Native Berliner helps make Newton South Prague program in Central Europe a success

By Jenny Wong
Published: October 2010

Francesa “Franzi Helms of Berlin Germany, high school newspaper enthusiast and Bremen University bound student, is just one of the many people who graciously volunteered their knowledge of Europe and their time to help make this year’s annual Prague program (since 1990) a success.
Helms was a member of her high school’s newspaper magazine since before her freshman year through her senior year, and she eventually held the position of Editor in Chief.
Her commitment to the newspaper was a serious one and her efforts rewarded, as her paper won the prize for the best newspaper in Berlin twice during her time on board.
She most enjoyed writing a column on cinema because she is interested in film, and this interest eventually landed her an interview with Andreas Dresen, a highly successful German filmmaker, who has made 31 films including Summer in Berlin (2005) and Grill Point (2002).
Helms marks this interview as one of the highlights of her journalism career to date, and remarked on the extensive amount of preparation she did for this particular meeting; “I watched many of his films and read books about him¦he was surprised by how much I knew she said.
Another highlight of her high school journalism career occurred last year, when she was invited to the studio of the Berlin TV station RBB Abendschau, the evening show.
Here she spoke about a wide range of topics, from the success of her school’s newspaper to her generation, which has been dubbed “the party generation.
Not least, Helms recalled a trip she won as a journalism assignment to Beijing, China, in 2008 to cover the Paralympics. She and a team of journalists travelled to China for ten days to report on the varied athletic events as well as the wide-ranging Chinese culture they experienced during their time there.
Helms was selected for this particular trip because of her interest as well as her strong language abilities; she has studied several languages at her school, including English, Chinese, French, and Latin.
Helms said that all these experiences were both challenging and enjoyable, and that her favorite aspect of journalism was that “[she] could go up to people [she] normally wouldn’t have been able to talk to and then ask them questions.
Helms’ involvement with Newton South’s Central European Prague program began more than a year ago when she and several colleagues met with Mr. Rinaldi and Mr. White at her gymnasium or high school in February to match interests.
That was February, then in April they organized a Berlin group to show the Newton South students around their city.
The Prague Spring teachers emailed the program’s chief interests in Berlin and the volunteers backgrounded some of the attractions so they would be involved with the process when South students arrived. Helms served to focus communication, as she was the correspondent who was initially contacted by South’s teachers, met with them, and continued all email exchanges to work out the on-the-ground details of the three days of South’s Berlin stay.
In addition to her role as a correspondent and coordinator, Helms also served as an escort and commentor.
Her teachers had added information for the many Holocaust- related sites for South students to see, and Helms was invaluable finding train stations and working out train times for sites as varied as the Brandenburg Tor (Gate) or the Memorial to the Destruction of the European Jews.
Helms said she enjoyed walking around with the students because she appreciated “the conversations [she] had with the students and seeing how interested and prepared they were for German issues and German history.
Helms found herself experiencing something new in Berlin as a consequence of her association with Prague Spring. She visited the infamous 1936 Nazi Olympic stadium (now home to Berlin’s international soccer team) for the first, and said although she knew it was an important place she “had never seen it before because¦[she's] not too much of a sports person.
While Helms says it is unlikely that she will be participating in the Prague program in 2011 since she is no longer affiliated with her Berlin high school and will be out of Berlin at Bremen University, she says that she enjoyed “meeting people from different parts of the world; knew she could “learn something from this experience; and hopes to keep in touch not only with South’s teachers but the students she met.

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