Friday, June 29, 2018

Sister City Exchange Program

I have written before about the exchange program between Esslingen, Germany and Sheboygan, Wisconsin USA - here, here, and here, for example.

This exchange program means the world to me. I am who I am because of it. My husband and I met through it 32 years ago. This past Wednesday was our 12th anniversary (we were friends for 20 years first!). I’d planned to write this blog post that day to celebrate both the exchange program and our anniversary, but as sometimes happens, the day had other plans for me.

Glengorm Castle, Isle of Mull
Scotland, 2006
My hometown of Sheboygan and my favorite town in the world, Esslingen, are sister cities (Partnerstädte). The exchange program began in 1970, and we have had around 300 students participate from both towns in the years since then. My year was 1986, and M participated a couple of years later. For me the experience was life-changing.

It's funny how, nearing age 50, you can look back and see where your seemingly insignificant choices influenced the rest of your life.

  • If my brother had not done the exchange in 1983, I might not have decided to take German.
  • If I had not taken German in school, I could not have applied for the exchange.
  • If I had not applied for the exchange, I would not have been accepted.
  • If I had not been accepted, I would not have met my wonderful host family, my now-Schwiegermutter or my husband.
  • If I had not had such a fabulous host family, I would not have loved my experience so much.

[And if I had not met my husband, I would not be living very happily with him in Germany with enough free time to have given back to the exchange program! That's another, more private branch of this story.]

  • If I had not loved the experience so much, I would not have been motivated to study German in college.
  • If I had not studied German in college, I would not have been able to teach German in the US.
  • If I had not taught German in the US for 13 years, I would not have been hired to teach Syrian and Eritrean refugees in Germany in 2016.
  • If I had not been able to teach that group of Syrian and Eritrean refugees, I would have missed the most rewarding teaching experience of my life.
part of the group I still refer to as "my dream team"
  • If I had missed that opportunity, my passion for teaching would not have been renewed.
  • If my passion for teaching had not been renewed, I wouldn’t have met the rest of the students I have had here since then from Syria, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bulgaria, Scotland, Argentina, Chile, Japan, Tanzania, Ukraine, the Dominican Republic, Switzerland, Turkey, Denmark, Hungary, and Poland.

As it turns out, there have been very few decisions during my life that weren’t in some way related to the exchange or stemming from it. I chose my daughter’s name because it is my exchange partner’s name, and I made sure my son’s name was also easily pronounced in both English and German. I exposed my kids to German as they were growing up by reading German children's books to them and teaching them German children's songs. In 2008 the kids and I welcomed a girl from Esslingen into our home for the summer (she was my co-chaperone on our trip this year to Berlin!). Through art and décor, Esslingen has been in every room of every house I have ever owned.

I will always be grateful to the organizations and individuals that brought these two towns together and gave life to the exchange program. I owe my profession, many life choices, my marriage, and much of my happiness to this exchange.

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