The Stuttgart Exchange
For the past twelve years, we have enjoyed an extraordinary exchange with the Steiner School in Stuttgart, Germany. As a result of the efforts of people like Colwell Center Director Glenn Ehrean, hundreds of Academy students and a dozen faculty have traveled to Stuttgart and have hosted students and faculty from Germany in exchange. Furthermore, in preparation for their studies abroad, these students and faculty have learned some German and some key aspects of German culture. Programs like these make the world seem a little bit smaller and help the Colwell Center spread its message that “different doesn’t necessarily mean wrong” and “what unites us as human beings is far more powerful and important than what divides us”—two ideas that our world urgently needs to understand and act upon.
As we said goodbye to this year’s group of students from Stuttgart, Glen and two students from Stuttgart highlighted this message. Glenn said, in part,
Our world is more fluid than ever. Information flows across the globe at the speed of light. Ideas, that used to take decades to percolate from one society to another, now sometimes spread in days or weeks. Goods are shipped between countries and continents like never before. Did you know that Mercedes, a company from Stuttgart, Germany makes cars in a factory in Indiana that are then all shipped to China? In addition to goods and ideas, people are also on the move more than ever. Our student body is a great example of that.
The news reminds us, though, that many of the people who are crisscrossing our globe are actually moving out of desperation and fear. People are seeking better lives. They are more aware than ever of how good some have it and how bad their own situation may be. And so, some people migrate. Central Americans trek north through Mexico to the United States. People from Sub-Saharan Africa cross vast tracts of land to hop on boats run by unscrupulous human traffickers to make for the southern shores of the European Union. Some other people are fleeing persecution and war. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled Syria. Well over 100,000 have fled the political struggles and fighting in Burundi to find safer lives in Rwanda.
It's so important to remember that these are all people. We read of them as numbers. We see them as masses...groups, not individuals. However, what moves them is the same thing that moves you to come to school each day, to get a job, to think about your future. How fortunate that you are not in their shoes.
With so many different peoples on the move, it is very important to know the world, because even if you are not going out to see and explore it, it is coming to you!
This morning we celebrate 12 young people who were moved to spend time with us. They joined our rather rural community, they joined our classes, and they joined our unique local and school cultures. They came here knowing there would probably be uncomfortable times...getting adjusted to new families, classes, and a new learning environment in another language. They embraced this opportunity, though, and have benefited in ways big and small, obvious and hidden.
We would do well to emulate them.
After Glenn’s speech, Chantal Kavain, a student from Stuttgart, spoke about the personal impact of the exchange:
The last six weeks showed me how it is to go to another country, to another school, and how it is to have different classes in a language that I usually don't speak at home. It showed me that school doesn't have to be that "boring" place where you go every single day and graduate after a few years and be happy that you never have to show up again. The Academy showed me that a school can also be a place where different cultures, different languages come together and build one great community. It showed me how it is when students respect each other and their origins. It showed me how it is when friends become family and make you miss home a little bit less. My time here was amazing and I will keep the memories out of this time, in my heart, for my lifetime.
The final speech was from Stuttgart student Favian Bauer, who broadened our focus beyond this exchange:
My stay here in St. Johnsbury has made me think about education from time to time. There has been the question in my head: "What is education at all?" "Is it really only achieved by accumulating knowledge in one’s mind?" I have come to a point now where I can say: "No it is not!"
Education for me as well implies a widening of the amount of perspectives on the world—continuously— so that we are able to evaluate our surrounding with a clearer and more tolerant view. And this is why l consider such exchange programs so valuable. By being fully involved in an entirely different culture, school system, and society, our range of views on this world has significantly changed.
But all this would at the end not have been possible without the huge effort of organization, that it took to make this trip what it was. So in the name of our group I want to thank you all, the whole school community for making this place what it is and especially Mr. Ehrean, who was responsible for the organization of our stay here with all the wonderful group activities and the weekend in New York City.
All this was part of making this exchange an unforgettable and long-lasting life experience for all of us which should be continued under all circumstances for following students in the future.
This “widening of the amount of perspectives on the world—continuously—so that we are able to evaluate our surrounding with a clearer and more tolerant view” is exactly what we are after with programs like Stuttgart. All of the students who participated in the exchange came to know each other as individuals. The relationships they formed changed them; they will remember this time and think differently. This is why we established the Colwell Center. We remain committed to making opportunities similar to Stuttgart available to our students and to opening our community to students from all over the world.