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Sue Bush
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Experiencing America - Pop-Tarts And All

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Monday, May 08, 2006

Kim Vincenz of Bremen, Germany, has spent the 2005-06 school year as a Charles H. McCann Technical High School student.
North Adams- Kim Vincenz is approaching the end of an "Academic Year In America" student study program. Vincenz, 18, has spent the 2005-06 academic year enrolled as a senior-year student at the Charles H. McCann Technical High School and has shared a Florida home with Peter and Linda Haas and the couple's daughter, Jessica.

Friends have told Vincenz that the past winter produced unusually mild temperatures and surprisingly little snowfall by most New England standards.

If This Was A Mild Winter....

"I have never seen so much snow in my life," Vincenz said of the previous mountain-town winter. "And it was cold."

Her native city of Breman, located in Germany, hosts a population of about 600,000 people and experiences four seasons, she said.

"But our winter is warmer and our summer is longer," she explained. "Our snow comes down and then, mud. We have mostly mud."

Frosted Or Plain?

At home in Germany, Vincenz lives with her father, step-mother and two step-siblings. The family is devoted to a healthy lifestyle and diet that doesn't include "junk food" such as candy and very rarely includes fast foods, she said.

The American visit has introduced Vincenz to some new, decidedly not lean "cuisine."

"I never had Pop-Tarts in my life," she said. "And Krispy Kreme doughnuts, they were really good."

Vincenz arrived in the U.S. in August as an American Institute for Foreign Study, Inc. [AIFS] affiliated student. The organization and its' associated companies arrange world-wide cultural exchange programs for over 50,000 students. AIFS was founded in 1964 and since then, more than 1 million students and teachers have participated in the organization's programs throughout the world.

The American trip is part of Vincenz's continuing education in Germany; here, she will be presented with a diploma during the upcoming McCann graduation. She spent the school year studying the school's Office Technologies curriculum.

Education Differences

Vincenz came to McCann as a gifted student and has excelled throughout the academic year, said high school Principal Gary Rivers.

"If you look at her transcripts, her curriculum in Germany,and the curriculum in Europe, exceeds the United States curriculum," Rivers said. "And that is true of any public school. We were very impressed with her grades, which were 'A's.' Her grades are very, very good here as well. Put it this way, Mr Brosnan [school district Superintendent James Brosnan] called OT for someone, and he told them to send the very best student for this particular thing. They sent Kim."

Vincenz said that many of her classmates are exceptionally skilled.

"They sent me because everybody has senior projects," she said.

The German education system is different from the U.S. system. In Germany, students attend school from kindergarten to the German version of grade 10. The student drop-out rate is very low, said Vincenz.

A typical German school day for Vincenz began at about 8 a.m. and concluded between 1 p.m and 2 p.m.. Students are provided with two short breaks during the day, but there is no lunch period, she said.

Grades 11, 12, and 13 are considered preparatory education levels for students planning to attend "university," said Vincenz. Students do have to apply for acceptance to those grade levels but most who apply are able to enroll, she said.

"You only apply if you know you can do it, otherwise, it makes no sense," Vincenz said.

She plans to attend university, she said.

Students who have completed the tenth grade and do not plan to attend university begin a different education process. The education often includes three days per week of employment and two days of classroom-based, job-related learning, she said.

Vincenz was enrolled at Sekunder Bereich ll an der Granzstrasse Bremen. McCann school compares very favorably with her native school, she said.

"I love it," she said. "I think it is a great school. I heard bad things about the American school system but the classes here are wonderful."

She first visited the McCann campus for an orientation.

"My impression was that it was really nice," she said. "On the first day of school everything was new and I was thinking 'wow.' Everyone was really friendly and everyone offered to help me. What I recognize is that everyone sees things from a different view. So I see how the German teachers see things and now I see how the Americans view things. I can connect the two views."

Her career goals include hotel management, and the McCann curriculum includes skills that will help her in that pursuit, she said.

