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Whitewater High celebrates exchange program with Danish school

Whitewater High prides itself on innovation. For proof, look no further than an exchange program they participate in that takes the tradition to a whole other level. Recently, the school hosted a celebration for the completion of a visit from students from Denmark who helped teach German on the heels of Whitewater students traveling to Denmark to help teach English. 

The exchange program is the brainchild of Margret Heeren, a teacher at the Middelfart Gymnasium school in Denmark, who worked with Whitewater German teachers Karen Dean and Michael Floyd. Planning started in 2016, with the first group of Danish students coming to the USA in 2017, then Whitewater students going to Denmark last year, and Danish students returning for the just-completed trip. 

“I decided that I really wanted to do an exchange program with an American school, but since I’m a German in Denmark and I teach English I had to come up with a new idea on how to do exchange programs,” Heeren said. “Nobody speaks Danish over here, so I thought why don’t we let second language learners meet each other in the classroom.”

Students from Denmark and Whitewater High gather with their teachers at the recent completion of the Danish students’ visit to America as part of their exchange program.
(Special Photo)

Christian Alnor, Principal at Middelfart Gymnasium, joined in the festivities via teleconference and lauded how the program teaches those involved how their differences really aren’t all that different.

“Although there are a lot of differences between your country and our country, basically life is the same,” said Alnor. “I don’t know what is more rewarding than working together with someone to accomplish something that is good. We can really accomplish something when we work towards a common goal.”

Whitewater Principal Steve Cole is also excited about the potential of the program.

“This has turned into a great experience for all of us,” he said. “I look around the room and, between our students and your students, we’ve got some great young people, and there’s no telling what’s going to happen to our word because of these young minds right here.”

The celebration also included dignitaries like Christopher N. Smith, Honorary Consul from the Royal Danish Consulate. The Royal Danish Consulate is located in Macon, and Smith noted that Denmark has a longer unbroken relationship with the state of Georgia than any country, dating back to 1802.

Margret Heeren, a teacher at the Middelfart Gymnasium school in Denmark who pioneered the program, speaks while her principal, Christian Alnor, joins in on the teleconference. 

Whitewater student Cady Leach enjoyed the opportunity to explore another culture when she traveled to Denmark last year. 

“When we went to Denmark and taught English, we learned a lot about what they knew in English and where they got slang terms from and what they found interesting about American culture,” she said. “It was a very good cross-cultural experience.”

Patrick Lampel enjoyed the different learning environment when he traveled to Denmark. 

“It was pretty phenomenal, a little bit of a cultural difference. It felt a lot like California,” he said. “It definitely feels a lot like a liberal arts-type college that we have here. There’s a lot more freedom in the classrooms, a lot more group work. They put a lot more emphasis on the individuals within the group than they do a teacher just lecturing.”

Cecilia, one of the Danish students, also noticed a difference in learning styles. 

“It’s very different in the fact that they take the same classes at the same time every day and have seven periods every day,” she said. “It’s very long. Sometimes we get off at 12.”

She also appreciated what teaching other students showed her.

“It put things in perspective to see our teachers’ perspective.”

Heeran is hopeful the exchange program will continue for a long time.

“Every other year I’m hoping we will be here, as long as they will let us.”

Principal Cole is eager to keep it going. 

“I can’t wait to do it again.”

By Christopher Dunn

Managing Editor Christopher Dunn has been with the Fayette County News since 2011, in addition to running Fayette Victory magazine. He is a graduate of Fayette County schools, as well as a graduate of Georgia State University with a degree in journalism. Follow him on twitter @fayettesports.