Reflections on a Summer Trip to Germany

Every other year, Randoph-Macon Academy German teacher Stephen Latham arranges a trip to Germany for a small group of his top students. Grace Alexander '14 was one of the students who was able to enjoy this year's journey. She tells the story of her astonishment over the beauty of Germany, and how the three-week trip improved her fluency in German. 

Impressions of Mr. Latham’s Germany Trip/Summer 2012

By Grace Alexander, ‘14

I travelled to Germany this summer with Mr. Lathum on Randolph-Macon Academy’s German summer immersion program. I went with five other students: Faith Funderberg, Benjamin Gillis, Peter Jin, Cole Mitchell, and Savannah Rhodes. We all had taken at least two years of German and we went on this trip to improve our German language skills and learn about German culture. The program required us to speak German all day every day for three weeks, the duration of the trip, so we became roughly fluent.

Some of the students enrolled in German were able to take a trip to Germany this summer.On this trip I saw the Alps for the first time. I was sitting on a train passing through the countryside. There were thick trees on either side of the train and the air was heavy with rain and fog. As the train broke out of the trees, the Alps rose up from the mist. Now I have lived in the mountains for fourteen years; whenever I walk out of my house or look out the window, that’s what I see, fields and mountains. But these mountains were unlike any I’d ever seen before: they were just these massive mountains swathed in a dark green carpeting of trees.
The students visited a number of German towns as part of the trip. I got really excited and started running around the train to all the windows, taking pictures. And as the train got closer, they continued to grow in size. We went to Kehlsteinhaus, or Eagle’s Nest, which was 6,017 feet high and offered a 360-degree view of the surrounding countryside and mountains. There were boulders everywhere so I could just climb atop one and have a huge rock all to myself.
The mountains and lakes left the Germany trip students in awe.Then we saw the glacial water. It was cleaner and clearer and in larger quantities than any water I’d ever encountered. Konigsee, a lake, is bordered by the Berchtesgardener Alps which reach 9,649 feet high. The lake stretches 617 feet deep, 5 miles long, more than a mile wide. When I was on a boat in the middle, I looked down and although the water was clear, I just saw lots of water, the bottom was out of sight.

I got to swim in the glacial water and when I opened my eyes underwater I could see far. I could see people but when I looked down, when I dove off the boat, the water just kept getting deeper and deeper, colder and colder. I was simply blown away by the natural beauty of Germany to which Mr. Latham’s trip exposed me.

We traveled to cities too, as well as churches, castles, Switzerland, and Austria. We traveled by train which offered a convenient, safe way to speak with locals and practice the German language. In the beginning of the trip I sat by these hikers on a train. They had hiking gear and I am interested in going 

when I am older to hike in the Alps, so I asked them where they were going to hike. I understood absolutely nothing of the following conversation except for “Alps.” The clear, reflective waters of the lake amazed the author when she visited Germany.Eighteen days into the trip we were on another train traveling to Lindau. The train was crowded and when I found an empty seat I asked, “Ist heir noch frei?” or “Is this free?” which is customary in Germany. The guy next to me started talking to me in German. We talked until the train stopped and I understood almost every word. My fluency and comfort level with the German language had improved immensely. The hikers spoke to me with words and I didn’t understand them but this guy spoke in sentences, and very quickly, and I understood him.

Germany was an eye-opening experience and it was just the beginning of my exploration of the world.