BY NANCY GAGNET | MIRROR REPORTER — Like many things in life disrupted by COVID, the high school student exchange program, which allows students to spend time in a foreign country to experience the culture firsthand, has been put on hold.
That didn’t stop Maumee High School students from connecting virtually with their counterparts in Coburg, Germany. In fact, through a six-week virtual exchange program, 23 students studying German at MHS had the opportunity to get to know their transatlantic peers.
“This allowed them to do something positive during a time when there is so much stress,” said MHS German teacher Maria Herman.
She and Jan Bierweiler, a teacher/administrator with Gymnasium Casimirianum Coburg, a high school in Germany, had been working together on an exchange program when the pandemic hit. The two had met through the Goethe Institute, which promotes the exchange program.
With the onset of the pandemic and social distancing guidelines, Bierweiler and Herman decided to embrace a virtual format for the exchange program by first paring their students based on questionnaires they completed.
“We met by Zoom a few times and individually paired the students, so each one of my students had an individual partner in Germany,” Herman said.
The students wrote letters to each other and connected with each other on social media. They also took part in group activities, exchanging presentations that highlighted their respective cities. One Google slide that featured The Shops at Fallen Timbers and Franklin Park Mall ended up being featured in a German newspaper.
“That was super cool,” Herman said.
Students also created a time capsule describing life pre-pandemic and they took part in two live Zoom meetings, where they discussed sustainable living practices.
“I think what the students got out of it was really cool,” Herman said. “To make a culture connection in a time when we have been physically distant from each other and people haven’t been able to hang out with friends was great. To make a connection with another culture at any point in life I think is very valuable, but it was really good to do during the pandemic.”