Extracurriculars

Vincenz said that the German schools she is familiar with do not host dances or proms, and she is eagerly anticipating attending the McCann prom.

"I wouldn't want to miss it," she said, and added that while she has no experience with high school proms, the excitement of her friends is contagious.

Youth clubs are not affiliated with schools in Germany, Vincenz said.

"You have school, and you have clubs," she said. "Clubs are not at school. Clubs are hobbies and you it in your private time."

Teen-aged students in Germany may have much freedom or very little freedom, much like their American counterparts, she said.

"It depends on the parents. Some parents are strict and some are not."

Drinking, Driving, Dining Out

Vincenz has legally consumed beer and wine while in Breman because in Germany, youth aged 16 may purchase and drink those beverages.

Liquors such as vodka, rum, or gin may not be purchased or consumed until individuals have reached 18 years old. Parents may serve beer and wine to their children within the home when a child is 12 years old.

Problems associated with youth drinking are rare in Germany, Vincenz said.

"Most teens have drinking experience with their parents before they are 16," she said. "Parents teach the responsibility, so when you are 16, you know how you will react [to beer and wine consumption]."

Driver's licenses may not be acquired until people reach 18 years old, Vincenz said.

"One thing I really like here is that people always say 'how are you,'" Vincenz said. "That is not a greeting thing in Germany like here. And people here go out to dinner a lot. My family goes out to dinner maybe two times a year and there is a reason, an occasion for it."

Geographic distance between destination points in the rural Northern Berkshires is much greater than in Breman, she said.

"There is more time in the car here," she noted.

And the big city offers much more mass transit than is offered in Florida or North Adams, she said.

The Breman crime rate was not high, and was reduced further after significant, well-publicized security measures were put into practice about two years ago, Vincenz said.

"You hear about something [criminal] once in a while," she said.

The Not-So-Fast Track

The famed Autobahn, Germany's national highway system that covers about 6,800 miles and was designed to connect Germany's major metropolitan areas, isn't quite the speedway most Americans believe it to be, she said.

While it is true the roadway hosts no speed limit, during normal driving hours, the highway is far too congested to permit the high driving speeds often depicted in movies or envisioned in the minds of daredevil drivers, she said.

And American motor vehicles are super-sized when compared to most German vehicles, she said.

A gallon of gasoline sells for about $7 to $9 a gallon in Germany at this time, she added.

Holidays such as Christmas and Easter are similar in both countries, but Germany has no equivalent of the American Thanksgiving holiday, she said.

"Thanksgiving - huge tables, huge food," she said.

Soccer, Soccer, and, Oh, Yeah, Soccer

Football, baseball, basketball; Americans enjoy many more sports than the folks in Germany and Europe. Soccer is "the" sport in Europe and this year, soccer's famed World Cup event is slated to begin in Germany in June.

"Soccer is the only sport," she said. "Everything is soccer. The World Cup, soccer, in Germany, in June, I am very excited. All the countries, all in one place, just enjoying."

Vincenz has a boyfriend and he came to visit her during February. He enjoyed his visit greatly, she said.

"He loved it here," Vincenz said."I miss him. We talk a lot online and on the phone."

Vincenz is planning to leave the country and travel to Germany on June 11. There are many things she will miss about the Northern Berkshires.

"I'm going to miss the mountains," she said. "We don't have mountains where I live. I will miss my friends and I will really miss my host family."

As Free As It Can Be

During her first days as a McCann student, she was peppered with questions about the legal drinking age in Germany and the Autobahn. When she returns to Bremen, people will almost certainly pose numerous questions about the United States, she said.

Answering the questions with any amount of detail may be very difficult, she said.

"I'll probably just say that it is different. There's no way to explain it all in just a few sentences. I could talk for two hours and not tell half of it."

And when asked if she believes that the United States is as free a nation as people from other parts of the world expect, Vincenz paused and pondered before speaking.

"It's as free as it can be in this world."

Information about the AIFS may be acquired at a www.academicyear.org Internet web site.

Susan Bush may be contacted via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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