A DOZEN students and three chaperones from Germany are wrapping up a 13-day visit to Quincy today as part of a long-standing exchange program that connects and enriches schools, individuals and communities on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Visitors from Widukind Gymnasium Enger in Herford, Germany, have been going to Quincy Notre Dame and staying with host families since April 19. The German students were honored before last week's meeting of the Quincy City Council. Each of the students told which local family was hosting their stay and several said they were having "a wonderful time" during the cultural exchange.
There's a deeper back story for the annual exchanges between Quincy and Herford.
During the 1840s through 1860s, Quincy was a growing pioneer city that also became a port of entry for thousands of German immigrants in search of greater economic opportunities in the United States. By 1870, 43 percent of Quincy's 24,052 residents were of German ancestry and most were first- or second-generation immigrants.
In the mid-1980s, Friedel Schuette of Herford wrote to The Quincy Herald-Whig to find out what happened to about 200 families who emigrated to Quincy more than a century earlier. That inquiry sparked an interest in both communities and a Sister City relationship was formalized in 1989 between Quincy and Herford. Hundreds of people have since taken tours between the two cities in the decades that followed.
Anette Gater-Smith, a Widukind teacher and chaperone, told The Herald-Whig that her students see themselves as ambassadors for their country, school and families.
"The world is getting so much more complicated that it's just important to realize that you can make friends and live together in peace and try to understand each other. Europe is different to America, and therefore, we have all sorts of stereotypes in our heads. Just to know someone in America, that is very important," Gater-Smith said.
Nine QND students and two chaperones will travel to Herford from June 12 to 29. It will be learning experience for the Quincy contingent.
"Going to a different culture is always very different, very exciting, sometimes scary. Ultimately, it's really important to learn about each other and know where other people in the world are coming from," said Rose Weston, who teaches German at QND.
The Quincy students' trip will not be as scary because they'll have acquaintances and friends from among the Widukind students.
And those relationships and experiences are what drive the Sister City Commission and Quincy's ongoing ties to Herford.