HJ/EDEnterprise Dispatch, Oct. 31, 2005

Looking for a home to hang his hat

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

German foreign exchange student Mischa Schoenke is looking for a permanent host family for the rest of the school year.

Schoenke is currently staying with his “welcome family,” Randy and Margo Vredenburg of Cokato.

He was originally set to stay with a family in Michigan, but they backed out at the last minute.

The Vredenburgs, who agreed to host Schoenke until another family was found in the DC area, were contacted because they hosted a German student in the past.

Schoenke is 17 and attends DC high school as a junior.

He grew up in Rosdorf, Germany, just 50 miles north of Hamburg.

The lifestyle he lived in Germany is quite similar to America, he said, except for the fact that kids his age can drive here, where as in Germany, they can’t until they are 18.

“It’s very exciting here . . . there are things I’ve never seen . . . it’s a lot bigger here,” Schoenke said.

He went on to explain, the “tank stores,” or what we call gas stations are used for much more than just buying gas and the “electronics are cheap,” since he just bought his own i-pod.

What he likes most about DC is sports. He enjoys watching football and volleyball and intends to go out for swimming this winter.

The program in which Schoenke has been placed is Youth for Understanding, a non-profit exchange program.

The program began in 1951, after founder Rachel Andresen toured war-torn Europe.

“I wondered how it ever would be possible to rebuild what had been destroyed. Even more important, what has been damaged in the peoples’ lives and hearts. What could I ever do?” Andresen wrote after her visit.

According to the YFU website, the exchange program to help the youth “break out of this cycle of bitterness, hopelessness, and despair” that had devastated the youth.

In 1951, 75 German teenagers were selected to come and live in the US for one year.

Andresen was asked to help with the placement of these teens into US families and in 1952, became the official founder.

Now, YFU is the oldest and largest program in the world.

YFU Field Director Betsy Kiefer is in charge of Schoenke’s placement.

Currently, there are 112 foreign exchange students in Minnesota through YFU.

According to Kiefer, the program offers families the opportunity to not only learn about other countries geography and history, but they also learn more about themselves.

“It makes them softer, more humble and they question things that are,” said Kiefer.

For example, the most common refrain from foreign students is that we depend on the automobile too much, whereas they use public transportation more often.

Often times, exchange students come to the US more independent and mature than Americans of the same age, replied Kiefer.

Kiefer believes it is important for people to understand other countries and vice versa, so that both can live in a more peaceful world.

Kiefer feels the program offers “a spark of adventure that never quite goes to sleep.”

She also has said about the exchange program, “be not hesitant to welcome a stranger for thereby some have entertained angels unaware (Hebrews 13:2).

This opportunity is awesome . . . it reaches far beyond today and tomorrow, far beyond our home, country, and this life . . . to bond, unite, heal and offer focus, inspiration and hope . . . to build character and dreams.”

If anyone is interested in hosting Schoenke, contact First Baptist Church of Cokato at (320) 286-2562.

For anyone interested in being a future host family, contact Betty Kiefer at (612) 298-9987 or kiefer@yfu.org.

To learn more information about the Youth For Understanding student exchange program, visit the website www.yfumn.org.

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