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North County returns favor to German students NORTH COUTY -- Linthicum * Ferndale * Brooklyn Park


In some cases, the pajamas were the only way to tell the American students from the German students visiting North County High School last week.

As part of the festivities preceding homecoming weekend, Thursday was pajama day at the Linthicum high school. In a show of spirit, students shuffled down the hallways in bathrobes and fuzzy slippers.

This spirit thing was all new to the group of 21 10th- and 11th-graders who had traveled from the Rotteck Gymnasium in Freiburg, Germany, for a 3 1/2 -week exchange program.

While many North County students stay at school long after the last bell to play sports or meet with clubs, the German students -- who wore standard clothing Thursday -- are used to going home around 1 p.m., then participating in private clubs and sports.

That was one difference in lifestyle the exchange students and their American hosts discovered when the German group arrived Oct. 16. But the students found they had much more in common.

They dressed alike, for one, and they listened to the same music. Nadine Siegwolf, 16, and her host found they both danced ballet. Heidi Newcomer, 15, and Katrin Lay, 16, both loved to shop, and Heidi was busy initiating her German friend in the great American pastime of shopping at the mall.

"The students mix wonderfully," said Marita Steinberg, an English teacher at the German high school, or "gymnasium," and one of two teachers who accompanied the students from Freiburg. "We have the impression that these will be enduring friendships.

"Knowledge is the base of understanding," added Ms. Steinberg, who along with Mr. Reif, prepared the students with U.S. history for 10 months. "If you know each other better, that will improve understanding."

That was what North County German teacher Maureen Helinski had in mind when she contacted Ms. Steinberg and her colleague, Klaus Reif, an English, German and ethics teacher at the German school.

Working through the German American Partnership Program, they arranged the first exchange in what they hope will be a biennial program. In August, 10 North County students traveled to Freiburg, a city of 180,000 in the Black Forest, on the border between France and Switzerland. Those 10 students are now playing host to the German students with whom they stayed.

German student Marc Doelken, 17, came to stay with Ryan Seggerty, 16.

He said he found American high school "similar to Germany, but school here is a little stricter. They do more sports than we do. If we do sports, we do it in clubs."

He said he was surprised by his host family's four televisions and three computers.

Sven Kunz, a German 11th-grader, said "everything is bigger."

His host, Jason Wilsey, a North County senior, stayed with Sven in August. In Germany, he said he noticed less pollution and less crime than in the U.S.

German student Stephanie Westermayer, 15, said she found it difficult to travel around the Linthicum suburbs.

"If you don't have a car, it's difficult to do something," she said. "The distances are so far."

During their first week, the exchange students attended classes with their American hosts. This week they'll attend classes of their choice. During their last week at the school, the students will give presentations on the topic of their choice to various classes.

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