For 11 days this summer, six Wilton High School students will embark on the first school-sponsored trip abroad to Germany since before September 11.

The group leader and head coordinator of the trip, Kerstin Reuther-Roche, has been a Wilton High School Spanish and German teacher for 12 years. As someone who took advantage of study abroad programs when she was a student, Reuther-Roche firmly believes that being immersed in a foreign language is a crucial way to build self-confidence and an ability to adapt to new environments.

“Even outside of the language, you will get to know the country and what the culture is like. Living abroad widens your horizon, especially when you’re on your own without your parents. Having to take on a whole new language that is not yours, it really empowers you,” she says.

That same approach had been supported by WHS faculty and administrators in past years, when the WHS language department coordinated trips abroad to Cologne in conjunction with Cheshire High School. But amidst rising safety concerns after the events of 9/11, former superintendent Dr. Gary Richards and the Board of Education at the time suspended the program.

In its place, Reuther-Roche began a pen-pal program between students in her Wilton High School classes and those attending her own East German high school, with students exchanging about five handwritten letters a year.

When Dr. Kevin Smith was hired to replace Richards as the Wilton School District’s new superintendent in 2014, Reuther-Roche raised the idea of once again sponsoring a trip abroad for foreign language students. To her excitement, Smith was extremely supportive of reinstating the program.

The trip, run through ACIS Educational Tours, has been in the works for the last two years. Wilton High School’s German Honor Society, which has been raising money for scholarships, originally anticipated the trip happening last summer in 2016. However, after the November 2015 Paris attacks, the trip was cancelled by the head of the language department. As someone who lived in East Germany behind the Iron Curtain during the era of the Berlin Wall, Reuther-Roche staunchly disagreed with the decision.

“We want to live. We don’t want to live in fear. Things can happen everywhere. If we live in fear, we won’t get to know the world. You have to take risks in order to make something of your life,” she says.

The students who embark on this trip will be doing just that. From living with a host family and attending classes at a German high school, to journeying to Potsdam and touring Frederick the Great’s Sanssouci Palace and the sites of concentration camps, these students will immerse themselves into German history and culture in order to gain a more dynamic understanding of the living history surrounding them.

Reuther-Roche speaks from first-hand experience; as a German high school student who wanted to strengthen her English speaking skills, she spent a year living with an American family in Columbus, Ohio.

“Besides learning the language, I learned the culture. I lived like an American. I remember finishing the year and saying, ‘I’m going to go to Moscow now,’ because I spoke a little Russian already but I wasn’t super fluent in it,” she recalls.

Among highlights on the trip’s itinerary are:

  • Going to school to experience German student life.
  • Traveling to Peenemünde to go on a guided tour and later enjoy a beach party.
  • Driving to Greifswald to see the old harbor, the university, and the old town with a guided tour.
  • Exploring Berlin with an afternoon bike tour.
  • Touring Berlin to see Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial, the bustling modern hub of Potsdamer Platz, the Reichstag Building, the sky-high Television Tower and historic Brandenburg Gate, a symbol of Germany’s division and reunification.
  • Engaging with modern German culture with a street art workshop and a walking tour that will reveal many examples of street art, including stencil art, paste-ups, graffiti, murals, and tagging.
  • Journeying to Potsdam and enjoying a guided tour of Frederick the Great’s magnificent Sanssouci Palace. Once the home of Prussian Kings, Potsdam was also the site of the meeting that redrew the map of Europe after World War II.
  • Visiting the Checkpoint Charlie Museum.