The Goldbach family (left), and the Lohsen family (right). Photo credit: Anna-Lena Goldbach and Michaela Lohsen
This past term, Sunrise Waldorf School (Sunrise) has been hosting the Goldbach family from Munich, Germany as part of a once-in-a-lifetime exchange. As part of the exchange, long-time Sunrise teacher and parent Michaela Lohsen has been living in Germany with her family.
It all started with a creative idea. Anna-Lena Goldbach, a German citizen and Waldorf teacher at a school in Munich called the Rudolf-Steiner Schule München-Daglfing (Waldorf Daglfing) has always loved travelling. A mother of three, she wanted to give her children the experience of living and going to school in an English-speaking country for a few months.
In September of 2021, she decided to explore the possibility of an exchange with a family at another Waldorf school. Anna-Lena sent a letter to Waldorf schools in a number of English-speaking countries introducing herself and her family, and proposing her idea.
Michaela and her family took Anna-Lena up on the offer. They agreed to “swap houses, cars and pets for 5 months starting in August 2022,” explained Anna-Lena.
We caught up with both of them to find out more about their experiences over the past few months.
Jonte with the Goldbach family rabbit. Photo credit: Michaela Lohsen
How have you enjoyed your time abroad?
“We enjoy the bustle and all the opportunities Munich offers,” said Michaela. “During the
summer, there were lots of places to hang out outside, and now, during Advent, we enjoy visiting all the different Christmas markets.”
Munich, Germany. Photo credit: Michaela Lohsen
Anna-Lena and her family have been enjoying the more rural Cowichan Valley. “We're amazed by this huge energy from nature,” she said. “It’s awesome for our children. They saw a deer yesterday on the school grounds, and they love all the animals you see around here – animals we don't have at all in Germany, like hummingbirds and of course the bears. It's great.”
What similarities have you noticed between the two Waldorf schools?
As a traveller and Waldorf teacher, Anna-Lena has visited quite a few Waldorf classrooms in different countries. “Every time I step into a Waldorf school, I feel at home. It's everything, the smell, the atmosphere of course, the pictures and how the rooms are created,” she said. “I'm always amazed how [Waldorf] goes around the world and it's really authentic everywhere.”
Michaela made similar observations. “The art exhibitions in the hallways, the way the classrooms are decorated and set up, and the structure of the lessons all gave us the comfort of familiarity,” she explained.
What are some of the differences?
Of course, the two schools are not identical. Waldorf Daglfing is quite large compared with Sunrise.
“The Waldorfschule Daglfing is a school that goes from Grades 1 to 12 with the possibility of finishing with the Abitur,” Michaela explained. (The Abitur is an extra year of exam preparation for students who intend to go to university.) “There are 'a' and 'b' classes for all 12 Grades, with around 26 students each.”
Waldorf School in Munich. Photo credit: Michaela Lohsen
Anna-Lena appreciates the intimate environment at Sunrise. “I went to morning assembly on Monday, and it's a great thing to have. It's so precious because you can see the whole community and be part of it, and you're not so isolated,” she said. “It wouldn't be possible at our school, for example, because we have more than 700 pupils.”
Monday morning assembly at Sunrise. Photo credit: Katherine Lampson
She also noted distinctions in the learning environment at Sunrise. “For the students, it's very good to have different activities like you do at Sunrise, to go outside in between lessons,” she explained. “You don't have to fill a lesson from the first minute to the last.”
What have you learned from the experience?
The exchange has given Anna-Lena some valuable perspective.
She explained that life for parents in Munich is very hectic. “Everyone's struggling,” she said. “And these full weeks of working full time, having kids, having many additional appointments or things to do, or helping at the school and everything that goes along with it, makes people very stressed.”
The Goldbach family home. Photo credit: Michaela Lohsen
Of life in the Cowichan Valley, she said, “There's more time for other things than the job, and that's very healthy. So, I’ll try to bring that back.”
Michaela said, “I enjoyed the exchange with my colleagues about Waldorf education and its future.”
She also appreciated the opportunity for her daughter to experience Waldorf high school. “Having my daughter attend Grade 11 at Daglfing has shown me how fortunate the students here are to have the support of the Waldorf curriculum to guide them through adolescence and help them become wholesome human beings.”
Anything else you would like to add?
“This exchange has been a precious and important time for all of us,” said Michaela. “My children learned to become more independent. They have also learned what it is like to enter a new school in a country where the language is not their mother tongue. Navigating social dynamics and academics while learning the language is quite difficult, and they will now welcome students from other countries with even more openness and empathy.”
Anna-Lena asked her children what they liked about being at Sunrise. Luisa (in Class 4) loves the animals. Anna-Lena explained that her son Emilian (in Class 8) “said he loves the school grounds, like the basketball court and the big meadow.”
Anna-Lena also made a point of saying, “Everyone is so kind and friendly. And this atmosphere and mood really lives at the school. It's like the spirit lives at the school and you can feel it every time you're there. And that's very special, I think, and very precious.”
Luisa with the Lohsen family dog. Photo credit: Anna-Lena Goldbach
She went on to say, “Great thanks to the teachers. They're really doing a good job. You feel the strength they have and the community they have together. Really nice.”