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Meet BEA foreign exchange student – Justin Duelge

By Staff | Oct 20, 2008

When it’s mealtime in the States, Justin Duelge prefers chicken wings, but says “all the chicken stuff is good.”

That’s because this young exchange student from Witzhave Germany has no access in Elmore or Blue Earth to the schnitzel that he prefers.

Born near Hamburg Germany on June 15, 1992, Justin left his hometown of 1500-2000 people this summer to join his host family, Eugene and Vickie Boeckman of Elmore. He is a senior at Blue Earth Area High School, one of seven foreign exchange students at the local school this year.

Duelge’s father, Thomas, is a salesman who travels a great deal to England and the U.S. selling practice ammunition and bullet-proof safety vests. His mother, Silvia, is a housewife who sometimes works at a gift and wine shop.

Though he has no siblings, he has many relatives who live in the next town to Witzhave. In fact, his maternal grandparents live in the bottom floor of the same house in which he resides.

The oldest church in Germany, located in Ratzeburg, is only about 50 miles away from his hometown. Also nearby is the Hamburg harbor.

Since arriving in the United States, he has not seen anything as old as the church in Ratzeburg, but did say that there are other similarities to his homeland – such as the flat landscape and weather.

“Germany is not as humid as it is here,” he says. “The average wintertime temperature ranges from 30-40 degrees. The last three winters we have had no snow. In the summer it gets as hot as 90 degrees but without the humidity.”

The extremely fluent English-speaking Duelge, stated that he has taken English classes since he was in the third grade.

“We are taught English one time weekly in the third and fourth grade. From the fifth grade through the 11th grade we have English classes four times a week. The sessions are for 45 minutes,” he explains.

Another reason for his fluency might stem from the fact that his school, Gymnasium Trittan, is ranked as the third or fourth best school in Germany.

“The gymnasium system we have is not really good,” says a serious Duelge. “The real German school goes through the tenth grade which is then followed by the Gymnasium that includes grades 11-13.”

“We have to take certain classes through the tenth grade, but after this, we can choose our course of study by selecting either a language or physical themed education. Classes under the physical theme include geography, chemistry and physics. English and a choice of two languages from Spanish, Latin or French are included in the language- themed education. The study of German and mathematics are included in each of the themes of study.”

“Once you have chosen a theme of study, you must stay with it,” said Duelge. “That is why this system is not really good.”

Duelge has taken three years of Spanish and one and one- half years of Latin in addition to the approximately eight years of English. He also participates in soccer and tennis in Germany.

“Our sports are done outside of school through clubs,” he says. “Our choirs are not big like they are here in the U.S. either. In my German school there might only be 20 people in the choir.”

Citing other differences in the educational system, Duelge says, “The teachers at Blue Earth Area are much more friendly. A teacher in my hometown school would tell a student ‘I don’t want to repeat any lessons,’ so we have to listen closely in class and really have to study at home,” he explains.

There are just 80 teachers for the 1000 students enrolled in the Trittan school. Each teacher has to teach two or three different subjects.

“My favorite class here is World Cultures,” said Duelge. “In Germany, my favorite is sports or what you would call physical education.”

The things Justin likes the most about the U.S. are the people, spending time with the football team and traveling with his host family, the Boeckman’s.

Other differences he has noted so far while living in Minnesota concern church attendance and the drinking and driving ages.

“Most Germans attend church only about three or four times a year, generally at Easter and during the Christmas season,” says Duelge. “We’re not real active.”

He proceeded to volunteer that German youth can obtain their driver’s license when they are 17, but they must drive with their parents for one year. No other licensed drivers are permitted to let them drive. If a person waits until they are 18, they can automatically get their driver’s license and do not need anyone to drive with them. Also, the legal drinking age in Germany is 16. But most Germans begin drinking at the age of 13 or 14, according to Duelge.

“My parents were the first to mention that I should consider the possibility of becoming a foreign exchange student. I wasn’t really interested at first, but I did search the internet getting some information. Then one day we had a speech in school about it. As I thought about it, I thought that it could be cool and I’d learn something about another country,” he says.

“Let’s try it, I told my parents. At first I thought about going to Australia, but that was very expensive. I thought I could cope better in the U.S. anyway because it is very similar to Germany,” says Duelge.

He was not the only one in his class of 130 to consider studying abroad. Currently 14 of his classmates are doing the exchange.

Once the decision to become an exchange student is made, an application is filled-out and submitted. Students are then assigned to an area representative. (Justin’s is based in Minneapolis).

Applications are shown to prospective host families such as the Boeckmans. The host family selects two or three students who might fit in their situation. The prospective exchange student writes a letter, prepares a picture collage and includes an application with their likes and dislikes. The host family also has to fill-out an application and include a background check, three references and acceptance by the local school district.

The process for Duelge began in November and Vickie Boeckman completed the process in January.

“Vickie called my mom shortly after that to say she and her husband would be my host family,” says a grinning Justin. “My mom’s English is not as good as mine, but she understood the importance of the call.”

The Boeckman’s are not novices when it comes to hosting exchange students. They first became involved in 1996. Justin is their ninth foreign guest.

“I’m definitely glad I did it,” says Duelge. “I would sell this program by telling others how much I have learned about other people and their culture.”

Future plans for this senior are to complete the remaining two years of his education in Germany then to perhaps relax and travel about for awhile.

“I might go to a university,” he says. “I’m even playing with the thought of going to a college or a university here in the U.S.”

The soccer loving teen likes all kinds of music, cats and computer games. He also has enjoyed being a kicker on the Bucs football team this fall.

As Justin Duelge shared his story, this writer couldn’t help but wonder if it was a chicken sandwich that he was eating with such relish, since he thinks ‘all the chicken stuff is good,’ as I certainly did not spot any schnitzel.