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Voyageurs students learn and serve in Germany

After about a year of studying the German language and culture, three Voyageurs Expeditionary High School students took learning to the next level by traveling to Germany.

World languages teacher Ann Skoe, who lived in Germany as a child, and junior Kendra Belcher, junior Heather Bird and senior Janae Kauppi traveled to Germany on Easter Sunday for a two-week trip. Joining the group for part of the trip was Skoe's father, Ralph Skoe of Northome.

The trip combined the school's aims of world citizenship, expeditionary learning and community service.

For the first week, Skoe and the students taught English to German children at Language Farm in a town called Freienorla in eastern Germany.

Skoe's friend Sven Seifert is the director of Language Farm. Seifert and Skoe studied together in Goettingen, Germany, and worked together at the German wilderness program at Concordia Language Villages near Bemidji.

At Language Farm, Skoe and the students led a small language group. Besides teaching English, they also cooked meals, took care of animals and cleaned at the farm.

"After the farm, we traveled to Weimar," Belcher said.

Weimar, which served as the capital of Germany between World War I and World War II, is the home of two German poets, Goethe and Schiller. The group visited Goethe's garden home in Weimar and learned about gingko trees, which Goethe reintroduced to Europe, Skoe said.

With Weimar as their base for three nights, the group also traveled 10 kilometers north of town to visit the Buchenwald concentration camp.

The group also took a train to Eisenach, where they visited Wartburg Castle, where Martin Luther translated the Bible from Greek to German in 11 weeks. The castle was also the home of Saint Elizabeth.

In Eisenach, the group also visited the house of composer Johann Sebastian Bach and an attached Bach museum.

Then, it was off to Berlin. The group stayed in Germany's capital city for three days with the in-laws of one of Skoe's friends.

"We toured the new part of Berlin, we rode around in a double-decker bus and then we went shopping," said Belcher, noting that they also visited the older part of Berlin.

The group headed to Bingen for the final day of the trip.

"We had a nice dinner and we walked around and saw the city," Skoe said. "It's on the Rhine River."

Discoveries abroad

Several aspects of Germany made an impression on the students, including the modes of transportation available.

"We took everything," said Kauppi, noting that transportation ranges from trains to street cars to subways to buses.

"I love the transportation," Belcher said. "I like the trains and the buses. The double-decker bus was one of my favorites."

Also impacting the students were the German people.

"The people in the small towns were super, super nice," Kauppi said.

Kauppi said she was also impressed by Germany's efforts to minimize waste. According to Skoe, the cost of disposal of the packaging of products ranging from food to household items is paid by the producers of the products.

"It's kind of cool," Kauppi said. "They care more."

Whether buying ice cream or shopping for souvenirs, the students practiced their German throughout the trip.

While it was difficult at first, Bird said she improved because she heard it all the time.

"It gets easier as it goes along," she said.