From Germany to Lawrence

Sister City exchange student compares American high school to life in Germany


Ian Jones

Working in the Newsroom — Exchange student Jana Scherbarth works on her letter, featured on this page.

By Jana Scherbarth

The United States — A country, which is so different from Germany. On Sept. 29, 2015, I began a journey into new culture.

After two exhausting flights, we were welcomed by our host families at the Kansas City Airport. We already knew our exchange partners from their stay in Eutin last June.

On the car ride to Lawrence I noticed the first big difference: the speed limit on the highway. In Germany we do not have a real speed limit on our highways, we normally just have a recommended speed limit, which is 130 km/h or 81 mph. So we went slower than usual.

After my first night, which was hectic, my exchange partner, [junior] Vanessa Hernandez, and I went to school in her car. It is a weird experience for me because in Germany we are not allowed to drive cars when we are 16 years old. We can get our license at 17, but we are not allowed to drive alone until we turn 18.

The first things I noticed about LHS were the many huge sport fields, which we do not have in Germany. We also have school teams in disciplines like soccer, swimming or gymnastics but there are not as many athletes in them as are here, and they do not compete with other school teams for a whole season.

Instead of football and baseball, we have handball. They only have one little tournament once a year, and the other students do not support them as they do here. Sports in America’s high schools have a specific spirit I have never experienced in Germany before.

The schools in America also have a pretty different way of teaching and learning. The teacher often talks a lot more and in a different way than in Germany. Teachers here put a lot more emotion in their voices than the teachers at home.

Eutin Germany Graphic
Graphic by Briauna Huffman

In Germany, high school works differently altogether. After students complete the fourth grade, they are sorted into one of three secondary tracks by their test scores and teacher recommendations.

Each level of high school differs in curriculum difficulty. I am in the Gymnasium, the upper-level track.
It is new for me to use my cellphone or other electronic devices and to go to the bathroom without asking during the classes.

The tests here often consist of multiple choice and short questions and the students often just have to repeat the stuff from the classes. In Germany, the tests aren’t that easy.

At my high school in Germany we learned things American schools are teaching now several years ago. The classes I take there are harder. Our school has a higher standard than American high schools.

American cities have more standardized infrastructure than Germany’s. So it is still confusing to me to find my way around the city because almost every crossroad looks the same for me. We have a lot more bends and a lot more street signs about directions.

I really like Lawrence, especially Massachusetts Street with all the cute little stores. Those stores could never exist in Germany. When you go in a store in the U.S., you are greeted immediately and get into little conversations with the employees. In Germany, an assistant would only say “hello” at best.

We are not unfriendly people, this is just our German understanding of friendliness.

We might seem a little bit cold-hearted at first, but I promise we are very kind people when you get to know us better. We don’t do so much small-talk like the American people. It is still unusual for me that everyone I meet asks “How are you doing?”

In my time here I have come to understand the feeling of liberty many people are talk about when they talk about the U.S. Even if I feel a bit unsafe because of the guns here.

Everyone can own a gun in the U. S., and in Germany they are almost completely prohibited for privately-owned guns. You will only be allowed to own one, if you have a firearms license. Normally you only will get one of these if you are a rifleman, hunter or a policeman. Beside them, gun owners are required to lock them away in a safe. You are not allowed to take them with you except you are a policeman at your work.

Because of that I have an unpleasant feeling about the rampage in Roseburg, Oregon, a few days ago. The feeling hasn’t really gone away.

Nevertheless, I have had one of the best times in my life in the U. S. I’ve had unbelievable new experiences that I will never forget. I have gotten insight into a very different way of living, although my visit has also made me see the similarities between Lawrence and Eutin.