INTERACTIVE: Trip of a lifetime

INTERACTIVE:  Trip of a lifetime

Thomas Stastny, as one of three RB students visiting Germany, got to see Neuschwanstein Castle.

Katie Maxwell, Media Editor

We’re sitting in a window seat of an American Airlines jet. We look out our window as the clouds open and the sunshine reveals our first view of your destination. Far below, we see rolling hills and valleys covered in a patchwork of brown and green fields sewn together with clusters of forests and villages. We think to ourselves “I can’t believe I am finally here!” The excitement builds inside as we watch the beautiful quilt get closer and closer. Eventually, we can see miniature cars speeding between the villages and along the Autobahns. Then, we see a city gradually appearing on the horizon. It grows until that is all we can see and we worry our plane won’t make it to the runway. But, then we feel the violent jerk of the plane slamming into the asphalt and slowing to a stop and we know that we are safe.

We have arrived in Frankfurt, Germany.

View a map of our travels:

Three RB students had the opportunity to travel to Germany last summer with a foreign exchange program called, Friendship Connection. These are our stories.

Senior Thomas Stastny arrived in Frankfurt’s international airport, passed through customs, and found his exchange partner, Corrin Helmuth, who introduced Stastny to his family. Stastny remembered feeling excited and nervous to meet Helmuth’s family because he didn’t know what they would be like and he wondered if it would be difficult to communicate. The Helmuth family was very nice and welcoming, but Stastny did have some difficulty speaking with them. As a result, they mostly spoke in English to him. After the introductions, the Helmuths took Stastny to their home in a town called Eschwege, which is a couple hours away from Frankfurt.

Stastny did many things while he stayed with Helmuth, which included going to school, experiencing and learning about historical sites, and attending a local festival. Stastny liked going to school in Germany and said the atmosphere was “very laid back.” He also really enjoyed the local festival, which was called Johannesfest. The festival is very much like Oktoberfest, but on a smaller, more intimate scale. There were parades, carnival rides, and plenty of delicious foods. If Stastny returns to Germany, he said he “would go back to see the festival.”

Stastny also went on an eight-day tour sponsored by Friendship Connection. It was the last segment of the month-long exchange filled with non-stop travel to some of Germany and Austria’s most famous destinations. Some of these places included a boat tour of the Rhein River, a tour of Bavaria’s Neuschwanstein Castle, which was the model for Disney World’s Cinderella Castle, and a hike through an ice cave in the Alps.

Another senior, Zach Tarrant, also went on the exchange. Like Stastny, he felt nervous about meeting his exchange partner’s family. Tarrant’s exchange partner’s name was Alex Hintze and he lived in a small town called, Beilstein.

Tarrant also went to school. He said, “I really enjoyed the kids.” He felt they were very welcoming and he was glad he could understand them. Unfortunately, he was unable to understand the teachers as he was led to believe they would have a clearer accent.

Tarrant had a wonderful time in Germany, but he especially loved doing things with Hintze and fitting into the German culture. He also enjoyed traveling to cities, such as Marburg to visit The Elisabethkirche. The Elisabethkirche is the oldest pure Gothic style church in Germany. It was built in the 13th Century over the grave of St. Elisabeth, the patron saint of Marburg.

The last RB student to go on the exchange was myself. My partner’s name was Simona Borntraeger. When I arrived, everything felt so strange. It’s really hard to describe how I felt, but I can describe my emotions best as robotic because I was so overloaded with nervousness, adrenaline, and my new surroundings. The Borntraegers would have to repeat what they were saying because I would zone out. Eventually, my senses and my emotions relaxed and I was able to enjoy the experience. Borntraeger lives with her parents, her grandfather, and her two younger brothers in a tiny village called, Ruedigheim. Ruedigheim is a rural village about two hours north of Frankfurt. Many of the houses are hundreds of years old and they are nestled between little farms.

I did many things while I was on my exchange. Some of the most interesting were a camping trip to Croatia, day trips to Munich and Marburg, and experiencing the locals’ everyday lives. My camping trip to Croatia was really nice because we spent most of our time relaxing at the beach and swimming in the lovely Adriatic Sea. On our way back to Ruedigheim, we stopped in Munich to shop and see the sites. One of the best parts of my trip was learning about Borntraeger’s normal life. She showed me how her community celebrates a religious holiday called, Fronleichnam. I also saw how the farming community houses their livestock in barns located in the town and how they milk the cows.

By the time the trip was over, all three of us were ready to return home, but we will not forget the impression it made on our lives.

Stastny really liked the seemingly relaxed lifestyle and the interesting places it offered. He said, “It really opens your mind up to the world and is less expensive with a group versus on one’s own.”

Tarrant said, “It puts things in perspective” as he realized to get along with others one must understand others perspective.

I feel it was a wonderful opportunity to improve my German language skills while learning to appreciate another culture. All three of us also feel that the exchange facilitated the creation of lasting friendships, improved comprehension in the classroom, and allowed us to expand our plans for the future.