Germany matters with Lukas
Exchange student compares German schools to Perrysburg High School
By Lukas Lenke
Have you ever thought about going to school in a whole new country?
I was thinking about this question a couple of years ago. Being from Germany and therefore in the center of Europe, I traveled to a lot of countries surrounding my homeland, but I always wanted to go further — to travel to a different continent and experience a new culture.
In summer 2013, I started to apply for agencies who organize the foreign exchange, and last August I flew over to the U.S. One of my huge questions was how school life is different in the United States from Germany. Now that I have spent roughly seven months here in Perrysburg, I will try to make a comparison of the difference between school life in Germany and in America.
To start off, you would have to know that school works entirely different in Germany.
When you start school, you attend similarly to the U.S. the elementary school. It works like that in Germany too, but then it gets complicated. After you complete the fourth grade you have the choice, depending on your grades, if you want to move on in school and advance to the next level or if you want to stay in elementary school for two more years, meaning that these kids would finish elementary school after the sixth year.
Grades ranges from 1-6, whereas 1 acts as the best grade, similar to the American A and 6 acts as the worst grade, equaling a F in the American-school system. Depending on the average you get after 4th grade, usually students would have to get a lower grade than 2, to have the possibility to move on to the advanced level. There is only one option of advanced schools you can go to: the highest education level available in Germany, also known as the gymnasium.
Doing two more years in elementary school doesn’t take that opportunity away from you.
After sixth grade you would attend the gymnasium, for top tier students, if your grade average is better than 2.5 (around a B-grade in the U.S.). There are two other possibilities if you don’t make the gymnasium, for top students.
Either attending the Realschule, which represents the average education level, and if your grades really don’t match up you would have to attend the Hauptschule, representing the basic education level. This is different from the U.S. because here everyone goes to high school after junior high and elementary school. Therefore, students with greatly different grade levels get to work together.
This was just to give you some background on how the basics of school in Germany work.
To be part of the foreign exchange program here in the U.S. I had to have very good grades in English, which students usually start to learn as of third grade, first grade or kindergarten. I had to show I am socially competent of living one whole year in a foreign country, and I had to attend the gymnasium, which I was.
There is also a possibility for people attending the Realschule to participate in the exchange program, but there is no chance if you are attending the Hauptschule.
How would school life be different if you were to participate in an exchange to Germany and therefore, attending German school?
Firstly, attending school in Germany might be hard for an American-exchange student because Germans, especially students, are not likely to speak English very well so you would have to learn the German language.
Then the first school day would come. The big differences start to show as of the moment when you receive your schedule. Here in the U.S., you get a daily schedule, meaning that you have the same classes at the same time everyday. Over there, it is usually weekly schedules. Having different classes and times everyday, which can be very confusing at first because it is difficult to learn your whole schedule by heart. This could take some time.
The bell rings and you ask yourself: where do I go?
Instead of going to the room of the teacher and attending class, it works vice versa. You mostly stay in your assigned classroom with the same group of around thirty people you will see everyday. The weird thing is the teacher comes to you so you don’t have to find your rooms because students mostly stay in the same room for the whole day. Also, you work with the same students every day in every class. Your schedule isn’t assigned for you as an individual, but for the whole class of 30 people.
I think that this has some pros and cons to it.
The benefits are that you are with the same students all the time and therefore there is a deeper level of interaction between you and your classmates. You know each other better and deep friendships are built. The negatives are that you aren’t meeting as many people as you would at high school here. But this is only a minor thing.
The overall appearance of the school and classrooms is often different too. Schools are usually smaller than high schools. About 500 students attended my school in Germany, therefore the school are so small that you can quickly get around.
Germany is currently modernizing its classrooms, putting in whiteboards but mostly, you will still see a lot of chalkboards. And by a lot, I mean a lot! In my school, nearly every room had a whiteboard and the teachers really like to use them.
In general, class in Germany is not as modern as here in Perrysburg. More often than not, that makes class here more fun than in Germany.
School sports is also a very different topic in Germany. That is because it is simply not there.
Here in the U.S., high school sports is a very big part of everyday school life and brings the whole school together on game day. I was amazed when I first experienced the tremendous amount of school spirit that was present at the football games. And this is what is different.
There often is no such thing as “school spirit” in German schools due to the lack of the overall sports experience. Many German schools do not make the effort to establish sports teams and the overall sports experience solely relies on the sports class, which takes place once or twice a week for about two hours.
If German students want to play a team sport, they have to apply for sports clubs, which are not related to the school. Practice is therefore in another place than school, and students sometimes have to travel a long distance frequently.
One last thing is, and I think this is pretty cool, classes in Germany can be canceled. This means that when your teacher is sick and the school does not want to make the effort to get a substitute teacher, you can go home earlier or go to school later in the day.
Also, German holidays are different from those in the U.S.
Summer break is shorter but making up for that, other breaks are more frequently. Students usually have two-week breaks for fall, Christmas, the end of January, spring, and a one week break at the end of May. So instead of having one very long break students have a shorter summer break, but more frequent breaks over the course of one year.
Summing up, German school is very different from American high school and it takes time to get used to. The same happened to me when I came to America to attend high school, but it definitely was an awesome experience!
I think it is always fun to experience a new culture and every aspect that contributes to it, such as school life.
Hope to see you in Germany soon.