German student ‘excited’ for summer, enjoys Niagara’s vocational offerings


News Editor

NIAGARA, Wis. – Tim Gaedtke carries a positive attitude but admits to being “a bit afraid” about coming to northern Wisconsin after hearing reports of wicked weather.

Gaedtke, 15, is from Dortmund in western Germany, where the average low in January is 30 degrees. He arrived to minus 20 in Niagara.

“I’m pretty excited to get summer here,” he said with a smile.

Gaedtke said he applied to become an exchange student “to meet people and learn a new language.” His host parents are Joe and Shanna Champeau and he’ll be staying through June.

His demeanor is modest and pleasant, making it hard to gauge the intensity he’ll bring to the soccer field. That’s where he plans to celebrate the long-awaited melt. “Football” ranks supreme in his home city.

Dortmund (population 600,000) is host to Borussia Dortmund, among the most successful clubs in Germany. Its stadium holds nearly 81,000 fans, the largest in the nation.

Asked if his soccer skills will compare favorably in Wisconsin, Gaedtke nods, shrugs and offers, “I hope.”

At Niagara High School, he’s taken a liking to wood shop, learning a vocational skill that’s unavailable in his college-preparatory “Gymnasien” studies back home. He counts Mr. (Scott) Trevillian (social studies, health) among his favorite teachers here.

“The (exchange) program is a learning experience not only for the exchange students as they get to experience our culture, but also for the students of Niagara as they get to hear from people who have been raised in other parts of the world,” Trevillian said.

In an American Societal Challenges class taught by Trevillian, students explore issues of human development and economics. The class also debates questions of psychology, including stereotyping.

Gaedtke confesses that he had an impression of Americans “living the dream” – and being a little soft because of it. “Not all Americans are like that,” he said with a laugh.

What he’s encountered here is a rural hardiness that was somewhat unexpected.

“It’s another way of life,” he said of local enthusiasm for the outdoors, mentioning an ice fishing trip to Minnesota among a number of “great experiences” so far.

He’s looking forward to a Chicago trip for a better sampling of urban America.

The Pine Mountain Continental Cup tournament brought the chance for his host family to serve a supper for skiers from the Netherlands. “I talked to them in German a bit,” Gaedtke says. “They were pretty nice guys.”

He keeps in touch with his parents mainly through texting. His father works in business management and his mother in banking. Their son might seek a career in sports journalism or psychology.

Gaedtke is participating in track at Niagara, which this year is a co-op with Florence. He’s awaiting the competitions, along with the chance to meet students from other schools.

The presence of five other German students at Niagara has made the transition to the U.S. easier, though he reveals, “We talk mostly in English.”

He hasn’t been surprised by American food, other than giving a thumbs-up to Taco Bell, which has a limited reach in Germany. His host family’s stews have also helped warm the path towards summer.

Jim Anderson’s email address is