In 1991, a young woman from North Germany got off of the plane in Bozeman, MT, not knowing what to expect. This young woman, Gesa, scanned the airport, searching for her host family. Finally, she spotted them: Lee and Sandra Hart; their daughter, Kimberly, standing with them.
In 2014, a young woman from North Germany got off of the plane in Billings, MT, not knowing what to expect. This young woman, Janna, scanned the airport, searching for her host family. Finally, she spotted them: Kimberli and Steve McCullough; she would later meet Trevor, Sterling, and Laramie.
It’s funny how history repeats itself. Janna Jordt’s mother, Gesa, had come to Montana as a foreign exchange student twenty-four years earlier and stayed with the Hart family. Gesa and the Hart’s daughter, Kimberly, stayed in touch over the decades. In 2010, the Jordt family came to Montana to visit the McCulloughs. The families traveled throughout Bozeman and Big Timber, and it was with great pleasure that Mrs. McCullough heard that her friend’s daughter, Janna, wanted another taste of the American experience.
Janna arrived in Billings on December 21, 2014 and will be staying with the McCulloughs through March 17, 2015, when she will return to her town twenty minutes from Denmark.
“I like to go to school here because it’s really different,” Janna told me as we chatted about how she likes SGHS. In Germany, the education system is indeed quite different. There are three types of traditional schooling tracks in Germany. The first, and most basic, is the option to attend school from 1st-9th grade. The children that choose this route generally pursue careers in labor. The second track is to attend school from 1st-10th grade, at which time the child and their parents can decide if the student would like to attend three further years of school. The third track, the one that Janna has been on since she was seven, encompasses schooling from 1st-13th grade.
At the end of Grade 13, a student graduates at twenty years old. After graduation, students can apply to college or university, which Janna plans to do. She does not yet know what she is interested in studying at the collegiate level; which makes sense--she has five years left before she needs to make any decisions!
Another significant difference between her school and ours is the size; Janna attends a school that is located adjacent to the school where her mother teaches English, Math, and Science. Between the two schools, the student body amasses a whopping 1,700-1,800.
Additionally, their schedule is much different than ours. In a five-day school week, they have four days of the core subjects: Math, German, and English, with PE and music interspersed in the schedule for two days. Their school day runs from 7:45 to 1:00. In Janna’s school, both teachers and students rotate classrooms between periods. Their break system is very different than the American system, as well. In North Germany, they have a six week holiday over the summer, two weeks off in the fall, two in the winter, and two in the spring.
Fifteen year old Janna is taking a full slate of American classes, despite the fact that the credits will not transfer. Her classes here at SGHS include: Choir, her favorite subject (she loves Mrs. Terland!), Algebra I, Intro to Computers, WWI-Present, English I, and World Music.
Like most teenagers, school isn’t Janna’s favorite thing. Instead, she prefers riding her mare, Summer Sunshine, dancing in the studio, and playing the cello and piano. Music is one of Janna’s great passions, and she has played the cello for 6 years. She enjoys classical music and also informed me that most of the big name music stars in Germany are essentially identical to those here; a few of her favorites include Katy Perry, Sam Smith, Rihanna, and Taylor Swift. Fortunately for the future of German youth, Janna did NOT know what “twerking” was, so that particular disease in American pop culture is not yet a pandemic.
When asked what her impression of America is thus far, she laughed and tossed her blonde hair over her shoulder, “lots of fast food, football, and basketball! We don’t even have football! Oh, and the cheerleaders; I like it!”
Despite all the differences in education and culture, there are some significant parallels between our town and Janna’s. Her town is comprised of modern businesses and old churches, a similar hodgepodge like Big Timber. The large student body at her school is the result of students who commute from neighboring villages; the size of her town is only three thousand.
Much like Montana and Big Timber, the industry surrounding her home is agriculturally oriented. Her father, Juergen (we had a lot of fun as she tried to teach me to pronounce his name), is a farmer who, much like many farmers and ranchers in Big Timber, will eventually pass his farm down to one of his sons, most likely the eldest.
Most people in Big Timber have lived here since the dawn of the time--or at least since their great grandpa brought his herd of sheep up from Arizona in 1821, or arrived from Norway in 1798. People in Janna’s town have lived there for many generations, as well. Both of her parents are from North Germany, as were their parents and grandparents before them.
Janna lives in a rural area where she and her siblings, two younger brothers and one younger sister, have grown up milking the dairy cows on the family farm and riding their bikes to school in the warm months.
Riding bikes is one of the main means of transport in their town. They do have many buses though, and a train that can cart them to larger cities. Most adults drive as well, but driving is very expensive in Germany. At seventeen, a person can get their restricted license where they can drive with a parent. At eighteen, you can test for your license to drive alone. Merely acquiring a license can cost between $2,840 and $3409!
Driving is not the only area where the age restrictions differ. Janna said a teen can drink beer with parental consent at the age of fourteen in Germany, beer and wine with parental consent at sixteen, and “whatever you want!” at eighteen.
Like most Germans, Janna enjoys “futbol” or, as we Americans call it, soccer. Though she says she isn’t good at playing soccer, she would like to remind us all that Germany did win the World Cup last year. Thanks, Janna, for rubbing that one in our faces. We’ll get them next year, ‘Murica!
Though Janna has enjoyed Big Timber and has loved living with the McCulloughs and making friends here, she misses her family and friends at home. She Skypes with her mom and her friends most weekends, and is looking forward to seeing them in a few short weeks!
Luckily for us, this isn’t the last time we’ll be seeing our friend from across the pond. Janna plans to return to Big Timber with her entire family in the summer of 2016; we can’t wait to have her back!