by Susan O’Neill
KANELANDâ€”Kaneland High School PIE Club (Partners in International Education) student members packed a lot of learning and interaction into their trip to Denmark this fall to meet their counterparts at the Vestre Skole High School.
The two groups of students had much to share with each other about what it is like to grow up in their respective homelands.
A major difference between the two countries is that education is free to any Danish citizen who wants one – from kindergarten through 12th grade, and on through college. The Danish government pays for the student’s housing as well as for his or her college tuition, Kaneland High School teacher and PIE advisor Brian Willis said.
The Kaneland students visited every kind of school during their stay. Willis said that although the Danish education schedule is similar to that in America, the Danes take their education more seriously. More responsibility is placed on the students themselves to keep up with their studies and to be successful, he explained.
â€œThey don’t test their kids,â€ he said. â€œIt’s like, ‘We’re done with geometry; hope you’ve got it.’ No one’s calling mom or dad to say you’ve flunked your test.â€
By the time students reach gymnasium, their version of high school, many students have already begun to specialize in a career path.
Kaneland High School student Dennis Brettman said he was impressed with the level of education students were receiving at the gymnasium.
Student Kory Harner said that many of the Danish students spoke three languages. He added that they used laptops quite a bit more than students do here.
To pay for everyone’s education and the other services the government offers, the tax rate is about 50 percent, Willis said. This makes the cost of a $25,000 car closer to $50,000.
There is at most only one car per family, Harner said. Some of the teachers don’t even own a car, Willis added. And with gasoline at more than $6 a gallon, biking is a significant mode of transportation.
â€œThey hardly had any traffic,â€ Harner said. â€œEverybody walked or rode their bikes to work or school.â€
The students made use of this preferred transportation when they went sight-seeing in Copenhagen. With bike paths eight feet wide, biking to their destinations was a lot easier than it would be here.
Harner, a three-sport Kaneland athlete, enjoyed learning about the different types of sports the Danish people play. While he was there, he attended a professional women’s handball game.
The students also had a good time teaching each other their native sports. The Kaneland students learned to play handball and soccer, and they taught the Danish students how to play softball and football.
Everyone lived with a Danish family during their stay. Harner said his host family enjoyed playing games, and although their house was smaller than the typical house in the states, they did have a flat screen television.
â€œThey were close as a family,â€ he added.
The PIE club began after a group of nine Kaneland High School students traveled to Romania in October 2005. According to Willis, the trip was so successful that the extracurricular club was created to continue to foster these types of relationships with students in other countries and to encourage the exchange of cultures and curriculum.
The experience that the students gained from the trips can’t be put in a book or shown in a movie.
â€œIt can’t be duplicated,â€ Willis said.
The students have maintained the friendships that they forged while they were in Denmark.
â€œWe keep in touch on Facebook,â€ Harner said. â€œI have 20 friends from the trip.â€
Photo: PIE Club member Cara Zagel (center) poses for a picture with two of her Danish counterparts. Courtesy Photo