Four students traveled across the globe to attend Spring Lake Park High School this year.
The four foreign exchange students are enrolled as seniors, which is fairly typical even if they would be sophomores or juniors at home, according to R.K. Reif, an English teacher at the high school and adviser of the World Cultures Club. Their schools at home are usually very rigorous, readying them for senior-level coursework, and senior status affords the exchange students unique social opportunities, Reif said.
Costanza Alesse – Rome, Italy
Alesse, 17, applied to be a foreign exchange student through the AFS program. “I wanted to learn about another culture,” she said. “I wanted to grow up and be more independent, be more competent.”
Alesse is already cold, although current local temperatures match those in Italy, she said. She is bracing herself for winter, having only seen snow twice in her life, Alesse said.
So far, classes are difficult because reading in English takes Alesse much longer than it would in Italian. For example, a typical history reading assignment can take her two-and-a-half hours here, where it might take one hour at home, she said.
Prom will be a new experience for her. “We just go to a disco,” Alesse said.
You can cheer Alesse on at Panther swim meets, where she swims on the varsity team. Three hours in the pool each day contrast the three hours she puts in each week back home.
Kaito Arai – Tokyo, Japan
Arai, 16, who lives near Tokyo, said life is very different.
Arai attends an all-boys school in Japan, so having girls around has been an adjustment, one that he doesn’t mind, he said.
Another distinction in school is shorter lunch breaks. Arai said that lunch time is almost doubled at home, so he sometimes feels rushed here.
On graduation in Japan, Arai hopes to become a diplomat. “I have to study more and more language maybe,” he said.
He speaks three languages currently.
Arai plays on the soccer team for Spring Lake Park.
Marieke Stoecker – Berlin, Germany
Stoecker, 16, a native of Berlin, said it is much easier to get around with public transportation there. “Here you are dependent on a car or your social environment,” she said.
Stoecker has never visited the United States before, but she came with ideas of what Minnesota might be like after watching the popular television show “How I Met Your Mother.” One of the characters is from St. Cloud.
She anticipated that Minnesotans would be friendly and drink a lot of milk. These stereotypes have held up so far, she said. “Everybody is just so nice here,” Stoecker said, and the fact that her host family serves milk with dinner every night is “hilarious.”
Stoecker plans to take several trips to other parts of the U.S. and Canada during her year abroad. This fall, she will visit Winnipeg, Canada. Tennessee is the plan for Thanksgiving and for spring break, she may spend time in New York or travel with her host sister to Texas, where one of her best friends is a foreign exchange student this year. There is a slight chance she and her host family might travel to Disney World.
At school, Stoecker hopes to act in the fall play.
Momoka Tawada – Osaka, Japan
Tawada, 17, doesn’t like flying, but she endured 12-plus hours on an airplane to get from her home in Osaka to Spring Lake Park.
Like Arai, Tawada finds lunch breaks too short in America, and she isn’t accustomed to wearing whatever she likes to class. In Osaka, she wears a uniform and no one wears shoes.
Tawada struggles with English more than the other three students and she is thankful for her host family. “They help me,” she said. Ceramics is Tawada’s favorite class at the high school. She enjoys art in general, she said.
Tawada plays on the high school tennis team.
When the team has a day off from practice, she jumps at the chance to go shopping.
Olivia Koester is at firstname.lastname@example.org