The parent experience

In the July holiday break, 2011, we waited with great anticipation and some trepidation to collect our young German exchange student from the arrival lounge at the Brisbane airport. To our great relief, we were greeted warmly by a bubbly young lady who immediately bonded with us and our sixteen year old daughter. The next six weeks proved to be very enjoyable not only for Johanna but also for the entire family. When it came time to say good-bye to Johanna, we just knew that our daughter would be well cared for in the reciprocal exchange that was to follow some months later. Bernie and Johanna kept regular contact right up to Bernie’s departure for Germany on the 26th November 2011.

The preparation and planning carried out by the volunteers for ‘Society for Australian German Student Exchange Queensland Inc’ was absolutely meticulous and nothing was left to chance. As part of the essential preparations for the exchange students, there was a group meeting held at the KelvinGroveCollege on Saturday 12th November. At this meeting parents and students met the committee members, the leader accompanying the SAGSE Group and of course, all the other excited exchange students. General advice and critical information were provided to students and parents. Rules around personal and group safety were discussed and the air tickets and the official SAGSE jersey were distributed. It was a great opportunity to hear past students’ and parent’s experiences and the advice received was greatly appreciated. We departed this meeting with a feeling of confidence that our daughter would be well cared for in Germany and that there would be a level of supervision commensurate with her age and maturity.

The departure date quickly came around after a busy and demanding round of end of semester examinations and submitted assignments. At the airport, parents and accompanying boyfriends and girlfriends were quickly caught up in the fever of excitement and expectation. After several group photographs, the eager travellers left for the departure lounge and set off on their German adventure of a lifetime.

The seven-day touring itinerary planned by SAGSE was very well organized and catered perfectly for the diverse interests of the group. From all reports and the beautiful photographs, the sight-seeing on this part of the trip was a highlight of this exchange. The experiences ranged from a light-hearted ‘Sound of Music Tour’, an underground train ride into a salt mine, to a more sobering visit to Dachau concentration camp. The scenery was breathtaking and left indelible memories in all the student’s minds.

Bernie’s three weeks in which she attended a High school in Kassel, provided her with an invaluable opportunity to practise using her conversational skills and to learn to use the bus, tram and other transport systems. As Bernie’s host father did not speak English, she was challenged to converse fully in German and this accelerated her learning.

We were so fortunate to have had such wonderful German host parents who went out of their way to give Bernie absolutely amazing experiences. Christmas in Germany was magical. She explored the markets, baked traditional German food with Johanna’s grandmother and experienced Christmas Eve celebrations with the extended family. New Year’s Eve was also special as Bernie danced through the streets of Berlin at the iconic Brandenburg Gate to greet the New Year. She was also able to go tobogganing as snow arrived just before Christmas.

In conclusion, for parents who are considering a SAGSE student exchange, we can highly recommend this wonderful opportunity. Some very sensible advice given to the students was that “Good manners, a pleasant, friendly approach and common sense are the best things you can bring with you and these will help you to be received well by your host family and your school”. We also found this to be the case and Bernie’s positive approach certainly yielded her lasting friendships and many memorable experiences.

Marie and Peter King


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