Visiting Kennywood Park, riding the Monongahela Incline and attending a Pirates' game is fun -- and educational -- say participants in an exchange between German-language students at Baldwin High School and English-language students from Austria.
The 29 Austrian youngsters, for whom German is the native language, are from Konrad Lorenz Gymnasium, a high school in Ganserndorf, a small town near Vienna. They are visiting this week as part of an exchange program with Baldwin High School that began in 1996.
Baldwin students have visited Konrad Lorenz eight times, while its students have traveled here seven times.
"It allows kids to really bond with the Austrian kids, see the differences in cultures and exercise their language skills," Baldwin's German-language teacher Scott Hindman said.
Visiting students spent Tuesday and Wednesday attending classes at Baldwin. Today, they are scheduled to view a robotics demonstration at Carnegie Mellon University. Their American counterparts may accompany them if school schedules permit.
Planned weekend excursions include touring Laurel Caverns and Fort Necessity.
The only cost to the Baldwin-Whitehall School District for the exchange is providing the buses for daytime visits. In the evenings, the visitors tour the city with their host families.
Gwen Shemm, 15, and her Baldwin Borough family is hosting Iris Waldauer, 15.
"It opens your eyes to the differences. I take a ceramics class, and they don't have that. Over there, they stay in one classroom all day and the teachers change rooms."
"Iris speaks English and sometimes German while here," Gwen said. "When she does speak German, I understand most of what she says."
The girls planned to ride the Monongahela Incline one evening with Gwen's parents and stop for an all-American treat at the Milkshake Factory on the South Side.
Andrea Karas, who teaches English and French at Konrad Lorenz, is staying with Mr. Hindman and his family, as is fellow teacher Katrin Doszpod.
"Students can see the American way of life and culture and life in a high school here," Mrs. Karas said. "In classes, they are asked questions, which helps with their English."
In Austria, studying English is mandatory for students age 10 to 18; the language is one of the "most utilized languages in the world," Mrs. Karas noted.
Her daughter, Nathalie, 15, said the exchange experience has contributed to the confidence of all of the students who are involved.
"We become more sure of ourselves in speaking English," she said.
Nathalie said she also enjoys observing the differences between the schools, such as Baldwin's baseball and football teams -- sports her school does not have.
Her host is Ashley Horne, 15, and her Baldwin Borough family.
"School is very different in Austria," Ashley said. "Students attend classes until 1 p.m., but they go year-round."
And, "Nathalie's math class is the same as my advanced math class," she said.
After school is out, Ashley will be among the Baldwin contingent visiting Austria for 19 days, during which she will stay with Nathalie and her family.
"The program creates lifelong friendships," Mr. Hindman said.
The June visit will be his fifth, and sightseeing will be high on his list.
"They get to see Pittsburgh, we get to see Vienna and Munich."
Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.