Today was our last day at Einstein. Students began the day reflecting on how they had grown over the last two weeks. We also reflected on our progress towards our UNSDG projects.
In the afternoon, we had German-American Night, which was about celebrating our two communities, and about saying “see you later” to our German friends. It’s hard to believe that it was just a year ago that we got an email notification from a teacher named Maik. We began chatting, and it quickly became clear that, despite all of the miles between us, our school communities had a lot in common- so much in common that we were willing to get on a plane and fly halfway across the world to visit one another in person! The results have been even more wonderful than we could have ever imagined.
We are deeply thankful to so many people for giving our students a learning experience that has changed their lives irrevocably. We know that this exchange had many positive impacts on our students, host families, teachers from both countries, and even administrators. We have already seen that our students are now more confident, culturally aware, and socially competent than they were before this trip. We have opened doors for everyone, increased opportunities to lead connected, fulfilling lives - lives that will contribute to the sustainability of our planet Earth.
We are thankful for our Einstein colleagues: you have welcomed us into your classrooms and your homes, and made us feel like part of your community. Many teachers even prepared lessons that directly involved our students and teachers, and we are very thankful to those who helped us make coffee in the teacher’s room and talked to us over lunch. All of the these things made us feel very connected to and part of Einstein. We especially thank those of you who planned amazing experiences for our students, and shared experiences with us that we will remember forever.
We are deeply grateful to our Einstein host families for providing a caring homes that offered safety and culture including daily routines, food, language, and showing our students what it is like to be a student at Einstein. All of our Ashford students had an amazing time with you, and we are profoundly thankful for the care that you showed our students. You showed them what it means to be generous and giving, welcoming them into your hearts and homes, and treating them like your own children.
Thank you also to the enthusiastic students at Einstein: Your smiles, your hello’s, your help, your energy, showed us that our partnership will be strong. You are clearly passionate about your learning and dedicated to your work. Thank you for welcoming our students into your lives, and for being their friends.
Finally, we are so grateful to our families back home for taking this leap with us, for trusting us with your children. You have raised some truly incredible 12 and 13 year olds who have grown so much over the course of the last two weeks. They showed up shy and jet lagged, and over the course of two weeks we watched them take risks, make new friends, and thrive in a brand new community. They are bright. They are strong. They are capable. And the world is a better place because of your children.
Tomorrow, we get on a plane and fly back home, where students will reunite with their families and celebrate American Thanksgiving. Truly, our partnership with Einstein and experiences in Germany have given us all something to be very thankful for this year. This experience has shown us all that we are so much more similar than we are different, and taught us what it means to be citizens of the world. We are looking forward to continuing to collaborate in the years to come.
Thank you again, Einstein, for everything. We can't wait to see you in June!
Today, Ashford students hopped on a train and travelled 416km (258 miles) from Rheda to Berlin, capitol of Germany. Students reflected on Goal 17- Peace Justice and Strong Institutions while exploring Berlin. We traversed the city by bus, boat, foot, and train, learning while participating in several tours. On the bus tour, students saw the Parliament building, Alexanderplatz, and architecture ranging from the medieval period to contemporary. By examining the city, you can see how institutions impact history.
During our tour, we were able to stop at the historic “Checkpoint Charlie,” which was a well known crossing place for the Berlin Wall. Students learned the history of the checkpoint, and we paused for a photograph:
After our bus tour, we hopped onto a boat, where we went around Museum Island and learned the history of this fascinating city. Students also had time to see the Brandenburg Gate in the French Quarter. This is one of the most iconic site in Berlin.
Even more meaningful was the Holocaust Memorial just down the street. Students silently walked by the huge memorial that is both awe inspiring in the historical context and as an artistic symbol. The memorial is largely comprised of large rectangles and sloping and curving stones, which gives you the illusion that once you walk into the memorial, you may not be able to walk out again. While there are many interpretations to the memorial, our students noted that the stones looked a bit like gravestones, and mentioned that the memorial quickly became dark and disorienting- a strong metaphor for the German people’s experiences in WWII.
The student's favorite part of the day was a tour lead by a guide who escaped from East Berlin in 1982. He recalled for us when the wall was suddenly erected and how it separated families, and left half the city with no economic or personal opportunities. Hundreds of people died while trying to escape to West Berlin in search of a better life. What makes the Berlin wall unique was that, while most walls were erected to keep others out, this wall was put up to keep people in. We heard heroic escape tales and heartbreaking tragedies. As we listened to our guide’s firsthand experiences, he emphasized how walls do not solve problems. He told us that “The wall is never a solution. People will always find a way to escape, even if it means their death. The wall cannot be a solution. The wall only shows the problem.” It was a powerful way to end an extraordinary day.
