Sophomore Santi Helbig learns to embrace his new life in Germany


Courtesy of Santi Helbig

Standing atop a tower that overlooks Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, sophomore Santi Helbig and his family are visited by fellow sophomore Alex Spangler and his family. Helbig was excited to see one of his best friends who he had not seen since he left for Germany. “Having him with me was a big reminder of all the people that love me back at home, and it made me so happy to be able to show him all the beautiful places we’ve been to so far. I really needed to see him after so much time away from everyone,” Helbig said.

Leaving his home in St. Louis behind, sophomore Santi Helbig hopes to positively take on this new chapter of his life as he moves to Düsseldorf, Germany due to his father’s job relocation.  

“I’ve lived in St. Louis all my life; it’s basically all that I know. This is a great experience to build life skills that are so important, to make connections and understand the whole world, not just the United States. In that way, it’s made me feel excited,” Helbig said. 

While coming to terms with having to leave his friends, Helbig uncovered new truths about his life.

“Leaving my friends behind makes me realize how well I had it, and it makes me appreciate life much more. I realized that this is our life, and we have to make the most of it,” Helbig said. “Yes, maybe I am leaving all of my friends behind, but the real friends are the ones that are going to stick around, and the ones that you’re going to call, the ones that are going to tell you about their life even though you’re not there to be with them and experience it with them. That’s what real friendship is: going through these challenges.”

He also gained a new perspective on life and took on the challenge of making himself proud. 

“I’ve been trying to be healthier, workout and read more with all this time I have on my hands. I’m choosing to improve my lifestyle, and by moving, it’s made me think of life in this new way,” Helbig said. “When it’s something this big that happens in your life, it causes you to rethink things, and I think it’s a good thing for that to happen. Some people should be able to realize that without this big thing happening, but that’s not as easy as it sounds. I’ve just been really grateful.”

Helbig left the United States June 2 and arrived at his new home where he will spend the next three years of his life until his dad’s international work assignment is over.

“To be completely honest, I thought it would be much worse being away from everything that I love, but honestly, it’s a really beautiful place. I guess I have to say that I expected it to be worse. It surprised me,” Helbig said. 

The effect you have on people is something they don’t forget, and you don’t always get a chance to affect someone’s life, so if you can, always make someone’s life better,”

— sophomore Santi Helbig

Helbig is excited to travel around Europe and immerse himself in the European culture knowing that this will be his best opportunity to do so.  

“I’ve realized that here in Europe, especially in Germany, where it’s more of a city lifestyle I’m living, kids have so much more freedom. You can go everywhere either by train or bus or biking, which I’ve been biking everywhere. There’s just so much freedom,” Helbig said. “For example, there is this ice cream parlor that is right next to where I live, and at least two times a week, my entire family and I bike there. It feels like this place of refuge. The people that work there always say hi and talk to me. I can talk to them about soccer and Argentina, and I ask how they’re doing. They remember my order, and you get to build that connection with people you never thought you would. Just by going there so many times, you can talk to them for a brief couple minutes about your life and that’s just how the people are here.”

The lifestyle Helbig now lives contrasts in many ways from the lifestyle he lived in the United States. 

“I feel like here in Germany, the European lifestyle is much more open and much more accepting because moving isn’t uncommon here. There are so many nationalities and so many people from all over, and the people understand how one feels to move to a new place. They try to include you, and invite you, which, I think, is a big difference,” Helbig said. 

Helbig strives to leave his mark in Düsseldorf and to make every moment he has there count.  

“One of my best friends, Santi Lugo, told me how I’ve affected and impacted people in great ways in St. Louis, and how now it’s my opportunity to do it in Europe, in Germany,” Helbig said. “It makes me realize that the effect you have on people is something they don’t forget, and you don’t always get a chance to affect someone’s life, so if you can, always make someone’s life better. I think that’s a goal we should all have. That’s a goal I’ve put on myself, and that’s a goal that my family, being in this new location, is going to try to impact people in positive ways.”

Although Helbig’s time at West High came to a close, he looks forward to the day he returns to St. Louis. 

“The things that people at West have taught me are things I’m never going to forget. I appreciate having been able to experience all these things with them, even if it was only one year of high school, it was really great to have gone through things with them,” Helbig said. “I definitely have to say that I’ve thought about [my moment of return] a lot. I’m really looking forward to that cheesy moment when you see your friends for the first time in such a long time in the airport, and you run into their arms and just hug them, and you’re so happy to see them. Even though you still know how they look, it’s like they’ve changed because it’s been so long since you’ve just held them. I know you see everyone on social media, but it’s not the same, and just to be able to see someone and feel their emotions–that’s just something you don’t always get. I just want to see that again. In a way, this long wait is going to make that moment so much better.”