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For 41 years, there has been an exchange between Ratsgymnasium Bielefeld and the School of St. Helen and St. Katherine in Abingdon. In 1975, the first girls got this very special opportunity of travelling to the little town of Abingdon on the river Thames in the county of Oxfordshire. Actually St Helen’s then joined the already existing exchange between Ratsgymnasium and Abingdon School, both boys’ schools. When our school went co-educational, everybody was happy to find a girls’ school in the neighbourhood of Abingdon School, so that our girls could take part in the exchange, too. The exchange between both boys’ schools started nearly 50 years ago.
On 2nd October, we, a group of 30 pupils, started our journey, including a long bus ride and two hours on a ferry, early in the morning and arrived in Abingdon in the evening, where we were picked up by the host families that we would stay with.
Communication was something almost everybody was worrying about before our arrival - will they even get what I am trying to tell them? How will I survive if they don’t?  No need to worry, of course. Everybody was with nice people that helped them, so nobody could complain - and of course you could always use gestures if there was a tricky situation, which was extremely rare.
We spent ten days full of various interesting experiences in England. Two of them were school days on which we had to follow our exchange students through their everyday school life, sat in their classes with them and got to know the English school system - which is not completely different from ours actually, but feels much different. Simply the school uniforms – very unusual to us – made a difference, but also the really long days, the project groups which are an integral part of the day, the security system in school and of course the framework of an independent school distinguish the school life of the St Helen’s pupils from ours.
On the days that we did not spend in school we went on day trips to visitor attractions: We visited Oxford with its colleges and great city life and took a close look at the exhibits in the Natural History Museum. We learned about English war heroes and inspected two old war ships in the harbour of Portsmouth. And Stratford brought us loads of Shakespeare-knowledge when we visited the Shakespeare museum and his birthplace.
But just as always when you enjoy something, time ran out for us very soon and so on 12th October we had to say goodbye to our new friends and went back to Bielefeld.
In the end I think I am not the only one who can say that he or she made many good experiences on this exchange and is looking forward for the English students to visit us in February.

Friederike Kleinebenne

Ratsgymnasium and the School of St. Helen and St. Katharine School have been partners in an exchange programme for nearly 40 years now, but I can say for sure that for us this year was special. For example this time it was cheaper for us to fly than to charter a coach and go by ship. We were the first group ever to fly and it was really cool to go on an airplane with our friends.

But there are more reasons why it was an especially great trip. SHSK is a beautiful, independent girls’ day school. The buildings are really pretty and old, but inside it is quite modern. In the middle of the school grounds there is a romantic garden with old apple trees and several flower beds. The reputation of the school is so good that even those children who live more than an hour away study there. Every morning, pupils meet in their form rooms and then go to assembly together. After assembly, everybody attends their courses. I would say that the lessons at Ratsgymnasium and at SHSK are on a similar level. The girls have lunch in school, which is a lot better than German school food. SHSK offers a lot of extracurricular activities, so they have a variety of clubs, e.g. in the fields of art and music, extra lessons etc. to participate in.

What I particularly liked is the fact that the St Helen’s girls are really communicative and sociable. I now do not only have contact with my exchange partner, but also with a lot of other girls from SHSK.

The other students and I lived at our exchange partners’ homes. Everybody got along pretty well with their newly found friends, their parents and siblings. A lot of the exchange families took us to London, which we were really happy about. But we did not only go on a trip with our exchange family, but also together with the other German exchange students. The most popular places we went to were Oxford, where we went twice, and Portsmouth, but we also went to some other nice places like Warwick Castle and Stratford. I guess I represent the opinion of our group when I say that we particularly enjoyed these excursions.

Sadly these 10 days went by too fast and in a wink it was time to say goodbye and get on the plane back to Germany. But from above the clouds we thought about this amazing experience and the kind people we had met. Now I’m really looking forward to our exchange partners visiting us in Bielefeld in February.

Amber Adelt