We had a busy day at school in Germany. At our morning meeting the students continued to work on their GIS Geo Inquiry project on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Then our students worked with Mrs. Dixon’s English class to create presentations for German-American night on Monday. Every group had a task to contribute to the display and the students from both schools enjoyed working together.
After, we went to a special music lesson. The German and American students were each given an instrument and together we learned how to play a German rock song. Mrs. Craven conducted while Mr. Hopkins and Ms. Imhoff played the xylophone together. The students showed off their musical talent and had a lot of laughs- a great time for all!
After lunch we participated in “Sports Day.” A group of high school students planned sport activities for our students and their hosts to rotate through. Centers included volleyball, basketball, soccer, and volleyball. At the end there was a little ceremony with certificates and prizes. It was so nice of Mr. Dixon’s class to prepare the event for us.
We all went home right after school because we are waking up super early for our trip to Berlin.
Today, Ashford and Einstein students got the chance to explore the city of Münster: City of Bikes!
After attending morning classes, students met at the “Red E” and boarded our bus to Münster! After an hour drive, we arrived at Fürstbischöfliches Schloss Münster, which is an old castle that is currently used as administrative offices for Münster University. Students got the chance to explore the city via scavenger hunt here as they raced around to different historical landmarks and completed their assigned tasks. Students reflected on the UN Sustainable Development Goals and collected data for their projects! Some tasks directed them to different landmarks around the city, some taught them about the history of Münster, and others were just plain fun!
On our tour, we were directed to a number of hugely important historical landmarks and learned more about the history of Münster. For example, we learned that Münster was home to incredible historical events such as the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. This important peace treaty brought an end to the Thirty Years War and the Eighty Years War. It’s also thought to be one of the foundational treaties of international relations and was the basis on which modern Europe was built: a great place to reflect on UN Goal 17- Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions!
While we wandered around the city, we also noticed that there weren’t very many cars within the city walls. Münster is home to over 500,000 bikes, which averages out to 2 bikes per resident! There are over 450 km of bike paths, and many residents see biking as a way to travel sustainably without harming the environment. It also makes the city very easy to walk around in, and the landmarks easier to see. It was great to see a city working so hard towards UN Goal 11, and a great place for data collection!
We even got the chance to stop and sample more German pastries, such as Berliners (similar to a type of Jelly doughnut), German pretzels, and American Cookies (NY Style Black and White Cookie) Many of our students are learning to love German bakeries, which have been available on just about every corner!
The scavenger hunt company will send us some fun pictures the students took while exploring the city, and we will add them to our slideshow as they come in! It was great fun to watch students get the chance to explore the city while also learning about the history.
Today, Ashford GAPP Exchange students had a full day of school as German students. For many, today was very nice as we have been super busy visiting different sites and going on many field trips! Students attended a wide variety of classes and got the chance to experience life as an Einstein student.
On an ordinary day where there are no additional field trips, students typically arrive to school at 8am. They go to their first class. Today, some of our students had History class, which was taught in German. Students talked to their partner about their homework, and then one member of the group was selected to speak about they learned with the class. Students got the opportunity to speak to their neighbor through a process called “Think, Pair, Share” which is also used at Ashford School. Everyone took notes based on what the student presented about, which helped made sure that no one misses anything. One of our Ashford students got the chance to speak in both German and English.
After attending their first class, Ashford students attend morning meeting. After that, all students have a 20 minute break, and then it's onto lessons for the rest of the day!
Students are noting a handful of differences between Einstein and the US- for example, in Germany, most everything is recycled! They also use real metal silverware and dishes, which reduces waste. Students also have classes in the same room all day long, and the teachers rotate to each class. Another thing that Ashford students really have enjoyed is the long breaks- students have 2 20 minute breaks in the course of the day and then a longer lunch period where they can go outside if they'd like. It's been great to experience new things and to share ideas with our German friends- one of the beautiful things about international exchanges!
It was a busy weekend for our Ashford students as they continued to get settled in to life here in Germany! This weekend was spent with our wonderful host families who took our students on a wide variety of activities. Some of our students went swimming, some went bowling, and others visited nearby cities. Many also got to experience the German tradition of St. Martin's Day, which is where children decorate lanterns and go door to door singing special songs. At each home, they get candy. This tradition commemorates St. Martin, who had a very long cloak that he gave to a poor beggar to shield him from a dangerous snowstorm. He is considered a Saint for the Poor. It's somewhat similar to the US tradition of trick or treating for candy.
