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Sewickley Academy students reap benefits of German exchange program

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
The Sewickley Academy group, from left, Sarah Duplaga, Karen Chen, Rylee Vaccarelli, Brianne Thomas, Kate Bassato, Jackie Bushee, Sarah Walters and Joey Yow, stand in front of the original Munich gates from medieval times during the Germany student-exchange trip. Submitted
Sewickley Academy students, from left, Kate Busatto, Sarah Duplaga and Karen Chen stop for a photo in Berlin. Submitted
Sewickley Academy travelers Kate Bassato, Brianne Thomas and Sarah Walters stand at the gate of the Dachau concentration camp waiting to be let inside. Submitted

More independence, more family time and teaching fifth-graders English were just some of stories six Sewickley Academy students and their two chaperones brought home after participating in the academy's 34th annual Germany student exchange last month.

Jackie Bushée, 16, an academy sophomore from Cranberry who takes French, said she hadn't ever planned on going to Germany until her family hosted a German exchange student, who then asked her to visit.

She said she thinks the trip was meant to be, especially after seeing the Dachau concentration camp crematorium.

“I cried afterwards,” she said. “When we got to walk out of there, I thought about of all the people who never got to leave there.”

When she returned to the academy, a video about the Holocaust was being shown in one of her classes.

“I was able to say, ‘I stood right there, right there where they took roll call.”

Chaperone Joe Yow, academy theater director, also was moved by the experience after going into the dark, cone-shaped building and coming out into a room filled with outside light illuminating a memorial.

The light was like a “ray of hope,” said chaperone Sarah Walters, executive director for the academy's Summerbridge program.

For Karen Chen, 15, an academy ninth-grader from Bridgeville, one of the most interesting parts of the trip was in Berlin, where there were many historical memorials, but right across the street, there was a Starbucks.

While in Munich, they visited a eco-friendly BMW factory, several castles, museums and churches, They also spent a few days in the German school, Erasmus-Grasser Gymnasium, helping Walters teach a fifth-grade English class.

“This was their first year taking English, and they spoke better than I speak French,” Bushée said.

But Chen said mostly everyone they spoke with was fluent in English, and Bushée said all the music they heard also was in English.

Even though there are many American influences in Germany, Chen said the German school was different. Teachers moved from class to class, and students remained in one room.

Bushée said she thought it was “a lot more crazy” in the German school, and students didn't seem to listen to their teachers, who mostly wore T-shirts and jeans.

She said she also was shocked when a teacher called her friend on her cell phone at 9 p.m. to ask her to come to the school and see the stars. Her friend agreed, took a bus by herself to the school and didn't return until midnight.

But Walters said that isn't uncommon because German teenagers are much more independent than Americans.

Because Munich is considered safe city and they can mostly walk wherever they need to go, teens often travel on their own and don't need rides from their parents, she said.

Students also were influenced by their host families.

Bushée said she brought home the German tradition of always eating family dinners together.

She, Chen and Walters said after the meal was done, families would sit and talk for up to two hours.

Yow said the German's togetherness inspired the academy group to slow down and spend quality time with each other because everyone is so rushed in America.

Although Bushée said she also liked the food, she won't continue to eat the way the Germans do. After participating in the traditional brotzeit, she said she gained about five pounds.

Meaning “bread time,” these typical Bavarian dinners consist of mostly bread, a small amount of meat and a small vegetable.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or

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