DALTON, Ga. — A group of teenagers traveled here from a midsize town in the Harz Mountains of Germany to study and immerse themselves in all things American.
Dalton High School and a German school have been exchanging students and teachers for educational trips since 1996. Teacher Connie Bunge and 11 of her students from Gerhart-Hauptmann-Gymnasium school in Wernigerode, a popular tourist city in north-central Germany, have been in Dalton for two weeks and will return home next week.
Ms. Bunge, an English instructor, and four of her sophomore students, Marcus Stagge, 16; Pia vou Roseuberg, 15; Kathrin Mittelstrass, 16; and Julia Rohde, 15, spoke with the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Monday morning between classes at Dalton High.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a cultural shock, but this world is different from Germany. You have much more cultural variety. You have people from many more places that live in the U.S.A.,” Ms. Bunge said.
She added, though, she likes to stress the many similarities in people’s daily lives, saying, “We should emphasize that between the two countries.”
Dalton High School students also had a great time when they traveled to Germany in June, said Ava Wyatt, a German language teacher at Dalton High.
“They were so impressed with everything, but I think it was the friendliness of the people that really stood out,” she said.
Still, the visitors said there are some adjustments to life in America.
“I think Dalton is very different than Germany,” Miss vou Roseuberg said, “because everything is so far away. The distances are very far. The houses have so much yard.”
Miss Rohde added that she was struck to notice that American cars and roads are bigger.
Architecture is also varied, they said. Wernigerode has a number of medieval structures and many of the houses are older timber-frame homes.
“I live in a house that’s 85 years old,” Mr. Stagge said.
Their school has been around for 470 years, although the building where they attend classes is much more modern.
Social customs and culture brought their own surprises.
The students said they’ve eaten out almost every night here. In Germany, restaurants are very expensive and when a family eats out it’s a huge event, they said.
“The taste of the food is different,” Miss Mittelstrass added. “I think it has more fat in it.”
The teens said they like popular American music and techno, and visiting the South has introduced them to another musical genre.
“My host family listens to country music, something we don’t really listen to in Germany,” Miss Mittelstrass said.
“Country music is something their great-grandparents listen to,” Ms. Bunge said with a smile.
The German students have visited sites in Atlanta, Chattanooga and Dalton, both with their host families and with the school group at Dalton High. They have hiked the Georgia mountains, toured the Georgia Capitol and CNN Center in Atlanta and strolled the Walnut Street Bridge in Chattanooga, but their favorite activity is more material.
“My girls and Marcus, they love shopping,” Ms. Bunge said. “Hamilton Place mall in Chattanooga was very impressive.”
The students said malls in Germany are crowded and the closest “big mall” is about 40 minutes from their town.
“It’s relaxing to go shopping here,” Miss vou Roseuberg said about the extra elbow room.
The students said they are impressed with the friendliness of the students at Dalton High School. The American students ask plenty of questions about Germany, they said.
“The students are very friendly and open-minded, and they come to you and say, ‘Hello, how are you today.’ They’re really very nice,” Miss vou Roseuberg said.
Being the lone boy with 10 girls on a trip to America would make most 16-year-olds envious, but Mr. Stagge takes it in stride.
“It’s not a problem for me because the girls are all nice,” he said.
The students have noticed the signs in Chattanooga welcoming Volkswagen and its new plant to the area.
The Dalton exchange students toured a VW plant in Germany before the big Chattanooga plant announcement. Students also got a chance to have some fun at the Auto Stadt, an amusement park connected to the German plant they visited, which is about 90 miles from Wernigerode.
Ms. Bunge said the Volkswagen plant will increase relations between the two countries and more people will be traveling back and forth.
“This is something that connects us,” she said.