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Kyle Bergem and other teachers visit Liebfrauenplatz, Central Square in Mainz Germany during his time in Germany as part of the transatlantic Outreach Program. Submitted Photo

Bergem takes German excursion

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Pine River-Backus (PR-B) Schools' business and economics teacher recently took a trip to Germany and hopes to use his experience there to enrich his classes.

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Kyle Bergem traveled to Germany through the Transatlantic Outreach Program designed for K-12 social studies educators. Bergem had heard of the trip during a workshop with the Minnesota Council of Economic Education at the University of Minnesota.

As an economics teacher, Bergem qualified for the trip and applied. He asked PR-B Superintendent Cathy Bettino and PR-B High School Principal Trent Langemo for letters of recommendation and replied to essay questions. He was accepted for the program in March.

Bergem said the trip was about updating North American understandings of Germany.

"The focus of the program is to emphasize and promote modern Germany. I think a lot of what is taught in American school systems is about World War II and the Holocaust, which is important, but they want to be sure we are going beyond that and looking at present day, modern Germany," Bergem said.

Bergem toured with 15 other teachers through businesses, neighborhoods, historical locations and schools. The group went to Frankfurt, Mainz, Berlin, Weimar and Regensburg. In each city the participants visited schools and historic sites. In some places they observed the German economic model, and in Weimar the tour group visited with residents of the small city.

"My favorite was Weimar in the state of Bavaria. I guess it is more the stereotypical Germany that we think of and it was just a smaller town. When we were in Frankfurt and Berlin, it was a big city and I'm from smalltown America and I kind of like that," Bergem said. "We got to know the local people as a big focus. I didn't feel like I was there as a tourist. I was very immersed in the culture."

Bergem said the German economic model includes a history of giving back to society.

"In the German culture it is just an inherent thing they do, giving back to society. They kind of compare it to in America where it's all about getting a business name on the T-shirt and sending someone out in the community. The focus a lot of the time is on the brand name. They aren't there to put their brand first. Doing good in the community is the bottom line," Bergem said.

In addition to the German economic system, Bergem got ideas from the education system that requires a period of internship for students after graduation.

"I would like to be a little more deliberate in helping students find part-time jobs and go beyond just finding a summer job and work on something that could be a starting point for their careers and be a little more deliberate with it being an education experience and not just a summer job," Bergem said.

Bergem was also surprised at the level of awareness German students had for U.S. current issues.

"Right away the students hit me with questions about gun control in the U.S. They wanted to know more about new healthcare laws. They wanted to know about President Obama and they were pretty well in tune to current events and what is happening in our country," Bergem said.

Bergem said it was an important reminder of the global community that his students will likely be dealing with after graduation.

"I think it is important to convey to our students that they are going to have a global lifestyle and in their career paths it is very likely they will work with colleagues from other countries and companies from other countries. Just keep that open, broadened mindset about that. I think that is the biggest message to convey to students," Bergem said.

Bergem was one of 100 social studies teachers accepted into the Transatlantic Outreach Program's two-week, all-expenses-paid study/travel seminar June 6-21.

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