San Luis Obispo is playing host this week to 67 high school choir members from Stuttgart, Germany, as part of a six decade old exchange program between San Luis Obispo High School and its overseas sister school, Eberhard-Ludwigs Gymnasium (Ebelu).
“We’re definitely drawn to the people of Stuttgart,” said Laura Mullen, co-chair of the German School Committee, which organized the trip.
The Ebelu students, who are staying with local host families, arrived Wednesday evening via chartered bus from Los Angeles and spent Thursday exploring the San Luis Obispo High campus and the San Luis Obispo area — culminating in a performance by the visiting students at First Presbyterian Church in downtown San Luis Obispo. They were scheduled to take a trip to Avila Beach on Friday and attend a barbecue Saturday at Cuesta Park.
Their visit will culminate Sunday with a choral concert at the Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo.
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The Ebelu students leave Monday morning for San Francisco, Mullen said.
The relationship between the two schools began in 1948, when Ethel Cooley, then dean of girls at San Luis Obispo High, formed the German School Committee with about a dozen students with the goal of fostering international friendship and understanding. They began by sending packages of books, soap and candy to Ebelu.
Led by the German School Committee, the two schools started a student exchange program a few years later. The first German boy spent the school year in San Luis Obispo in 1953, and the first American boy visited Germany the following year.
Since 1956, the schools have swapped students every year. (Girls weren’t allowed to participate in the program until 1969, when Ebelu began admitting female students.)
“It’s a testament to the town (and) to the people who have been involved … that this program has continued for 60-plus years,” said Mullen, whose family first hosted an Ebelu exchange student in 2008. Three other students have stayed with the Mullens since then.
“One of the things I didn’t realize was how much it would broaden the horizons of my own children,” she said. “It made them more adventuresome and willing to try new things.”
Her son, Michael Mullen, studied in Stuttgart shortly after graduating from San Luis Obispo High in 2011; he plans to study mechanical engineering at Cal Poly next year.
Lauren Harper attended Ebelu during the 2012-2013 school year as a recent San Luis Obispo High grad. She stayed at the home of a previous Ebelu exchange student, Kalra Friese.
“I really wanted to travel,” recalled Harper, now a sophomore at Duke University in Durham, N.C. “I had the desire to live in another country, to learn another language.”
Although she faced “a really steep learning curve” in becoming fluent in German, Harper said her experiences in Europe exposed her to new people, new places and new possibilities.
In fact, she said, “The reason I’m studying civil engineering is because of the year I spent in Germany.”
In addition to individual students, Ebelu and San Luis Obispo High have also hosted choral programs.
In 1998, then-San Luis Obispo High choral director Gary Lamprecht invited the Ebelu choir to visit the Central Coast, launching a series of similar trips. In 2012, the San Luis Obispo High choir visited Stuttgart to help celebrate Ebelu’s 325th anniversary.
Sunday’s concert will feature performances by the visiting Ebelu choir members and choirs from San Luis Obispo High and Laguna Middle School in San Luis Obispo. Also performing are participants in a newly created sixth-grade choir program, which draws students from C.L. Smith, Los Ranchos, Pacheco, Sinsheimer and Teach elementary schools.
“It’s a nice spectrum from our little choral community here,” said Meagan Pitcairn Glimpse, choral director at San Luis Obispo High and Laguna Middle School.
According to Glimpse, the program will feature everything from American folk songs to selections by Johannes Brahms. She described music as “a great common ground.” “It’s just a wonderful opportunity” for the students, the choir director said. “It’s great for them to have that connection to people … from so far away.”