The North Crawford School District’s foreign exchange program continues to bring a surprising number of students to such a small rural school.
This year, 10 students are being hosted by area families. They are:
• Flaminia Lana, 17, of Rome, Italy (city population of 3.8 million, metro population 4.2 million). She is staying with Stacey Noel of Soldiers Grove.
• Natalia Bell, 16, of Santa Cruz de Tenerife (Canary Islands), Spain (population 206,593). She is staying with Cyndi Furo of Gays Mills.
• Tim Voelkers, 17, of Menslage, Germany (population 2,461). He is staying with Heidi Olson-Stovey of Soldiers Grove.
• Grace McIntyre, 17, of Dunedin, New Zealand (population 116,200). She is also staying with Heidi Olson-Stovey.
• Michelle Berger, 17, of Ibbenbueren, Germany (population 50,438). She is staying with Ed and Sue Heisz of Soldiers Grove.
• Agostina Martino, 17, of Rafaela, Santa Fe, Argentina (population 103,699). She is staying with Aime Heisz of Soldiers Grove.
• Nina Zastrow, 17, of Hamburg, Germany (city population of 1.75 million, metro population of 5 million). She is staying with Harry and Marla Heisz of Gays Mills.
• Julian Tan Hsien Yang, 18, of Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia (city population 510,966, metro population 2.25 million). He is also staying with Harry and Marla Heisz.
• Lucia Düx, 16, of Heimerzheim, Germany (population 6,324). She is staying with John and Deanna Anderson of Mt. Sterling.
• Peder Kjeserud, 17, of Oslo, Norway (city population 634,463, metro population 1.5 million). He is staying with Jim and Chanda Chellevold.
Most of these students have had some experience with traveling to other countries, though only Yang has lived overseas before. He lived in the U.S. previously, when his father’s work brought him to the country for two years.
A more urban experience is also shared by all. Even those who live in smaller towns are in close proximity to a city.
“In Germany, people mostly live in a city,” said Düx.
“When you’re in Europe, they give you an idea of the U.S. that is more (like) New York City, and then you get here and it is small,” said Bello.
That difference in urban and rural plays out in a number of ways.
“Everyone knows each other,” exclaimed Kjeserud.
“It’s safe,” chimed in Bello.
Asked to explain the difference in safety, Bello explained that the lack of locking had taken her by surprise. You could not leave your home and car unlocked in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, or you could expect someone to take advantage of the access to rob you, she explained.
“And people always have their phones and wallets in their back pocket,” added Kjeserud. “No-one would do that (in Oslo).”
Why? Because keeping things in your back pocket makes them very easy to take while you are out and about.
While being in a rural setting allows a level of safety the students enjoy, even if surprising, it also means spending far more time in cars than they are used to. For most of them, public transport and walking is a normal facet of life.
“You have to ask for rides (here),” noted Zastrow. “There is no other way to go anywhere.”
Zastrow’s hometown of Hamburg has a public transit system that encompasses railway (above and below ground), buses, and ferries.
“The school bus (in Ibbenbueren) doesn’t take you to your home,” noted Berger. “The school bus takes you to the station.”
From there you use public transportation to get the rest of the way home.
Even shopping is a different experience. According to the students, the stores are much bigger and the goods are much cheaper than what they are used to at home.
“You get more for less,” said McIntyre. She thinks the larger size of packaging in the U.S. may help drive prices down, making daily purchases more akin to buying in bulk.
“A medium here is a large at home,” said Kjeserud, with the assent of his fellow exchange students.
“I was really surprised when I first came at the size of a large cola,” said Voelkers. “It was so huge!”
Only one student noted that in some cases things were less expensive at home – Yang. Malaysia is a top exporter of consumer electronics, so purchasing a phone or other electronic item would likely be more expensive than at home.
Shops back home are more specialized, the students said. So you walk down the street and go to separate shops for different types of goods. You don’t buy you clothes and groceries in the same place, the student explained, referencing Wal-Mart.
“When I went into a Wal-Mart, I was really shocked to see guns for sale,” said Yang.
Being in a community where everyone knows each other is an experience all of the students see as positive.
“Everyone is so supportive of each other,” said Voelkers. “They go to each others games to cheer for them. That wouldn’t happen at home.”
“Maybe your parents might go to a club game, but not anyone else,” Martino agreed.
School sports is largely unique to the students who described it as an optional activity you do outside of school by joining sports clubs. They are taking advantage of the opportunity, with nearly the entire group participating in a sport.
“I like the physical contact,” Voelkers said of American football. “It’s a very good team sport. Everyone is working together. In soccer, you can have one person who is really the game maker. They have the ball most of the time and everyone else is left without much to do. But in football, everyone has to really work together to win the game.”
There were some academic differences as well.
“We wear school uniforms,” Yang said. “And we stay in the same classroom all day with the teachers moving. Also, we can choose an academic stream, but we can’t choose our classes like we do here.”
Martino echoed Yang, saying the school system, and not the students, decided classes in Italy.
All of the students reported different grading systems and far more stringent testing regimens at home.
“It’s much stricter,” McIntyre said. “Everyone sits exams at the same time, so you have a few hundred people in the hall, and there are people walking around to keep an eye on you and make sure you don’t cheat.”
Each of the students expressed gratitude for the kindness they have received from their host families.
“I think it is very nice that your host family takes you in and they get nothing for doing this,” said Düx.
“The families all try to make you feel like it’s home,” added McIntyre.
“They make an effort to get things that you might miss from home,” said Zastrow.
“And they treat you like you are one of their own kids,” Düx finished.
It takes a fair amount of courage and a willingness to adapt to living with new people.
“I did it without thinking about it,” Bello said. “If you think about it, you get scared and you might not do it. But I think it has made me grow up a lot, to become more mature.”
Add to maturing, Bello has added learning to appreciate snow – she, McIntyre and Yang all come from warm climates. Bello has also learned to say hello in a less outwardly affectionate manner.
“When I got here, I would kiss everyone and get some very funny looks,” she said with a laugh. “I don’t do that now.”