Saturday, June 18, 2011

What a Welcome! It's so good to be here!

Thanks to Julia and Thorsten Kreutzer, my hosts in Aachen, this post from last night which was unsuccessful, can now go through.

After a last-minute T-shirt scramble and a thorough passport check, we severed ties to the school year and embarked on our journey. Bus driver Joe was already quite familiar from having driven us to NY in April. This time around, he was most complimentary, having only fond memories of our previous trip. He was also anxious for our assistance in finding Terminal 8, which was very easy. He even dispensed hugs all around upon our departure, and felt honored to capture this photo in front of his VIKING bus just before we entered the airport:

Check-in went smoothly. Only Ashley and Mme. Jones, with their extra suitcases, and Nick, who was caught with 7 extra pounds, needed to visit the cashier prior to Security Control. Slightly overweight bags, my own included, were forgiven, a very pleasant surprise.

The group selected a spot next to some arcade-type games to help us pass the next 2 hours prior to boarding. Yearbooks also got attention. Some exchanged dollars, getting 61 Euro for $100. Not too bad.

The magazine/newspaper selection prior to boarding was (for this German teacher) absolutely amazing!! We were then welcomed aboard with mints and a smile, while being guided to the desired aisle. Survival kits including pillow, blanket; mask, earplugs, socks, and toothbrush-set served to further welcome us to our individual seats. Our Airbus seating(2x4x2), is so much friendlier a plane to fly than a 747 (with 3x5x3). Our group captured 2 full rows, with one outlying seat (which at the tail end, I took; and was promptly welcomed by very lovely traveling companions on both sides of the aisle).

We experienced just a wee bit of periodic turbulance during our flight. Nutritious, tasty meals were served every 3 hours; beverage service was even more generous, In-Flight purchases were very low-key. The plentiful and helpful staff and flight crew earned a well-deserved, sustained applause upon landing. We'd been delayed by 40 minutes finding a departure window from JFK, but more than made up that time from a favorable tailwind, landing 15 minutes early. In truth, our Partners are envious of us our slick AirBerlin connection: in 6.5 hours in flight time, we arrived in Duesseldorf! They were really worried their bus trip would arrive later than planned, and that they'd keep us waiting. No need to worry!

Passport Control lasted but a few moments. Luggage collection went smoothly. And suddenly we were through the doors, and reunited with a very merry band of festively attired partners, in coordinated I - HEART - GAPP T-shirts! Their very warm welcome included signs, flags, cheers and, ok: shrieking. We each were draped, Hawaiian style, with black-red-gold welcoming leis. Then began the T-Shirt swap. We were each given bright white T-shirts to match theirs, and we dug into our own luggage to find the stunning blue shirts we brought for them! I can't imagine a more colorful, and joyful group! This still photograph seems far too sedate to capture the happy melee.

It was wonderful to see Simon as well, who had been able to override the advice of his mother and doctor to make the trip himself after all, despite his recent surgery.

The bus chartered to bring us back to Dueren was a double-decker. All the GAPP-Exchangers sat up top for better viewing. Below were 4 tables each surrounded by seating for 4, and also a galley right behind the driver. Our driver reminded me of Joe. He needed an additional 7 minutes break prior to setting off (something which we put to full advantage).

Upon our arrival at Burgau, we locked the luggage away just inside the first entrance, and were then led through a series of other various doors with green (druecken = to push) or red (ziehen = to pull) stickers stuck over the levered handles. Wherever we went, we encountered decorated WELCOME signs and photos of our group's USA visit.

Our destination was the Mensa (= "TABLE" in Latin), or cafeteria, where we were welcomed --in English -- by Principal, Andreas Gruederich. At that time, we presented Mr. Gruederich with our sharply personalized 2011 Yearbook, as well as a Program T-Shirt of his own.

After all the introductions and acknowledgements, we were led to a brunch smorgasbord set out for us, complete with a variety of rolls, cheeses, cold cuts and Nutella, with various beverages, followed by luscious pastries -- for dessert.

After some socializing, Mr. Ehrhardt explained several school regulations, and then led us on a school tour. We saw the vineyard and the special rooms for writing tests, we poked into the art and science rooms, met the school secretaries, Frau Pelzer und Frau Schinchen, as well as peeked in on the Teacher Room (a combination mail room and general office), where our group was introduced to the faculty in attendance.

At the chimes, the student group took to the school yard and mingled with pupils in all the grades at Burgau, from 5th to 12th (those in the 13th grade have already all but finished the year, and will graduate next week). Once the chimes rang the next time, we all return back inside the school building to get the feel of our very own Headquarters for the coming 3 weeks, room #116 -- up just a single flight of stairs to the "first floor," since the ground floor isn't numbered as such. All of our partners had decorated the chalkboard for us. There were more photographs and festive decorations awaiting us as well.

We all received our Burgau-Schule Program Folders with the updated and colorful copy of the schedule, as well as a brief run-through of the next 5 days in Dueren, bringing us through the weekend and the 3 class days prior to the Corpus Christi holiday on Thursday/Friday next week.

At that time, families began arriving at the school to collect us. We heard wonderful words of appreciation for the hospitality extended in Rhode Island, with much excitement for the days, gatherings, excursions, and experiences yet to come, and we separated to find our own various ways home.

I look forward to hearing from each Exchanger about their first weekend here, on Monday during Hour 4, when we next gather in Room 116.

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