The history of our Hamburg Exchange Programme
A student exchange programme with an inner-German school is something every German School Abroad strives for. It offers students the opportunity to put into practice their learned skills in the foreign language, to further personal development and to get to know everyday life in a foreign country. The exchange with the Immanuel-Kant-Gymnasium in Hamburg has been in place for over 30 years.
In 1987, when the Transition Year was introduced, the school also took a radical new approach to the student exchange, trying to combine the academic goal of language acquisition with the social objectives of this bridge year between Junior Cert and Leaving Cert. The idea was that the work experience which the Department of Education encouraged for TY would not be conducted in Ireland but in Germany. The students would stay with guest families, like during a traditional exchange, and also later host their partners in Ireland, but they would not go to school together with their partners but get to know the German work environment – maybe even opening their minds to the possibility of a university course or vocational training in Germany. At the same time, they would increase their chances of successfully passing the Sprachdiplom, a German language certificate, and this positive effect has indeed materialised.
Herr Zahn, who had come to Dublin as an exchange teacher from Hamburg, still had many contacts in his former home city. With substantial support from the Rotary Club he managed to find enough work experience places for all students. This laid the foundation for a very successful and long-standing exchange which has not only brought together many people and facilitated new friendships but has, year after year, provided both sides with insights into the political, economic and cultural conditions in the other country. For example, in 1991 students from St. Kilian’s came to Germany and directly experienced the German re-unification:
And in 2009, when the economic crisis was at its peak in Ireland, Birgit Fischer, a German teacher from Hamburg, gathered the following impressions:
“‘ln Ireland, everything changed overnight.’ I had heard this comment on the consequences of the economic crisis many times. Would we notice these changes during our visit? During my last stay, the boom had been very noticeable. Building works were going on everywhere, there were even more cars (all relatively new) and a large part of the workforce came from other European countries. This was remarkable as Ireland had for so long been a country that people emigrated from because they saw no future there for themselves.
No conclusions could be drawn from the money habits of the Irish students yet, nor from the first day at Kilian’s. The congestion on the road to school and on campus – caused by the fact that most students were driven to school by car – appeared even worse. Only later, at second glance, did I notice that there were relatively few new cars from 2008 and 2009; instead most number plates were from 2006 and 2007. Many houses that were built during the boom now stood empty – both luxury apartments and office space. This is what I experienced during the following weeks. Poverty was again more noticeable in the inner city of Dublin, visible more often than in previous years, but on the other hand many of the shops also hinted at great wealth.”
Over the years, the Hamburg Exchange has not only given rise to numerous friendships and enabled new impressions and language skills, but can also boast to have led to a wedding. We hope that the exchange will continue for many years to come and that many German and Irish students will be able to benefit from this glimpse into another culture, language and working environment.