Willkommen! German journalists visit Hoboken High to speak to students

German reporters seemed a bit bewildered by Americans’ environmental priorities recently.

During a recent visit to Hoboken High School, 12 visiting journalists expressed confusion at the fact that American cities have banned smoking in restaurants to help clean up the air, and yet, Americans drive gas-guzzling Sport Utility Vehicles.

“I’ve never seen discos this clean. You wouldn’t find this in Germany; everybody is smoking,” said Neno Kampmann, an editor from Phoenix Television in Hamburg who confessed to being a smoker. “I appreciate that very much, but I don’t understand how on individual things you are conscious about the environment, but you don’t care about garbage in the street or the amount of gas you use in your car.”

Some of Hoboken High School’s accelerated students, the ones in the International Baccalaureate program, hosted the 12 German media correspondents last month to discuss the politics and history that the two nations share.

For the German journalists, the experience concluded a four-week visit to various United States destinations to assess American culture first-hand.

The students, some of who aspire to become journalists, found the exposure to the foreigners’ opinions eye-opening.

“The kids now look at their individual actions and our government’s actions in a new light,” said HHS history teacher Rachel Grygiel, who was largely responsible for coordinating the discussion. “By getting an outside view of the U.S., they have started to question the status quo.”

Education and freedom

“Americans are our best friends,” said Sandra Schultz, an assistant program director at Deutschland-funk radio in Berlin. “They helped us get settled after World War II [and] I’m convinced that Germans never forgot that.”

Another German reporter named Marius Zekri added, “A general [German] view [of America] is very influenced by Hollywood and the movies. Germans have this image of middle class people having big cars, and there’s an impression that Americans are kind of superficial. My personal experience is quite different – rather, they are very educated and interesting people.”

In response, the students offered up their opinions of Germany.

“I feel a lot of stereotypes we have about Germans is of a very rigid society, a very orderly people,” said Alex Tuel.

This stereotype proved partially true for the German education system the reporters described, which, compared to the American model, is restrictive. German students enter 1st grade at the age of 6, and after 4th grade they are enrolled, according to their academic ability, into one of three schools aimed at putting the student on a specific career path.

“I gained a better understanding of German education [and how] they choose their occupation at a very early age in life,” said senior Erika Williams. “Once it’s chosen, it pretty much cannot be changed. It seems that education is not taken very seriously among the majority of America’s youth, and most people tend to concern themselves more with pop culture than world issues or academics.”

After the discussion, senior Pratik Lakdawala felt relieved to be a U.S. student.

“Students in America are encouraged to pursue their dreams and try to make them into reality, whereas German pupils are not,” he said, “a fact that simply bewildered me. The discussion inspired me to follow my dreams, no matter what obstacles I may have to overcome.”

Environmental concerns

Environmental issues took up much of the discussion. The Germans were unable to comprehend the fact that Americans are obsessed with exercising and smoking bans but still drive SUVs instead of more environmentally friendly cars.

“Why don’t you drive a smaller car?” one German reporter asked.

The students agreed with the Germans’ assessment.

“I think in the environment we’re definitely lagging behind in any type of legislation or production that can help the environment,” said Paula Marin. “We’re convinced that bigger is better in this country. I don’t think it’s necessarily true.”

German/American journalist exchange program

The trans-Atlantic journalist exchange program began in 1994 to reaffirm a relationship established during the Cold War. Radio in the America Sector (RIAS), a bi-national organization that maintains relationships with America, partnered with the Radio and Television News Director Foundation (RTNDF), an American non-profit journalism training institution, that offers programs to radio and television correspondents from both nations.

U.S. occupational authorities had originally created RIAS in the years following World War II, providing Berliners with an unbiased source from which to receive their news and entertainment programming.

As a result of the journalist exchange program, almost 700 American and German journalists had the opportunity to experience both countries firsthand in the past 12 years. The German journalists take part in a month-long tour, which begins with in Washington D.C. and ends in New York City with a visit to the United Nations and radio and television stations.

Americans journalists spend two weeks traveling through four German cities, which include Berlin and Brussels, a former eastern city such as Dresden or Leipzig, and a former western city such as Frankfurt, Hamburg, Cologne, or Bonn. During their visit, the American journalists meet with media, political, economic, and trade officials.

For more information on the exchange program, visit http://www.rtnda.org.

Michael Mullins can be reached at mmullins@hudsonreporter.com.


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