We recently talked to Beth Lillskau, a German teacher at Prairie Schools in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, about the wonderful exchange program she has with Gymnasium Ebingen, a high school located in Albstadt, Germany.
Xperitas: How did the Prairie School exchange with Gymnasium Ebingen get started?
Beth: In my early years of teaching I couldn’t travel with students, so I hosted German students in the summer and helped organize families from Prairie School to host. (The German students came to Cedar Rapids through Xperitas, formerly ISE.) After I started leading our program in Germany, the idea of the exchange came up. Xperitas staff knew Simone, the teacher in Albstadt, was interested in a reciprocal exchange. Simone and I have become close friends, and I’m thrilled that I get to see her twice a year.
Xperitas: How do you engage families to become hosts?
Beth: All the families who host have students at Prairie schools. Sometimes families want to host because they know they want their child(ren) to travel to Germany and hosting will help them make connections before the program. Sometimes families want to host because their child may not be able to participate in the German immersion program. Hosting is a way to bring German language and culture into their home. One of my favorite parts of the exchange is watching students and families grow and become more understanding.
Xperitas: How does having an exchange enhance the immersion experience for your students?
Beth: Students who participate in the exchange are in close contact much sooner, so they have more time to build a relationship. When my students get off the bus in Albstadt, they run to greet their friends. When we first began the exchange, I started hosting a potluck at my house so the hosts could touch base and the German students could connect. We have regular events scheduled while the German students are in Cedar Rapids. Prairie students come to the exchange events even if they don’t host or travel and get a chance to get to know the German students. As soon as the German students leave Iowa, we start planning for our program in Germany. Simone and I work together to match students.
Xperitas: How has Xperitas helped facilitate your exchange?
Beth: Xperitas has been an important partner with me in planning, logistics and payment collection and processing. Xperitas has also provided our students with insurance coverage. Working with Xperitas has allowed Simone and me to focus on the exchange and helped us to build a robust program.
Xperitas: Are there any exchange relationship stories you would share with us?
Beth: We have a Prairie family who hosted the first year whose German “sister” Helena, returned three years in a row to visit. Both of the Prairie family’s students participated in the Prairie German immersion program and their son, who is now in college, just participated in a J- term program in Austria. While he was there, the whole family went to visit Helena’s family in Albstadt. These really are relationships that can last a lifetime.
Beth Lillskau has been teaching at Prairie Schools for 20 years and has been leading her Xperitas program in Germany for almsot ten years. She is a fabulous teacher and will be presenting a session at the 2020 Xperitas Global Leaders Conference in January about creating an exchange program.
Thank you, Beth, for all you do for your students and for sharing your expertise with the Xperitas community!