About a year ago when I found out my school placement, one of the first things I did, as I’m sure every ETA did, was go to Uncle Google to find any information on the school I would be spending the next 10 months of my life. Luckily, my school had a website. Not only did it have a website, but it was up to date and super detailed. I browsed around for awhile and then I came across a section of Traditionen. Intrigued, I clicked and it did not disappoint.
What I saw were pictures of a beautiful beach, young kids in rain boots, and a word I had no idea how to even attempt to say: Wangerooge, an island in the North Sea, famous for its Wattenmeer. Every year, my school takes all the 5th graders on a two-week class trip to this island. I knew instantly that I wanted to come along, and luckily I got to! I had no idea what to expect, but I knew it would be a highlight of my time at the Peter-Apian-Oberschule.
We started our journey to the North Sea at 3am. Yes. 3am. Imagine fifty 5th graders at 3am. It was rough, but I managed to sleep for a majority of the 8+ hour bus ride. When we reached the end of continental Germany, we had to then board a ferry that would take us to the island.
When we got to the island, we had to take a tiny little train to our Schullandheim, which we shared with another school from Bünde in Nordrhein-Westfalen. We got to meet the teachers from the Realschule in Bünde, along with the students! It was so entertaining to see my students interact with the Bünde students in the beginning, but by the end of the 12 days on the island, they all became fast friends!
The landscape of Wangerooge is beautiful. I’ve never been a beach type of person, but I must say, the beaches of the cold North Sea remind me of Lake Erie, and it was nice to always be within distance of the crashing waves and smell the salt in the air. Wangerooge is one of 32 Frisian Islands in the North Sea. The entire island and its beaches have high sand dunes that border along the coast. They’re known as a Naturschutzgebiet, so it is strictly prohibited to walk on these dunes as an effort to protect them. I cannot tell you how many times I had to explain this to some of the rambunctious 5th graders.
At this point, you may be thinking “Okay, you’re on this island for 12 days. What exactly did you do?” I’ll take you though a typical day:
Breakfast at 7:30, where the students have to set the tables, serve the food, get more rolls, clean the table etc. It was heavenly. After breakfast, students would have their lessons. On the island, they had biology and geography lessons, all pertaining to the island. Then came lunch, where students served the adults and their classmates once again. In the afternoon, we had activities planned, normally on the beach or elsewhere on the island. Some of these fun times included:
Sometimes we would head into town, where the residents of Wangerooge live. Super cute, welcoming, and the home of Cafe Pudding!
Perhaps my favorite activity we did, which also just happened to be on my birthday, was go on a boat ride to the sand banks in between the German Frisian Islands to see the seals. Unfortunately my camera isn’t the best, so I didn’t get the best shots, but trust me when I say, they were frickin’ cute. I eventually bought a little stuffed seal with a Wangerooge bandana around its neck as a souvenir. His name is Robby. Get it? ‘Cause “Robbe” is seal in German xD
After our afternoon fun and games, we would go back to the dining hall for dinner. Evenings were usually relaxing, sometimes we would have crafts, but one night, we had a DISKO. YEAH. And I chaperoned/consoled broken hearts.
Before bed/lights out, another teacher and I would usually go to each room for Zimmerkontrolle, aka making sure the rooms were clean and orderly. The cleanest rooms received five points and the dirtiest could potentially get zero points. In the end, the room with the most points got a little prize. Little incentives when working with the 5th graders are a must. Then once the kiddos were in their rooms for the night, the teachers usually went to the teachers lounge for conversation, wine, and snacks. Very relaxing way to end a long day, and much needed by the end of the trip!
Probably the most anticipated part of this trip was going to the Wattenmeer, or the Wadden Sea. I still have a really difficult time explaining exactly what the Watt is, but just imagine sand, mud, and water mixed together. When we walked on the Watt, we had to wear our Gummistiefel, and it felt so weird because your foot would sink into the ground and you could feel how cold the water was. While there, we had a guide to show us all the creatures living in the Watt. It was super cool! Something I did not know before arriving to Wangerooge, is that the Wadden Sea is a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. Insanely awesome!
Overall, this 12 day class trip was incredible. I learned a lot not only about the island and the sea, but also about the 5th graders! At school, I work with the 5th graders, but because they are so much younger, sometimes it’s hard to relate to them, opposed to the older kids. But, I got to know them and a lot of them are really cool. As cliche and cheesy as it sounds, it really was a bonding experience. I got to chat with teachers and get to know them beyond the classroom, which was a hoot 😀 This trip also tested me in many ways because I literally spoke nothing but German the entire time. Teaching English and having friends who speak English, it’s easy to sometimes neglect speaking German, even though I live in Germany. During these 12 days though, I spoke English once, and that was to Skype with my parents. I loved it, and it really gave me a confidence boost and reaffirmed my abilities. The trip was so much fun and is a place I never would have dreamed of visiting if it were not for my amazing host school. I 100% recommend all my friends to visit Wangerooge, or any of the islands in the North Sea! This trip holds a special place in my heart, and is definitely the most memorable part of my Fulbright year at the Peter-Apian-Oberschule.