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Exchange student thrilled to return to Butler High 39 years later

Nicolas Bogs, a professor of human resources management in Germany, returned Thursday, Nov. 30, to Butler High School, from which he graduated in 1984 as a German exchange student. Bogs, who is spending the fall at Robert Morris University in the school’s Visiting Scholar program, held two assemblies before students in the high school’s world languages classes. Steven Dalton/Special to Butler Eagle

BUTLER TWP — Nicolas Bogs’ hair is shorter and a little whiter, and he might have developed a few subtle lines around the eyes, but his smile was as exuberant as a teenager as he traversed the hallways of Butler High School on Thursday, Nov. 30.

Bogs is a professor of human resources management in Germany who is spending the fall semester at Robert Morris University as the Rooney Visiting Scholar.

When he was accepted into the university’s program, in which an international scholar spends a semester in residence on campus to teach, lecture or research, he knew he had to make the drive to Butler County to visit his beloved American alma mater.

Bogs graduated from Butler High in 1984 as a German exchange student, and grinned from “ohr to ohr” as he walked the school’s halls before giving presentations to language students at two assemblies.

“I feel moved,” Bogs said, as a sea of students changed classes at lunchtime. “A lot of things have changed, but overall, the vibe is the same.”

He recalled that his homeroom was Room 404, and the concept of teachers each having their own homeroom was foreign to him as a German teen.

“In Europe, the teachers come to the classrooms, but in America, the class comes to the teacher,” Bogs said, “so each classroom, the teacher makes it their home.”

Bogs was escorted at the school by German teacher Jared Schneider, of whom the former student greatly approved.

“Passion for teaching has always been huge at Butler High,” he said. “I had extremely talented, modern teachers, even back in 1984.”

At the first assembly in the high school auditorium, Bogs told the students he desperately wanted to visit Butler High while staying in Pittsburgh with the Robert Morris University program.

“I wanted to enjoy the food in the cafeteria,” he said. “Today, I had the taco salad, and it was wonderful.”

Life as an exchange student

Bogs detailed his experiences not only as a student at the school, but as a resident at the Third Street home of Bob and Peg McGuirk, as an exchange student.

He recalled his host mother saying “Why don’t you do the dishes?” after dinner one evening.

Bogs said he replied with all the things he would rather be doing instead of the dishes.

“That was my first crash,” he said.

Bob McGuirk took Bogs aside and explained that the question wasn’t a question at all, but a directive.

In the German culture, Bogs explained, if someone asked a question beginning with the words “Why don’t you,” the reply would begin with “Because” followed by an explanation.

“Germans are more specific and precise, while Americans are more easy going,” Bogs said of the two countries’ cultural and language differences.

One thrilling event that occurred during Bogs’ senior year was a Butler Eagle article on him that was written by cub reporter Donna Ungor Sybert, who is now the managing editor at the Eagle.

Bogs displayed the nearly 40-year-old article on the big screen for the students to see.

“It’s great to see the subject of a story I wrote so many years ago return to Butler and celebrate his education at Butler High,” Sybert said. “I’m also thrilled that Mr. Bogs has done so well for himself, and that he took the time to participate in the education of our local students on Thursday by sharing his international perspective.”

German qualities

Bogs also displayed various images of men who have made a difference in the world, including Karl and Theo Albrecht, who created the Aldi brand as a combination of the words “Albrecht Discount.”

He said the family and store demonstrate the German qualities of pragmatism, structure, frugality, diligence, precision and innovation in their model of selling high quality foods at affordable prices by lowering overhead costs in each store.

In contrast to the Albrecht’s style is American billionaire Elon Musk, who embraces what Bogs called the American business model of trying your best is good enough, and if something doesn’t work another attempt will be made.

He said Musk tried to open a factory in Germany, but did not pay attention to the difference in cultures between Germany and America.

Musk ignored environmental regulations, how Germans think and work, and did not decode the culture before he built his factory there.

“That guy completely failed,” Bogs said.

He told the language students that one common denominator can educate those around the world who are trying to understand others and their way of life.

“Language is the starting point, so congratulations to all of you who have gone down that path,” Bogs said.

Expanding horizons

Taryn Hilovsky, a sophomore, said she enjoyed learning about the different leadership styles in Germany compared to the U.S.

Her mother is a German native, so Taryn enrolled in German class at school.

“My mom made me take it,” she said.

Annalyn Schnur, also a sophomore, was interested to hear Bogs report that he wrote down 10 English words each day he didn’t understand, and looked them up and used them in conversation.

“In 365 days, you could learn thousands of words,” she said.

She hopes to travel internationally as an adult.

“I want to understand other people and the way they live, and learn what I like and who I am as a person,” Annalyn said.

Beth McGuirk Gazica, of West View, Allegheny County, is Bogs’ “host sister.” She accompanied Bogs during his visit to Butler High, from which she also graduated in 1984.

She has kept in touch with her German “brother” over the years via email, as well as phone calls at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Gazica said her late parents also hosted a French student and another exchange student who stayed for a summer.

She hoped Bogs’ speech would expand the horizons of the language students gathered in the school auditorium on Thursday.

“I hope they recognize that what they are doing now in high school can impact what they do down the road,” Gazica said.

She recalled that it expanded her own horizons more than 40 years ago when her parents decided to host Bogs.

“What I appreciated about him was that he was so self-sufficient,” Gazica said.

A Scholar’s connection

Jennifer Creamer, executive director of the Center for Global Engagement at Robert Morris University, said Bogs is the first participant in the Visiting Scholar program who has a connection to Western Pennsylvania.

“I just think it’s marvelous,” Creamer said.

She said she is still in touch with the Japanese family who hosted her as an exchange student in 1981.

“Exchange students make friends all over the world that last a lifetime,” Creamer said.

Schneider was thrilled that Bogs gave the presentations to his language students.

“The fact that we have someone international like this to share the advantages of taking world language and studying cultures, I think it’s a great opportunity,” Schneider said. “I’m glad he came back to share his perspective.”

Nicholas Bogs was thrilled to return to Butler High School, from which he graduated in 1984 as a German exchange student. Steven Dalton/Special to Butler Eagle
Nicholas Bogs, a human resources management professor in Germany, was happy to return on Thursday, Nov. 30, to Butler High School, from which he graduated as an exchange student in 1984. Bogs spoke with the school’s language students after lunch. Steven Dalton/Special to Butler Eagle
Nicholas Bogs, who graduated from Butler High School in 1984 as a German exchange student, returned to his alma mater Thursday, Nov. 30, to share his international perspective with the school’s language students. Steven Dalton/Special to Butler Eagle
Butler Eagle 1984Article on Nicholas Bogs

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