By Yadira Lopez ’21
In mid-December of 2018, sophomore Classical Literature and Composition teacher Benjamin Groch and Katharina Claucig-Obermayer, an austrian English and History teacher for different grade levels, started a cultural exchange program to expose students to different cultures and lifestyles.
This exchange includes students from Groch’s and Claucig-Obermayer’s classes, who are about the same age. Claucig-Obermayer’s students study at HTL Wels, which is located in Austria. The first projects assigned included the creation of an introduction video and a continuous written exchange through Google Docs.
Groch stated, “The goal is to give exposure to my students [to] different cultures and to see how kids from other places live and, really, how similar their lifestyles are, but also how different it is.” Part of the reasoning behind this was how Pritzker students would do well in college but “they’d have culture shock.” Groch believes he can take something away from this too: “It’s interesting for me to see what [the students’] perception of [their lifestyle] is only getting bits of information […] whereas they may have a better understanding of what life in America is like through media, movies, television.” Claucig-Obermayer noted how this experience is “very valuable” due to the practice and experience her students will receive.
Sophomore Emily Gonzalez’s interest spiked when Groch started to introduce the project as “more of a creative aspect” and how the students “get to meet people from across the [world].” She added on, “I was intrigued because I was never involved in a project to this extent.” Similarly, Sophomore Eric Morales, decided to join due to the exposure.He added on how, “[This] is something that I will like to learn and become friends with and learn a thing or two [from] over there.”
When asked what she expects to take away from this program, Gonzalez stated how she expects to gain ”a new experience.” She expects to meet new people and adds on, “Definitely also pushing my boundaries as well as with a video and my editing skills.” In addition to that she “[thinks] it is great to experience an authentic accent.”
This experience can also help Morales compare American high schools with Austrian schools and how this program is “something that brings [them] down to a human state.” Apart from that, Morales stated, “ There is a possibility I can learn a little German.”
As for challenges, Gonzalez stated, “I feel like a major challenge is the time difference because we are so far apart and you don’t know what life is like over there.” Morales stated, “Some challenges would be responding on time to my buddy because the difference with this is that this isn’t really a project […] This is something that is completely choice […] on top of school work and all of that.”
Groch spoke about the challenge with “organizing [the project] and presenting it in a way that is clear and interesting.”
Similarly, Claucig-Obermayer stated how “making Austrian students aware of what might be interesting for U.S. students to know” might be an obstacle. “Another challenge is matching buddies in a way that makes sense because it is possible that you get paired with someone who really you have nothing in common with,” Groch mentioned.
When asked if they would recommend this program to anyone, Gonzalez stated, “It’s an experience someone should have at least once. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s also a way to help the individuals grow and expand their knowledge on the world.” Morales stated, “It is something that I do recommend because you get a better perspective and you get to meet people that you would have never gotten the opportunity to meet if it weren’t for this.”
Some future assignments that have been discussed include creating a forum, another video or voice recording, assignments involving the students’ surroundings such as family and their neighborhood, and Pritzker students might learn some German.