Some Ashford students sent in their weekend pictures- feel free to check them out below. We will continue to update this post as we get new pictures from our students.
The weekend helped most of us overcome the last of our jetlag, and we got to spend a full day in school attending German classes.
As part of our global learning emphasis, we have been integrating the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals into our lessons and school programs. There are 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that UN member countries are trying to achieve by 2030. Each Ashford student in Germany chose one of these SDGs to focus on. Together they are gathering data on Survey123 (a GIS app by Esri) to answer a Geo Inquiry question based on the goal. In this way, we can learn what Germany and the United States are doing to meet the SDGs and what ideas we can share with each other. For example, some students are mapping access to public lands, types of renewable energy, alternative transportation, opportunities for women, and more. The data they are collecting will all contribute to an interactive “Story Map” that we can use to share what we learned on this incredible German adventure.
Today our students went to the Recyclinghof, or recycling center. In Germany almost everything gets reused or recycled. Ten years ago materials were kept in a junkyard and it polluted the groundwater. Now the materials are being recycled and some can even be turned into energy. The Recyclinghof includes an area for compost and we learned that a banana peel can power a LED light bulb for one and a half hours. The Recyclinghof has also collected over 80 million cell phones. Cell phones have a lot of raw materials, such as copper, silver, and even gold. The center has collected over 700 tons of Copper!
The Recyclinghof that we visited also helps refugees. Over 1,000,000 refugees came to Germany in 2015. Often refugees cannot get jobs until they receive official refugee status which can take months. The Recyclinghof, which in a nonprofit, is able to provide work for new refugees and provide German language lessons. The refugees collect materials and sort them so that they can be reused. There is also a second hand shop to encourage people to reuse old goods. Several of our students enjoyed hunting through the shop for “treasures” to bring home. The people at the Recyclinghof were wonderful hosts and we are so glad that we were able to learn more about sustainability in Germany.
Today we went to the University town of Bielefeld. The students were invited to a hands-on Chemistry demonstration at the Teutolab, a university program to expose children to chemistry at a younger age. The students analyzed a world map of lactose intolerance. We learned that Germans have a low population of lactose intolerant people because historically they domesticated animals and consumed their milk. The enzyme that is present in infants so that they can digest their mothers’ milk is still present in adults populations who have adapted to drink milk and eat dairy products throughout their lives. Since dairy production is a large part of the German economy, the students’ goal today was too create a “pearl” that can break the lactose bonds and enable lactose intolerant people to enjoy milk. The students had a great time using the lab equipment to create “pearls” out of Alginate and Calcium Chloride. Some “pearls” included an enzyme to break down the glucose (some did not because they were the control). The students then tested their concoction in the milk and checked to see if it worked by measuring the glucose in the milk. It was a success!
After having lunch at the University cafeteria, we took a tram downtown. We walked through the historic area and enjoyed looking into the beautiful shop windows. Then we walked up to Sparrenburg Castle; the most famous landmark of Bielefeld. The castle was 60 meters high and we could see the Teutoburg Forest. Our students explored a well, dungeon, and overlook. As we walked around the grounds we imagined Medieval life and the soldiers who defended the castle from enemy conquests.
This weekend, our students get to experience daily life with their German families!
Today, we got our first chance to attend a full morning of classes at Einstein! Ashford students got the chance to sample several classes, including Mathe (Math), Bio (Science), ILZ (Study Hall), Deutsch (German), Latein (Latin), and Englisch (English). Depending on the class, our students noticed a few differences between US and German schools. For example, in many classes, students stand to greet their teachers. Most classrooms have chalkboards that move, and students carry their backpacks to classes with them. There are also longer breaks between classes (in some cases, 20 minutes long) where students have the option to go outside.
After their morning lessons, students headed to the cafeteria for lunch. They had many choices for lunch, including salad, pasta, and three hot meals. By far, the most popular dish was Kaiserschmarrn mit Apfelmus, which is a type of sweet dough (similar to a pancake) with an apple sauce.
After lunch, we met at the Big E for a tour of Wiedenbrück, the other part of town. Rheda-Wiedenbrück is a both very old town and a very young town- the first written mention of Rheda-Wiedenbrück was in the year 1088, though it is thought that the first church may have been built as early as 785! Some of the buildings around the city, like the castle tower, are over a thousand years old. They are preserved as historical sites. We also saw many buildings dating from the 1500s. It was amazing how old parts of the city are!
