion should have no part in the government, and the government does a good job of keeping them separate. When taking an oath in court, you have the option of taking a religious oath or a world oath, depending on your beliefs."

Does the government do an adequate job?

"Yes, there are things that the government does well, but there are things that they can improve on. I think they should be more focused on improving the education system. It seems that they are more focused on creating more autobahns."

Are there some significant differences concerning major social issues?

"Religion, abortions and gay rights were all decided on before I was born. There is no religion in the government, abortions are legal, and even though there are a few people who are anti-gay, the majority of the population has accepted the lifestyle. Healthcare is pretty affordable and most people with a job receive insurance through the company."

Hannah noted, however, that there is one similar issue in both countries. "Poverty is somewhat of an issue. There is a high unemployment rate in Germany."

So, this issue can be compared to the economic crisis facing many Americans. Where does Germany stand on the second Gulf War?

"The general population feels that the Taliban had to be removed. There needed to be change, but some people feel that the United States may have gone too far. There are German troops in the Middle East, but they are peace keeping soldiers."

Finally, I was curious to see how other countries viewed the United States as a whole.

Are there any generalizations of Americans that you could identify?

"There are some generalizations about Americans, such as Americans are fat from eating at McDonalds all of the time. Also, Americans have many televisions and cars."

Is there any decision that the United States has made that Germany has strongly agreed with?

"Most of the German population is happy with the results of the last United States election. The general public seems to like Barak Obama."

It would take months spent submerged in another culture to understand it, and maybe not even then would one fully understand it. Therefore, my talk with Hannah is not a replacement for being culturally open. However, it was an eye-opening conversation that gave me a taste of how Germany is run. The next step in our cultural expansion is to visit Germany, and if you ever get the chance, head north to Bremen and stop by the Burkhardt residence.

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