Danish teacher visits Georgetown school

In Denmark, students get paid to go to school. Soccer is the country's favorite sport. And a danish isn't a danish. Instead, it's a morning cake or afternoon cake with assortments of flavors and baking configurations.

Students at Georgetown High School did not learn these fun facts from Wikipedia or out of a textbook. They got to hear it straight from Jeremy Switzer, a teacher visiting from a Danish high school. Switzer, of Egaa Gymnasium in Denmark, visited the school on Thursday and Friday to help launch an international sister schools partnership. "Gymnasium" is the Danish word for high school.

Georgetown High School is one of the few schools in the state to have an international sister schools agreement.

Egaa Gymnasium in Aarhus, Denmark, has agreed to share curriculum and host cultural exchange programs with Georgetown.

To start the process, Switzer, an English and German teacher, met with Georgetown teachers, students and district staff to find opportunities for shared learning.

The initiative was started by David Wylie, a science teacher at Georgetown High, who is from New Zealand. He wanted to expose his students to the global community in an engaging way.

"It's about awareness," Wylie said. "You now live in a world of technology. So the world has shrunk. We are now in a global economy. So it is more important that you are at least aware. An appreciation for other societies and other cultures, specifically Denmark, is what we're after."

Switzer, who is American but has lived in Denmark for the past eight years, said he was happy to participate and get the program going.

"David and I embody globalization," Switzer said. "He is from New Zealand and lives in America and I am from America and live in Denmark. [These students] live in a global world, so it's quite probable they could wind up working in Spain or France. It could be possible they could be employed by a foreign company."

The educational sharing is expected to start in the 2010-2011 school year. Some potential opportunities include using technology like Skype, teleconferencing, e-mails, and sharing PowerPoint presentations across international waters and optic cables.

The cross-cultural learning has already begun.

"Hjertelig Velkommen til Georgetown Gymnasium" was sprawled across the whiteboard in Wylie's classroom.

The phrase translates to "Heartfelt Welcome to Georgetown High School."

The students also prepared a presentation for Switzer to take back to his students in Denmark, with information about South Carolina, history of Georgetown, sports, music and the age-old rivalry between Clemson and the University of South Carolina.

One part of the presentation focused on southern culture, including sweet tea, pilau and the word "y'all."

Students also performed the shag, which is the state's dance.

For about an hour Friday, the juniors and seniors in Wylie's physics class got a chance to quiz Switzer about Danish culture.

Switzer talked about health care, which is free in Denmark, and college, which is also free. Funding for these programs come from residents, who pay 50 percent of their salary in taxes.

"If you go up to someone to ask if they mind, they will say no," Switzer said. "They want to support everyone in their society. They see health care as a right for everyone and they think that if their mother was sick they would want her to be taken care of."

The legal drinking age in Denmark is 16 and the legal driving age is 19, Switzer said.

He said some of his Danish students, many of whom are living on their own by the sophomore year in high school, considered America a bit more restrictive. But he said they were excited to come visit.

About 30 students from Denmark are expected to visit Georgetown in March or April of 2011, Switzer said.

The following school year, the Danes will host the Georgetown students.

"It was eye-opening to learn about a different culture and how people are," said Nick Bethea, a junior. "It seems like they are a more laid back country."

Ashton Cox, also a junior, said there seemed to be some pros and cons to living in Denmark.

"It seems like their schools are much more trusting, where in the United States they automatically think you will do wrong," Cox said.

But the cons are the high taxes and the driving age.

"They don't get their license until they are 19 and half the people won't get a car," she said.

In Denmark, cars are expensive because they have to be imported. Most people use public transportation, scooters or bicycles because it's cheaper, Switzer said.

Other schools in the state with international school programs include Hendrix Elementary School in the Spartanburg District 2. The school partners with Izumi Chuo in Gifu City, Japan. They have visited each other and exchanged ideas. The elementary school planted cherry trees and dedicated them to their sister school, said Spartanburg 2 District spokeswoman Rhonda Henderson in an e-mail.

The Clover school district has a sister city in Larne, Ireland.

"I believe that schools from Larne have visited here, and a trip to Larne from Clover is scheduled for next year," said Michelle Grose, spokeswoman for the Clover School District, in an e-mail.