Exploring student life

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A bit of a cultural exchange occurred Wednesday, Sept. 4, at Paris High School.

Nathan Ritter and Westin Ritter, 17-year-old twin brothers from Germany, wanted to experience a typical day in an American school and were paired with PHS students Richard Lin and Justyn Allen. The Ritters shadowed their hosts as they went to class and participated in other school activities.

PHS was picked because the twins’ mother, Sharon Stireck Ritter, is from Paris, and their maternal grandmother still lives here. The family was in town for a visit when the school day was arranged.

The German school system is different from the United States. According to the twins, there are three levels of high schools. Gymnasium serves as a middle ground teaching all subjects for a general-purpose education. There is another tier below gymnasium, which they said has a less demanding curriculum. They attend a top-tier or technical high school.

“We are basically being prepared to study mechanical engineering,” said Nathan Ritter, adding they are not obligated to study engineering after entering university.

Like many 17 year olds, they haven’t fully settled on what they want to do. Nathan Ritter is interested in biotechnology or perhaps computer programming. Westin Ritter is leaning toward some type of engineering studies or pursuing a degree in physics.

Their hosts for the day plan to study engineering after graduating. Lin wants to pursue computer engineering, which he described as half computers and half electrical engineering.

Aerospace engineering is the path for Allen.

“My father is a civil engineer,” said Allen. “I’ve always wanted to be an engineer.”

Other differences between the two high school systems they noted are:

-Even though they are 17 and are in the 12th grade, the time most Americans are preparing to finish high school, they still have two more years of high school before entering a university.

-American schools teach the same subjects every day, but the German technical school varies the subjects according to the day.

-Class periods in Germany are longer and the school day is usually shorter, but some school days can go as late as 5 p.m.

-German high schools do not have lockers for students to use nor do they have extracurricular activities like band and sports teams.

As students at a German technical high school, their class work includes working with shop tools like drill presses, lathes and more.

“We have shop class to make things,” said Westin Ritter. “In mechanical engineering, we have to use metals to understand how they work. It’s pretty cool.”

Lin expressed a bit of jealousy noting the academic oriented college prep track in American education does not allow time for the hands-on experience of making something to see how it works.

“I’d like to have a hands-on approach. It would be nice to be doing something by myself,” said Lin. “I think electrical engineering is pretty cool, but we don’t have classes around that.”

The Paris students learned some important cultural differences between German and American teens.

For example, it is much harder to obtain a drivers license in Germany.

“They don’t see driving as a necessity,” said Allen.

Lin said talking with the Ritters gave him a better understanding of how the German government and economy works.

And another big difference – it is legal for 16 year olds in Germany to purchase and consume beer and wine, but not spirits.