When I applied to the Hamburg Senatskanzlei in December 2008, I would never have imagined that everything would come together so quickly. Frau Fistric from the Foreign Department („Auslandsreferat“) immediately gave me the contact information for Christoph Lichtenfeld, Vice Chair of the Chicago-Hamburg-Sister-City-Committee and Hamburg Ambassador in Chicago. I didn’t wait a single day to write to him. Soon after that, we met in the Hamburg Europa Passage and I was able to illuminate the goals and wishes of Gymnasium Altona.
I had been searching in vain for several years for a partner exchange school in the US, but I had not realized that the standing sister-city relationship between Hamburg and Chicago might be helpful.
In a few months Christoph Lichtenfeld recommended Sullivan High School, a Chicago Public School, as partner school for Gymnasium Altona. The two schools established contact smoothly and developed an active e-mail exchange, which helped to foster an ever strengthening friendship.
Soon the second important step in the process was taken. Through the efforts of the Chicago-Hamburg-Sister-City-Committee and the Hamburg Senatskanzlei, the initial teacher exchange visits were financially supported. Teachers from the Sullivan HS visited the Gymnasium Altona in June 2009 and Gymnasium Altona teachers visited the Sullivan HS in October 2009. Mr Lichtenfeld defines the financial support as „seed money“, a concept which facilitates the initial get together and start up of a school exchange.
In June Mr. Beck and Mrs. Castro from the Sullivan High school were in Hamburg for nine days and felt entirely comfortable here, and the fi rst corner stone of the upcoming exchange program was set in place. The two guests got to know many of the teachers at our school and took part in faculty outings.
We learned it is important that our guest teachers have contact with many different departments in our school. Such a project requires the cooperation of many colleagues in planning, arrangement and implementation.
In October 2009 teachers from our school visited Chicago. Mrs. Stolle, Mrs. Sauke and I made a call on Sullivan High School in the „Windy City“ on Lake Michigan.
After a weekend full of sightseeing, on Monday we made our fi rst visit to Sullivan High School. There we were warmly greeted and got an introduction into life at an American public school. We discovered that our schools are similar in many ways.
A highlight of our stay was a meeting arranged by Mr. Lichtenfeld of all the teachers of the schools in Chicago, who are directly involved in an exchange-project with a „Gymnasium“ or „Gesamtschule“ in Hamburg. Teachers and (2) principals from six Chicago high schools and two Hamburg gymnasiums attended the Chicago-Hamburg school exchange forum.
This meeting took place in an historic building, the Chicago Cultural Center, in the middle of the city. After introductions various schools reported on their individual experiences, both positive and negative. This very interesting and informative part of the evening illuminated the different layers of such a project (concept, flights, program, discipline, etc.) with open round table discussion.
The evening ended with a very entertaining photo shoot.
The successful Chicago visit was celebrated with a goodbye dinner and consensus about the school exchange: The first exchange between our two schools should start soon… And that’s how we reached the decision that in April 2010 fifteen students and two teachers from our school will fly to Chicago to start the first exchange between Gymnasium Altona and Sullivan High School.
This exchange project would not have been possible (and so soon!) without the great help and support of Mr. Christoph Lichtenfeld from the Hamburg-Chicago-Sister-City-Committee and Mrs. Fistric from the Hamburg Senatskanzlei. For this I must yet again say a heartfelt „Thank you!“