The Hamburg Exchange
Sometime back in the wild 1980s, a Hamburg teacher of English on holiday in Suffolk turned up unannounced at Woodbridge School and suggested to a German-teaching member of staff he met there that an exchange with his school would be a good idea.
The teacher thus encountered moved to South Hampstead High School. As of 1995, UCS provided a steady flow of pupils to augment the exchanges South Hampstead arranged. The years since then have passed imperceptibly, and the partnership between the Heinrich-Heine-Gymnasium in Poppenbüttel and UCS is now part of the furniture.
In that time, we’ve seen the name of our German partner school change (it was plain old Gymnasium Harksheider Straße to start with), but the warmth of the welcome provided by families in London and Hamburg has remained constant. This has been the underlying and consistent factor in the UCS/HHG exchange, and it’s worth celebrating and being thankful for. Various staff at HHG have been influential and supportive over the years: Alfred Feldhaus, Eberhardt Schmidt, John Middleton, Ute Neumann, Andrea Plessentin and Kathrin Auer have been at the forefront.
What strikes everyone at UCS about our involvement is how genuinely open and accommodating the HHG community has been towards us. Each year, we visit Hamburg for a week, during which time we attend lessons at school, visit Berlin and Lübeck and get to know many of the varied facets that go to characterise Hamburg as one of Germany’s most friendly cities. An important aspect of the week is the weekend which pupils spend with their partners’ families; they get to learn a lot very quickly about normal family routine in a foreign country. When the Hamburg party comes to London, we do our level best to match the warmth of this welcome.
School exchanges cannot be expected to make a pupil fluent in the foreign language overnight – but they can do so much to enhance motivation, set classroom learning in context and in general raise expectations. We have seen some remarkable ‘conversions’ during our stays in Hamburg, as individual students have realised just how much they can gain and learn.
Over twenty years on from our first contact, we’re grateful for the opportunities which the Hamburg Exchange has offered our pupils– and we look forward to carrying on our relationship with the Heinrich-Heine-Gymnasium.