When a group of students from Hildesheim, Germany, departed for their homeland Friday afternoon, they took with them memories of friendlyand outgoing people who welcomed them into their homes with open arms.
But also etched into their minds were memories of classrooms they universally characterized as "boring."
The students, who were participating in an annual exchange program with John Carroll School in Bel Air, said that their impressions could possibly be blamed on a mild attack of culture shock.
Being used to a more informal classroom atmosphere and lively discussions, they wondered why students at John Carroll just sit quietly in class and listen to the teacher.
"At home we are not afraid of disagreeingwith the teacher and get more involved in classroom debates," said John Philipp Siemer, 17.
He also explained that oral participation is a major part of their final grade in Germany, while here, he thinks, students just learn all their material by heart so they can get good grades on written tests.
"In Germany we are more challenged to think and to verbally analyze what we have learned," said 18-year-oldLiza Kasoura.
She said that by being required to study 14 subjects a week -- ranging from math and science to literature, foreign languages and contemporary issues -- German high school students are prepared for life and further academic studies on a much broader scale than American students. They also go to school a year longer, graduating after the 13th grade, following lengthy, difficult oral and writtenexams in a variety of subjects.
Puzzled by a lack of interest in world affairs, visitor John Philipp said, in perfect English, "In comparison to what I have seen in the short time I've been here, young people in Germany are much more politically oriented. They take great interest in what goes on in the world."
He and his fellow German students thought it is more difficult to follow world events here because newspapers and television broadcasts seem to be predominately filled with local issues.
But the visiting students said they did admire their American contemporaries for their tenacity in attending longer school days (in Germany they are usually home by 1 p.m.), participation in a variety of school sports (unknown in their country), longhours of homework, community involvement and holding part-time jobs.
They also enjoyed renewing friendships with John Carroll studentswho spent three weeks last summer with them in Hildesheim and meeting their families who, in turn, opened their homes to them during their three-week stay in Harford County.
The John Carroll exchange program with the Gymnasium Josephinum in Hildesheim, now in its eighth year, is very successful in providing cross-cultural experiences, saidJudy Potter, a German teacher at John Carroll School and the program's coordinator on this side of the Atlantic.
By annually participating in the program, students from both countries are able to build language skills while also learning about each other's home life, saidPotter.
"Initially we were a little nervous about taking a Germanstudent into our home," said Janet and Miles Miller of Joppatowne, who acted as host parents for Andre Cammerer.
What if he wouldn't like the activities they were planning to make his stay an enjoyable one?
But as soon as Andre arrived, he fit right in, said the Millers. Their son, Jonathan, and Andre already were best of friends -- Jonathan lived with the Cammerers when he went to Germany last summer.
"I enjoyed shopping in the malls," said Andre, 16, who had trouble fitting all his purchases into his suitcase. Among the new possessions returning with him to Germany were a skateboard, baseball bat and "Pump" sneakers.
Shopping in America was fun because the sales staffs were so friendly, said classmate Andre Tegner, 17. "But not only people in shops are friendly here, American people in general seem to be more friendly, outgoing and tolerant than people in Germany," he added.
"This is the third time we hosted a German student," said Barbara Gregor, who invited the visiting students and their Harford County families, about 80 in all, to her Churchville home for a farewelldinner Wednesday night. Both of the Gregors' daughters have been in Germany.
"The program really builds relationships," said Gregor. "We now have become friends with three families over there."