Spring Lake Park High School has four foreign exchange students this year.
Saskia Kabelitz is from Berlin, Germany; Cedric Leuenberger is from Frenkendorf, Switzerland; Romina Montii Zapata is from Coyhaique, Chile; and Veera Toikka is from Vantaa, Finland.
Leuenberger, Montii Zapata and Toikka came to Minnesota through AFS Intercultural Programs, while Kabelitz is here independently with a scholarship.
Kabelitz started learning English in third grade and decided to study in the United States to improve her English, meet new people and learn about a different culture, she said.
Additionally, she came to buy herself some time because she does not know what she wants to do following graduation in Germany.
Her favorite subject is history and U.S. history has been an interesting course at Spring Lake Park High School.
“It’s another point of view,” she said.
Overall, school is quite different in the United States, she said. It’s strange for her to have the same classes daily and not be able to take her lunch break whenever she chooses.
Additionally, “we are allowed to go out during the day,” Kabelitz said.
She had hoped to play volleyball, as she does in Germany, but she arrived too late to nab a spot on the team, she said. She is still deciding which co-curricular activities interest her.
This is Kabelitz’s first time in the Midwest. She took a road trip around the Great Lakes, starting and ending in Chicago, several years ago with family.
Her father works as an auto mechanic, and her mother is a pediatrician. She has an 8-year-old half brother.
Kabelitz misses the food back home.
“You eat so much sweet food,” she said.
Kabelitz finds candy corn absolutely disgusting, but does like cotton candy here.
She tried lots of food on a stick at the State Fair, and has enjoyed visiting the Minneapolis Institute of Art, which she has done twice so far.
Leuenberger has been to the United States twice before when his family vacationed in Florida.
He opted to study here because he wants to be exposed to other cultures.
“The USA is a very interesting country with politics,” he said.
Leuenberger has found English to be essential.
“English is an important language,” he said, and his mastery is improving each day at Spring Lake Park High School.
Leuenberger plays on the football team at the high school.
Sports and travel are his favorite pastimes, and he has traveled down to the Mall of America already to see what the fuss is all about.
Back home, Leuenberger lives with his father, a pastor; mother, a physical therapist; and his 14-year-old brother.
Romina Montti Zapata
Montti Zapata is no stranger to snow living in Coyhaique, which has been called “the city of eternal snow.”
But temperatures there seem to be less extreme than they are in Minnesota, she said.
The population is more homogeneous, too.
“We don’t have much diversity,” she said, adding that she appreciates the fact that Spring Lake Park High School is more diverse.
School in Chile is “very different than here,” according to Montti Zapata.
“We never change classrooms, and always we have the same classmates,” she said.
Subjects are studied in a different order each day with English being an obligatory subject from age 8.
“My English – it’s improving,” Montti Zapata said. “The language I think it a wall for the relationships.”
She is participating in the swimming and diving program at Spring Lake Park High School.
Toikka dreams of some day becoming a pilot, she said.
At home, she is enrolled in upper secondary school, which is both high school and college combined in the United States, she said.
Homecoming was a new experience for her.
“We don’t have anything like it,” she said.
She participates in the swimming and diving program at the high school with Montti Zapata.
Additionally, she loves hanging out with friends, shopping, snowboarding and traveling.
At home, she has three younger siblings, and she doesn’t miss her family just yet, she said.
She does miss Finnish cuisine.
Food in America, “it’s very unhealthy,” she said.