Connecting across the world
Lawrence’s sister cities exchange programs connects people across the globe and results in a continental love story
In 1989, at an event celebrating the beginning of a relationship between Eutin, Germany and Lawrence, a member of the German delegation spoke of his hope for a unified Germany. Less than two weeks later ― after the delegation had returned home ― the Berlin Wall fell.
Over the years, as East and West Germany grew back together, Eutin and Lawrence developed and strengthened bonds as sister cities. Those bonds have stretched past institutional bonds between the cities to include close relationships, even marriages, between the people of Eutin and Lawrence.
“We kind of came together right at that moment when Germany was uniting again,” said Bill Keel, director of Undergraduate Studies in the University’s Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, and founding member of Lawrence’s Friends of Eutin.
The relationship between Lawrence and Eutin, and the exchange programs that have resulted from it are mirrored in cities around the world. The sister cities program was created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower under the idea that if individuals could form relationships and get to know people in other countries then they’d be less likely to go to war with each other. That vision for close relationships across borders and oceans, at least in Lawrence and Eutin, has succeeded.
Arne Scholz didn’t want to go to Kansas. He had been to the states before, even studying for a year at Penn State in college, but the high school English and history teacher was uncomfortable with the idea of spending five weeks in Kansas living with a family he didn’t know. Despite his protests, his principal insisted and Scholz spent September of 2013 in a high school exchange program in Lawrence. At the time, he had no idea that less than a year later he would move there for good.
“Sometimes you have to force your luck, as we say in Germany,” Scholz said.
Upon arriving in Lawrence, Scholz met Kelly Herndon, University alumna, chairwoman of Lawrence’s sister city advisory board and single mother to two teenage daughters. As part of her role as chairwoman, she showed Scholz around Lawrence, bringing him to a Lawrence Free State football game and on a boat ride on Clinton Lake.
“I was just showing him a good time and hospitality in Lawrence,” Herndon said.
“I kind of liked that good time and hospitality you showed me,” Scholz said.
The couple went on their first date on September 23, 2013, but Herndon didn’t realize she was on a date until she was getting in the car.
“I kind of realized it was a date,” she said. “I wasn’t sure.”
Scholz had only two weeks left in Lawrence and they dated for the remainder of the time. By the time he was ready to leave, they weren’t ready to end their relationship.
“We realized there might be something between us that we would want to figure out what that was,” Herndon said. “And being 5,000 miles away, it’s not that easy to do that.”
Before he left Lawrence, Scholz booked a ticket to come back over Christmas. They then began a long distance relationship that crossed an ocean and 4,650 miles. They FaceTimed daily, Scholz waking up at 5 a.m., Herndon waiting until 10 p.m. in Kansas.
“We never missed a day,” Herndon said.
In November, when Scholz had to commit to his next year of teaching, he went to his principal, the same man who had insisted he go on the exchange in the first place, and requested a leave of absence.
“Pretty early on I was exactly sure what I was doing, there were no doubts whatsoever,” Scholz said. “Sometimes in life you know exactly what you must do. It’s a chance that you have and if you don’t do it it will never come again, and if you don’t take it you will spend the rest of your life wondering what if.”
When Herndon came to visit that March, he proposed.
“I was not expecting him to propose,” she said. “I thought ‘I like where this is going, but I don’t know where he lives, I don’t know his people.’”
When the couple began the immigration process, they said it was alarmingly simple and quick, only taking about six months.
“Everything with this situation has just fallen into place,” Herndon said. “It was very much meant to be.”
In August of 2014, Scholz arrived in Lawrence with two suitcases, a backpack and golf clubs that he hasn’t touched since. The rest of his belongings were left in Germany with his parents, who, despite initial surprise, were incredibly supportive of his move.
“My parents were like, ‘You want to do what? Oh, sure, how can we help?,’” he said.
The couple got married in a small family ceremony on a beach in Hawaii.
“It was just beautiful and dreamy,” Herndon said.
Arne Scholz is now the German teacher at Lawrence High School and every summer takes American students back to his hometown for four weeks. Although he wasn’t particularly eager to take the exchange his first time in 2013, Arne believes the program is incredibly beneficial and he and Kelly consistently host exchange students.
“When you go to a country as a tourist, you get to know the country,” Arne said. “When you do this exchange, you live with an American family or a German family and see what they do. You get to know the people and that makes a world of a difference you find out ‘They are pretty much like me; we are not that different.’”
Pierce Saturday is a current LHS junior, who went with Arne to Germany in 2016 as well as on the exchange to Lawrence’s sister city in Japan, Hiratsuka. Both times he arrived in the country with little ability to speak the language but left with close bonds anyways.
“We became really close, because we’d all spend time together every evening,” Saturday said. “Those were the times I had the most fun was just spending time with the Germans that were our age.”
Kelly, now going by Kelly Scholz, saw something similar when she sent her daughters on exchange programs to Hiratsuka and Eutin. She was able to go with her daughter the year she went to Eutin and watched as the American students were quickly welcomed by the people of Eutin.
“It is just amazing to watch the kids and how much fun they have together and the camaraderie and how quickly they figure out what things they have in common,” Kelly said. “And the families, how they take care of some stranger’s child like it was their own. It really warms your heart to see that as a parent.”
The cities of Eutin and Lawrence are very different. Eutin is much smaller and has a much longer history. The people within the cities, however, aren’t that different.
“The personalities of the individual people are very similar, they’re very friendly and open and very welcoming of Americans,” Kelly said.
After his own trip to Germany, Saturday can’t wait to go back. He is hoping to participate in the exchange another time and is even considering college in Germany. All of this is the result of the sister cities program.
“Those experiences that made memories that I’ll never forget is kind of what makes me want to have a future there,” Saturday said.
In addition to opening doors to new experiences and new people, Scholz expressed gratitude for the sister cities program because it brought him to an area of the United States he never would have visited otherwise.
“As a tourist from Germany, you wouldn’t fly to Kansas,” Scholz said.
Prior to coming on the exchange he had spent time on America’s east and west coasts.
“The most friendly people I ever met were right here in the middle,” Scholz said. “I would never had met them had I not been on that exchange program.”
— Edited by Brianna Childers