German exchange students get their first taste of Thanksgiving
Pilgrims and Native Americans might have celebrated their first Thanksgiving in 1621, but two McLouth students will be getting their first taste of the holiday this year.
Diana Grau, Cologne, Germany, and Jana (pronounced YA-na) Gunnoltz, Berlin, Germany, are foreign exchange students at McLouth High School. Thanksgiving isn't a holiday in Germany, so Thursday will be a new experience for the two.
"We don't have Thanksgiving," Diana said, but notes, "I saw it in the movies a lot."
Germany does celebrate Christmas, and the students got a head start on that holiday. Jeanie Thompson, Jana's host parent, is the high school volleyball and middle school basketball coach. She also is a bus driver and works at the cafeteria for the school district. Because she is so busy, Thompson decided now would be the best time to decorate for Christmas.
The girls decorated the tree with German chocolates, something Jana's family has always done, but a tradition Diana was unfamiliar with.
"I think I will do it when I go back," Diana said. "It will be yummy."
Thompson, though, said the tree is starting to show more green.
"There won't be any chocolates left for Christmas," Thompson said.
Coming to America
Both 16-year-old juniors, Diana and Jana wanted to experience a different country. Diana has been to America before, while Jana is in the United States for the first time. The stay has had its share of new experiences.
"I saw all the teenagers driving cars in Lawrence," Diana said. "It looked funny."
The legal driving age in Germany is 18.
School also is structured differently in the United States. In Germany, sports are not affiliated with schools, and school lasts until 1:30 p.m. Students bring their own snacks for two breaks during the day.
The year at McLouth will count toward Diana's schooling in Germany, but Jana will have to take another year of schooling because her school requires a course in French. McLouth only offers Spanish. In Germany, a second language is a requirement, starting in the fifth grade. Both students have studied English since that time.
Schooling here has been a change for Diana and Jana, but the school size has been more drastic. Jana's school in Germany has 600 students; Diana's has 1,500.
"I think here everybody knows everybody," Jana said.
"You have to be careful what you do," Diana said. "Everybody knows you."
Knowing everyone has also introduced them to one of their favorite American traditions homecoming.
"We made lots of pictures," Jana said. "We dressed up for the different days."
Diana also has been introduced to college football. Her host family, Mike and Judy Schwinn, has a son, Jeff, who plays for Kansas State. Diana went with the Schwinns to Manhattan for the K-State-Colorado game in early October.
"They lost, that's all I remember," Diana said.
The outing was much different from German sporting events, Diana said. She enjoyed the marching band and the cheerleaders, along with tailgating.
"Everyone knew each other," Diana said. "Then we went to the game and they really got into it."
Because sports aren't school-affiliated in Germany, Jana and Diana have had to adjust to playing sports in a different setting, and learning a new sport.
Both played volleyball for Thompson and are now in the middle of basketball.
Both students said they enjoyed basketball, and Jana Thompson said, has learned "the meaning of a rebound."
Although balancing sports and school can be hectic, Jana said staying busy was important.
"I can't sit around the whole time," she said.
Meet the host parents
About 10 years ago, Kenneth Thompson died. An exchange student from Sweden had been living with Kenneth and Jeanie at the time.
Jeanie said it was doubly difficult losing her husband and then saying good-bye to Linda, the exchange student from Sweden.
"It was like losing one of my own," Jeanie said.
Kenneth and Jeanie had played host to other students before Linda, but Jeanie got involved with numerous things in the school district, including substitute teaching, to keep herself occupied.
Jana is Jeanie's first student since that time.
The experience has been enjoyable, although Jeanie warned Jana that she had a busy schedule.
"I told her she had to wear roller skates to keep up with me," Jeanie said.
Jana has gone at her own fast pace, and. despite their schedules, Jeanie has enjoyed the time together.
"She's a very sweet, very educated young girl," Jeanie said. "She's so afraid of doing something wrong."
For Mike and Judy Schwinn, having an exchange student had been a thought for some time.
Having four children, though, made it seemed impractical.
But, now with one child still at home, the Schwinns have their exchange student.
Their daughter, Rebecca, is going to cosmetology school and living at home, which Judy said was good for Diana.
"She's been a lot of fun. She's a really nice person to have in our home."
Studying is what Diana does most of the time, Judy said.
"I thought she was really brave and strong when she came here," Judy said. "She's learning American history and at the same time learning another language."
An American Tragedy
Sept. 11 didn't seem real to Diana.
"At first I didn't realize it," Diana said. After talking with Mike and Judy, and then her parents, it became a reality.
"I thought after that, people thought more about the country," Diana said."It's not better that the attack happened, but they have more respect."
Jana said people in Berlin were honoring Americans. A march through Berlin was one example.
As any family would be, Jana's relatives, along with Diana's, were concerned.
Jana, though, reassured her aunt that they were safe.
"I told her no one was going to fly a plane into a corn field."
For Judy, the terrorist attacks put everything in perspective.
"What I thought was a big world, wasn't," Judy said. "Our families are similar and are beliefs are similar."