Austrian students share stories of international simililarities with KSC German class
Language acts to both divide and unite. As the students in Allison Pantesco’s German 101 class have learned throughout the semester—becoming skilled in another language is difficult for most and the best way to practice a newfound language is to practice on those who speak it. This was the experience of many of Pantesco’s students Wednesday, Oct. 24, when native speaking Austrian students, who are in the United States on a three-week class trip, came for a visit.
The 20 students, some of them wearing traditional Austrian garb of a dirndl (a type of dress), and their two teachers came from the Akademisches Gymnasium Salzburg (a high school in Salzburg).
The day they visited Pantesco’s class, they had just finished their first week in the United States and were both still reeling from jet lag and the sometimes overwhelming “culture shock.”
Their teacher, Fritz Baier, has taken many Austrian students to the United States over the years, and he had several goals for this trip, including opening the students’ eyes to life outside of Austria, and to dispel some common perceptions of the United States garnered through pop culture representations and Hollywood movies. According to him, the students were most surprised by how similar their experiences have been to what is represented in movies. They wanted to ride on a school bus, he said, because Salzburg (a large city) does not use them. The students associated school buses with American culture, as well as good food served in extremely large portions.
Since the students are spending two weeks at ConVal High School in Peterborough, N.H. and then one week traveling, they are having the opportunity to peak into the culture and communities of southern New Hampshire, a place that is similar to Austria in climate, but different in many other aspects—including language and cultural norms.
One way Austria and the United States differ is in the education system and structuring of high school. According to Baier, high school students spend eight years at the Gymnasium, a type of high school that is primarily focused on giving students skills for secondary education.
In Austria, there are two tracks for high school students—the gymnasium and a school for more vocational and technical skilled students. This type of education system creates a specific track for students, and differs from the education system in the United States—one that generally offers college-track courses through the high school, not through a separate facility.
As the students from Keene State College and the Austrian students exchanged a scripted interview provided by Pantesco, the teachers talked with each other and Pantesco. The interview involved asking questions of the Austrians—including their names, nicknames, where they lived and went to school, and what their hobbies are. Some of the American students struggled with the German, however the Austrian students all spoke fluent English—according to Baier, only one of the three or four languages the students know. About half of the students, Baier said, have non-Austrian parents and therefore have dual citizenships with other countries. Once the interviews were over, the Austrian students presented a PowerPoint they had created that featured tourist sites in Salzburg.
The students presented it in German, which gave the KSC students greater exposure to conversational German. After the presentation, the Keene students asked a range of questions for the Austrians, from the drinking age in the country (16-years-old for beer and wine, 18 for liquor) to the Austrians’ perceptions of the presidential candidates—Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. According to the Austrian students, the news’ coverage of the election was overpowering local Austrian news, and Baier said, “About 80 percent of the news we have is not coming out of Europe.”
Another topic of conversation was Austria’s view on the European Union, and whether Austrians supported its membership. According to Baier and the students, the economic climate in Austria is facing some problems and some Austrians have begun to question whether the European Union is the best place for the country to be at this time.
However, most Austrians support the policies of the EU and are happy to remain in it.
The students also responded to questions involving the secondary education system in Austria. According to the students, about 80 percent of Gymnasium students attend universities. While at these school, they pay no tuition because it is all funded through higher taxes. After the Austrian students left, Pantesco said she heard them talking in the hall about their experience with the KSC students. She said, “They loved it! They were sad to leave and wanted to spend more time with them.”
One KSC student, Selena Messina, when asked about what was helpful about them visiting, said, “Hearing them talk and answering our questions.” Practice makes perfect in every skill, including learning a new language.
In response to someone asking what makes this trip unique, Baier responded that the students are not traveling as tourists, but that they are here to learn something and take that back with them when they return home. As Baier said, “They will bring back stories, not souvenirs.”
Hannah Walker can be contacted at