Four years ago, David Williams, former academic director at the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics and Humanities, travelled to Germany and began creating a foreign exchange program.

While in Meissen, Germany, Williams visited a school called Sankt Afra and decided to create a program to bring German students to the Indiana Academy as well as send Indiana Academy students to Germany.

"The primary purpose is for us to get a better sense of how their schools operate — what are some techniques they use — to exchange ideas with educators and to also allow the students to be able to exchange ideas about various aspects of their curriculum," said Ken Stuart, social studies instructor at the Indiana Academy.

The exchange program officially began in 2014, with students from Sankt Afra visiting the Indiana Academy for two weeks in the fall and staying with a student host. 

This year, the students' first introduction to American culture was when they arrived with their teachers in Atlanta, Georgia. One of the first things that Edward Eichhorn, 11th year student from Sankt Afra, noticed was the architecture.

Eichhorn said the buildings were "unique" and that it was "interesting" to see architecture  different from what he typically sees in Germany.

Before going to the Indiana Academy, the students took the opportunity to see places in Georgia related to what they have learned about the American Civil War in history and political speech classes. 

When they arrived at the academy, the exchange students were exposed to more cultural differences. Lena Schwerdtfeger, 10th year student from Sankt Afra, said dorms at the Indiana Academy were much larger and house many more students than she is used to. 

The students also said they had to adjust to a different meal schedule. In Germany, Schwerdtfeger said they eat five meals a day, two breakfasts, lunch, a snack before dinner and dinner, while only breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at the Indiana Academy. 

While they have enjoyed eating American food, Laetitia Richter, 11th year Sankt Afra student, said she has found it harder to eat healthy in America. 

Throughout the school day, the students take classes, including language, math, science and art, but they found that class structure in America is different than Germany. Richter said classes in Germany are more generalized, but the Indiana Academy offers more specific classes, centered around topics such as physics or biology.

The amount of rules at the Indiana Academy is also something that the exchange students were not used to. 

"[German students] don't have a lot of rules, but they choose to do the right things," Vickie Barton, executive director of the Indiana Academy said. "In a country where we have more and more rules, it is kind of a dare to break them. When [German students] are trusted to do the right thing, they do."

However, Schwerdtfeger said the Indiana Academy's rules on cellphones are not as strict as those in Germany. While Sankt Afra students have to leave their cellphones in their rooms or turned off during the school day, Schwerdtfeger said it's common to see academy students have their phones out when walking or even during class. 

Because many of the movies in Germany are from America with German translation, Schwerdfeger said she already had an idea of what America would be like, and the movie depictions were correct.

"You mostly see U.S. students through television and movies, and now that I'm here it's a more authentic, different, but real experience," Eichhorn said. 

On Friday, the exchange students will be returning to Germany. They said they have enjoyed visiting with students and are thankful that everyone has been so kind and welcoming.

Fabian Habsch, teacher at Sankt Afra, said everyone has been generous, and he feels like he has an open invitation to come back and visit at any time.

While the group of Indiana students who will be visiting Germany in the spring have not been selected, preparations for their trip have already begun. 

Contact Sian Rhodes with any comments at srhodes@bsu.edu. Contact Melissa Kraman with any comments at mmkraman@bsu.edu.