Local ties tighten with German sister county
District Governor Helmut Eichenlaub and German businessman Herbert Gźnther, owner of a machine manufacturing company, came to Elkhorn this weekend to share ideas of how to expand the program.
Step No. 1 will be a teacher exchange between schools in Waldeck-Frankenburg and the Elkhorn Area School District.
“In general, it’s a good thing to have a better understanding of different cultures,” Gźnther said. “This makes the relationship really stronger than it was before.”
A handful of German teachers will come to Elkhorn at the end of January, Eichenlaub said. Hopefully, Walworth County teachers can come for a visit to German schools in the district shortly thereafter, he said.
The plan is to eventually start a student exchange program, which could first start off with e-mails and then include trips abroad both ways across the Atlantic Ocean.
“Student exchanges are the milestone,” Eichenlaub said through an interpreter. “That is the key to having a great partnership between the countries.”
Darien’s Steve Fettig, finance manager at the village’s TankCraft Corporation, agrees. He participated in student exchange programs both in high school and while in college.
“If you want to do anything with a cultural exchange, you do it with kids,” Fettig said. “As an adult, it’s hard to be open to it. None of us can easily say, ‘We’ll take a year off and immerse ourselves in a different culture.’”
Absorbing a culture first-hand is the best way to generate an understanding of it, Fettig said.
“So many things we do are based on the way we’re raised, and that’s your world view. That’s your perspective,” Fettig said. “(Student exchanges) opens up your world view.”
The Elkhorn Area School District has been discussing a partnership with schools in the German city of Korbach, the district’s political capital, said Kyle Gorden, the German language teacher at Elkhorn Area High School.
Understanding first how the school systems work in each other’s countries will be beneficial, he said.
German students follow different learning paths through middle and high school, Gorden said. Some students are put on a track for college, others for a technical education and others for a vocational industry.
In the United States, students are pooled together and given a greater individual choice of what to do in their adult lives, he said.
County Administrator David Bretl said the sister partnership program could grow to possibly include businesses and build corporate relationships.
Gźnther said there are no deals yet, but he found a few local leads where his company could provide plastic injection molding machines.
For now, the jumping off point needs to be with the students and schools, Bretl said.
“We’ll start to build this,” Bretl said. “We hope this will materialize with a start there.”