Willkommen in Georgia

A German exchange student offers his thoughts on life in an American school

Willkommen in Georgia

“Welcome to Georgia”, said the light-blue envelope that arrived mid-June in my mailbox in Germany.

Tenseness caught me when I carefully opened it and took out the letter. This written correspondence would tell me what my life in the next year would look like. It contained the high school I would be attending in the future – a high school thousands of miles away from my home, away from my old school and my friends.

“Cross Creek High School” read the big letters that caught my attention immediately. “Augusta, GA”.

“Wow, that sounds pretty cool!”, I thought. But actually I had no clue at all where this place could be.

So I researched a lot about this school. I found out that it is a school in the South in the suburban area of Augusta, which is the second largest city in Georgia.

I wanted to know pretty much everything about the school: How many teachers and students are in this school? What does the building look like? What classes do they offer? What is the school known for? What school rules are there? Are they welcoming?

Would it be easy or difficult to achieve good grades?

Of course I also thought about my host family a lot. I thought about how it would be to live there and whether I would be able to understand the English accent there.

But a very huge thing I was nervous about was how the school would incorporate me and how the students would treat me.

I arrived in the U.S. and got to know the people who would be my new family for the next year. I just loved them simply because we shared something that is internationally well-understood: Humor.

Finally it was happening: They wanted me to actually visit this outlandish, disconcerting and mysterious institution called “Cross Creek”.

Keven Seidel came to Cross Creek from Germany and has enjoyed the experience.
Keven Seidel came to Cross Creek from Germany and has enjoyed the experience.

I was impressed by the presence of the school building. It looked… American. Yes, that’s absolutely the best adjective to describe how it looked: American. And American means new, strange and adventurous. And suddenly I felt ready for this adventure.

“Is it possible that human beings can emanate such a happiness and kindness without the previous consumption of dubious drugs,” I thought.

The hospitality, the friendliness and candor: Not all humans in the world are like that. Especially not toward strangers. Greeting strangers, always saying, “Hey! How are you?” And mostly smiles on the faces. In Germany, this is pretty much unimaginable.

The first actual school weeks were some kind of culture shock for me. So many people wanted to talk to me or were asking me how life “over there” looks. I honesty was absolutely overwhelmed by all the attention I got, especially since I remember that exchange students in Germany sometimes barely find people to talk to and Germans by for don’t get so excited when they hear native accents.

A harder thing for me to adapt to were the pretty strict rules in school. In German schools, we don’t have tardies, we don’t need hall passes to leave the classroom and there is also no dress code.

So it was first hard for me to accept the authoritative attitude of some teachers and adults here.

In Germany, an individual schedule for each student is not typical. There, we have a week-schedule which is the same for all students in one grade. That means that you see the same 20 students every single day in every single period. Here in America you have the chance to meet different people in different classes.

Another, for me, very remarkable experience is the daily morning announcement. I somehow want to adapt that in Germany, too. It’s interesting how students get to know about news, meetings or achievements.

German schools often don’t focus on anything different than academic classes. Pep rallies, football games, prom, club days … we don’t have that there.

In America it is a daily procedure to pledge allegiance to the flag and to take attendance. Both of those things are not part of our school day, either.

The part with the flag might especially be understandable for Germany. Most people don’t think proudly about our country and its history – with reason!

And if you have a question for some teachers here or you just need to talk to them, it is pretty simple here to organize that. Teachers here are accessible in their classrooms after school.

In Germany, most teachers don’t have their own classroom and move, like the students, from class to class. And after eight periods of school, students go home – and so do teachers. There is barely time to have conversations with them in person.

The lessons and topics that are taught here in America are pretty similar to Germany. But I still prefer the way German schools teach.

For instance, we don’t have multiple choice tests at all. That’s really an American thing. European schools solely have written tests. Mostly there are a few questions and then you spend the entire period writing sentences (no given answers or pictures!).

Also, we talk about the topics for a longer time. Here students talk maybe a couple of days about World War I, Mitosis/Meiosis, or a math topic. German schools teach things for a really long time so that students remember it for years to come. For example, in our history class we spend an entire year covering the period between 1945-1990.

Altogether, I have really enjoyed my time here. People care about me, try to help me whenever I feel lost and are very interested to learn new things about me and my country.

Personalities here are weird, crazy, odd, strange, freaky, insane and just different.

I love it.