German exchange student adjusts to life in Katy

Gabrielle Deckelman, staff writer

She slowly made her way to the front of the room as the teacher placed her poem on the projector. Her auburn hair framed the sides of her face, showing nothing but a faint smile; she kept her wonders and worries tucked inside. “Leonie Duffek,” she began. Through the mist of her deep accent she pronounced each and every word as if she was a natural. Word by word she caught more ears as the room filled with awe and amazement. The bored looks on her classmate’s faces turned to intrigue. She was barely five words into her poem, and the room turned mute; all eyes were fixed on her.  Butterflies tickled her stomach as fear of mispronouncing a word lingered in her mind, though she hid it all. She had said nothing wrong and minutes later, the silence came to an end. The room was overflowing with applause as the teacher asked, “Where are you from?”

After waiting almost a year, junior Leonie Duffek found herself wandering through the endless hallways, though it was not easy getting there. Duffek applied for Educational Resource Development Trust Share, an exchange student organization, last September. Being chosen to participate in ERDT Share requires good grades and financial means. Teachers have to make sure the student is applicable to participate in this organization by grading them on their social abilities and such. Duffek was then selected by a host family in Katy to live with for the next ten months. 

“My biggest motivation was last year [when] I visited my sister in Ohio.” Duffek said. “I like the schools and the people, I want to improve my English and that is why I am here now.”

15,367 miles away from Katy, Leonie lived in a small town outside of Frankfurt. She attended Gymnasium, or high school. Her school consists of over 1,000 students, which is a large number for a school in Germany, and there are about 150 students in her grade.

“In Germany school is so different,” Duffek said. “We don’t have any clubs or sports. It is just studying. School starts also at 7:30 a.m., then we have a whole hour, then after two hours we have a break, then two more hours, then a break, then our last hour. We only have five periods and at 1:20 p.m. we can go home.”

German instruction varies from America’s as they have only one test every six weeks and half of their final grade comes from participation.

Learning English is the norm from for the majority of German students. They start learning in primary school (elementary) with basics such as colors and animals and as they get older the studies become more in-depth.  Duffek has been speaking English for five years and is now fluent, though her nerves seemed to disagree with her as she recited a poem in English class for the first time in America. Other than English, Duffek has been taking French since sixth grade and is currently enrolled in French IV.

“I think it is important to know English,”Duffek said.  “English is the language that almost everybody can speak at least a little bit [of] and it gets more important in business life.”

Although saying goodbye to Germany for ten months was not easy for Leonie, her experience has not been a total culture shock as her sister lives in America. Her host family has made the adjustment a lot easier for her. According to Duffek, she says that biggest difference between Germany and America is the food, culture and the weather in Texas! However drastically different from Germany, she is thrilled to be in America.

“My boyfriend’s totally sad,” Duffek said. “My mom is okay with it because she knows I feel okay here, but she is sad because it is so quiet at home now. My family misses me but they know I want  [to go to school] badly so they are okay with it.”

Back home in Germany, Duffek played tennis and is now on the junior varsity tennis team.  “ Tennis is so different,” Duffek said. “ We do not play tennis at school in Germany and we only practice with about four people, not 40 like on the JV team. I like playing at Cinco and happy to be a part of the team.”

With no H&M, a popular clothing store, in sight, Duffek had to adapt to American fashion.

“ You [Cinco] are a bit more relaxed with fashion,” Duffek said.  “Almost nobody would wear swear pants or school shirts. Most of the people in Germany wear H&M so there are a few differences, though you have Forever XXI.”

Since school in Germany is strictly instruction, school dances do not mark a day on Duffeks calendar every year. 

“ I am excited about homecoming and definitely want to go because we do not have it in Germany,” Duffek said. “We have a school dance at the end of the year, like prom and only for the people that graduate. But it is definitely not as big as prom.”

Duffek’s favorite aspect about going to school in America is the school spirit including theme days, “marooning ” out and attending football games.

“My first football game was awesome,” Duffek said. “ Everybody was freaking out, that was so cool. Even though I did not understand it, I really enjoyed it and can not wait for the next game.”