BELLEVILLE — When Jan Schulze arrived here as a foreign exchange student in 2007, he never imagined he would be back in a Belleville West High School classroom six years later learning to be a teacher.
Schulze's host family when he came to Belleville from sister city Paderborn, Germany, was Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert's family. Eckert's son Luke and Schulze are about the same age and became close friends.
A bond soon formed between the families. Schulze has visited the Eckert family for each of the past seven years; the Schulze family hosting members of the Eckert family in Paderborn during their visits.
While studying at the University of Paderborn to be a physical education and English teacher, Schulze learned of a requirement in his major to observe an English classroom. Schulze worked with the university and Belleville West to satisfy the requirement in the city he calls his "second home."
The 23-year-old Schulze said he was inspired to be a teacher by his mother, who is a physical education teacher, and by his desire to share his knowledge with others. Despite his love for Belleville, his goal is to teach in his home country.
"I would really like to be a professor, maybe at the University of Paderborn," Schulze said.
Belleville West English teacher Soune Ursani said Schulze has the ability to be a good teacher.
"You can be the smartest person in your content area, but if you don't have the ability to communicate, it doesn't help," Ursani said. "He has the ability to communicate his insight and knowledge."
Schulze observed classes at Belleville West for about a month. Ursani said Schulze's presence in the classroom was valuable for her students.
"It was an eye-opening experience for some students to interact every day with someone who lives in another country," Ursani said.
Among the things Urasani said her students found most interesting about Germany were the price of gas -- which Schulze estimated to be about $11 per gallon -- and the very low cost of college. One student told Schulze she would never again complain about the price of gas in America.
The experience in Urasni's classroom was also beneficial to Schulze.
"I was impressed with how she (Ursani) handles her students and with how much routine she has already established as a young teacher," Schulze said.
American teachers have a different relationship with their students than their German counterparts, Schulze said.
"In Germany, you always have the feeling that the teachers are above you, and they like to give that impression," Schulze said. "Here, the mutual respect is great. Having a nice atmosphere motivates everyone."
Ursani said Shulze has an ability to build a rapport with the students and an impressive work ethic. He might get his work ethic from his father, who was a decathlete on the 1980 West German Olympic team that boycotted the summer games in Moscow.
Schulze left Belleville on Thursday to return to Paderborn, but he will be back. Eckert hopes Schulze's experience will inspire others to participate in student exchange programs and travel abroad.
"I encourage students to not exclude this type of opportunity," Eckert said. "For our kids, it has been a life-changing experience."