QUINCY -- It didn't take long for Amelie Becker to notice a key difference between classrooms at Quincy Notre Dame and in her school in Germany.
"We don't have iPads in school," the 16-year-old said. "We just have the old chalkboards. That's pretty cool to have that here."
The 11 students from a typical German grammar school and two adults wrap up a two-week visit to Quincy on Tuesday. The visit is part of a cultural and educational exchange sponsored by the Sister City organizations of Quincy and Herford, Germany.
The German students spent a day in St. Louis, worked on a community service project, attended QND classes and toured a historic Quincy cemetery where they recognized many of the same names still present in their own community.
Erik Plischke's highlight was a ride on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, thanks to a friend of his host student's grandma, and all the students made sure to sample a wide variety of food, especially burgers.
Meals in Germany are "healthier," 16-year-old Hanna Wacker said. "It's very good to eat a lot of fast food."
Launching the exchange program back in 2010 met a long-established goal for more connection between the two communities "because there are the roots of this community here in our part of the world," said teacher Anette Gater-Smith, who is making her last trip to Quincy accompanying students from the school in Enger, a community not far from Herford.
"One thing that's important about having the German students come over and about when we go over there is that it gives our students a chance to practice their German with native German speakers and it gives their students a chance to practice their English with native English speakers," QND German teacher Rose Weston said.
Staying with families also gives both sets of students better insight into culture and daily life in both countries. "Students can make even more a connection than just visiting," Weston said.
"It's becoming friends from being total strangers, to see what we have in common, what is different," said Gater-Smith, who hopes to see one of her fellow teachers continue the program. "It has enriched my life so much."
The German students gain an appreciation for American history – this year studying European emigration and its impact on the Native American population and culture before making the trip – and for people in the Midwest.
"When you first meet people in Germany, everybody is kind of shy. They want to get to know you slowly, then start talking to you," Amelie said. "Here everybody wants to know everything right away. They talk to you. I really like that."
QND senior Jake Schreacke and his family hosted two of the German students, and he's taken advantage of the opportunity to practice his German-speaking skills.
"I want to learn the language really well. I love to talk with them in German. I like to learn from them," he said. "It's like having two brothers. They fit right into the family."
Having the German students here "is a pretty cool experience," said QND sophomore Aiyana Fenton who hosted Hanna. "You get to pick up on things you've learned -- and get to try to figure out what they're saying sometimes."