OGDEN — For visiting German student Velat Senol, the “American moment” he will remember most came not in class at Bonneville High School, but at a spring break basketball game he attended with members of his host family.
“All the people stood up for the national anthem,” said Sernol, 19, a native of Aachen, in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
“The black people, the whites, the Chinese, the people of different origins — they all stand up because they are all Americans,” said Sernol, explaining, in so many words, that Germany was less of a melting pot.
For Lukas Boken, 18, his most stunning Utah memory will be visual.
“You have arches,” said Boken, also of Aachen, who spent his spring break in Moab. “We don’t have anything that looks like that.”
And for Annika Estermann, 15, also of Aachen, one of the biggest memories may have been related to Utah culture.
“Annika was quite surprised with the size of families here,” said Jeff Jackson, who teaches German at Bonneville High and at T.H. Bell Junior High. “In Germany, two children is more typical. I have three children, but I am the oldest of 10 children and my wife is the youngest of 12. It was quite a shock to come to our in-laws’ houses.”
The group’s visit has been a fun and educational experience for the 10 German students — eight at Bonneville High and two at T.H. Bell — for the American students who acted as hosts, and for the host families that welcomed the visitors into their homes.
“My students have had the opportunity to get to know the culture of Germany, and to speak with natives,” Jackson said. “It’s been even more challenging for the German students, who came for a chance to practice their English and to learn about our culture. The students stayed with families who had no German speakers except our students, and a few of the visiting students stayed with families who didn’t even have a German student. They were forced to communicate in English.”
Jackson said the educational exchange group had made arrangements with a different Utah school that had to cancel, so Jackson got a call. Jackson approached his principals, and both agreed to host the students.
The students and their chaperone, Jeorg Mennecke, of Langerwehe, NRW, arrived March 23, and will leave Friday.
“This is my 12th trip to the U.S., but the first to Utah,” Mennecke said. “I have learned a lot about the West and about Mormon culture.”
The consensus of the German students was that local parents are much stricter than are German parents, and they monitor their teens social interactions more closely. Coursework is less advanced here, and teachers friendlier.
People in general are more friendly, Boken said.
“I have not met anyone who was not friendly,” he said. “At home, people decide fast if they like you or do not like you.”
Germans enjoy debating opinions more, Boken said. Utah could use more mass transit, Senol said.
“In America, you need a car to get anywhere, because the country is so much bigger,” Senol said. “In Germany, there is a bus or train every five minutes.”
Mennecke, who has traveled to more populous parts of America, said he has enjoyed Utah’s “small villages and large mountains.”
Maridee Schroeder, 15, of Ogden, said she and her family enjoyed hosting Boken, and she liked spending time with all the visiting students.
She said, “It’s been a lot of fun, and we’ve all learned so much.”