It’s also a young town, because until the year 1970, the towns Rheda, Wiedenbrück, Batenhorst, Lintel, Nordrheda-Ems and St.Vit were seperate areas. They were combined in 1970 to form Rheda-Wiedenbrück, very similar to the way that Connecticut towns Vernon and Rockville combined in 1965.
To learn more about history of the city of Rheda-Wiedenbrück, or about town life in general, please visit:
Frau Dixon and Frau Davis led us on a guided tour through the Flora Westfalica Park on our way to Wiedenbrück, describing the architectural significance of the buildings and sites as we passed by. We learned a lot of facts about buildings in Germany- for example, did you know that only three roof angles are allowed in the town of Rheda- Wiedenbrück?
Our tour also included the old Wiedenbrück church, which was built in 785. In the top window of the church, you can still see damage from a cannon ball that struck the church during the Thirty Years War.
Another great day in the books! For more pictures, check out the slideshow below:
After a much needed night’s rest in the homes of our new host families, we all arrived at school bright and early. The sun had just come up as students filed into our room for our Ashford group morning meeting. Since Rheda-Wiedenbrück is a little further north than Ashford (Ashford is about 41 degrees North while Rheda is 51 degrees North), the sun rises a little bit later- around 7:30 in the morning. Sunset, however, is around the exact same time: 4:30. Even though we are further north here in Germany, the weather has been a bit warmer: it got to be 17 degrees C!
This brings us to one of our cultural difference- in the United States, everything is measured in the Imperial system. This means that we measure temperature in fahrenheit, distance in feet or miles, and weight in pounds. In Germany, everything is measured on the metric system. This means that temperature is measured in Celsius, distance in meters or kilometers (kilometre in German), and weight in kilograms. 17 degrees C is roughly 63 degrees F.
We talked about what we were experiencing with our host families and what our first impressions of Germany were. Students noted all of the recycling and green energy, as well as some difference in the doors and light switches. We also took some time to journal our thoughts in our German notebooks, have a snack, and take a little rest.
Then, we got to take a tour of the Rathaus, or town hall. We were met by the Mayor, who formally welcomed us to Rheda-Wiedenbruck and spoke about the importance of international collaboration. We then received a guided tour of the Rathaus and even got to go up to the roof- the highest point in town, where we could see the castle as well as lots of windmills in the distance. All of our students felt very honored to have been welcomed so warmly.
After our tour, we stopped quickly for some German pasteries, soft pretzels, and chocolate bread. Then it was on to Schloss Rheda or Rheda Castle. That’s right- our town has its own working castle! One of the families of the Einstein students lives there- they are the Duke and Duchess. We began our learning by seeing the grounds and carriage house, which still has working carriages. They had beautiful coaches.
Next it was onto the castle which has a real moat around it!
We walked over the castle grounds. to the castle chapel. The chapel at Schloss Rheda was built over 1,000 years ago! We were treated to some traditional German fairy tales and legends about the castle. Inside the chapel, we even saw a sword fight and a trapdoor! Then we went into the old living quarters, which had many important historical artifacts, including historical clothing and furniture! Students wandered the rooms wide-eyed.
It was an incredible day filled with amazing learning- there is so much to see and do, and our hosts are being just wonderful. If you want to see more, check out the slideshow below:
What a welcoming and warm reception we had here at the Einstein Gymnasium! Two wonderful Einstein teachers, Eva and Marlene, greeted us just outside baggage claim and brought us to our bus. We toured the countryside, marveling at the beautiful hills, sunrise, and bright colors of the changing leaves. We also saw some windmills as we drove by.
Our partner school had breakfast, juice, and water waiting for us! After recharging a bit, we decided to take a tour of the school. Despite some fog early in the morning, it quickly turned into a beautiful fall day- 62 degrees and sunny- which was perfect for taking a look at the grounds! Then, it was time for a quick lunch and an Ashford GAPP Group photo in front of the iconic "E".
Then, students had a choice of taking a quick nap, hanging out quietly and getting to know one another, or going for a walk downtown. Everyone chose the option that was best for how they were feeling. Our partner school has been doing such a wonderful job of accommodating our needs and making us feel very welcome here in Germany!
After our afternoon activities, it was time to head home with our new host families for a good night's sleep. Our adventure is off to a fantastic start and we are looking forward to an amazing two weeks!