By Jennifer Gallus
Sheri Arneson and Matt Stifter of rural Howard Lake are getting a double dose of cultural education in their home as they are host to two foreign exchange students.
Lisa Vahlenkamp, 16, of Germany and Sophie Lauritzen, 16, of Denmark came to stay with Arneson and Stifter late last summer while they attend the school year at Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School.
Arneson started hosting foreign exchange students 10 years ago, and works for ASA International, a foreign exchange student company.
“In fact, my first student I hosted 10 years ago came back in January to visit for two weeks,” Arneson said.
That student was from Brazil. Arneson, Lauritzen, and the Brazilian visitor took a weekend trip to New York. Vahlenkamp didn’t go with the group because she had made a stop in New York before heading to Minnesota.
The girls admitted that some words in their language don’t translate well into English.
“That’s our biggest challenge,” Arneson admitted.
“One day Lisa came home and said, ‘I drove the bus today.’ I said, ‘You did what?’ She was just trying to say she rode the bus home,” Arneson explained.
There are some English expressions that the girls have stumbled across like, “It’s raining cats and dogs,” that they hadn’t learned in their English classes or in the language camp they attended upon first arriving in the US.
The girls speak English very fluently, as if it were their primary language. However, each didn’t start English classes until the fifth grade.
Lauritzen speaks Danish, English, German, French, and has just started a Spanish course.
Vahlenkamp speaks German, English, and knows Latin.
When asked what major differences have been observed between their home countries and the US, Lauritzen laughed, “Let’s start with the food.”
It turns out that in Denmark, a good two to three hours are spent on just the preparation of dinner. The family then sits down for about an hour to an hour-and-a-half, eating and talking.
“No one leaves the table,” Lauritzen said.
Both girls said that vegetables are served in larger portions and meats in smaller portions in their home countries.
“We get to McDonald’s maybe once per year, if we’re lucky,” Lauritzen said.
Vahlenkamp described lunch as their main meal of the day in Germany. The evening meal is usually just bread, because they feel that they’re not going to be working hard in the evening, thus not needing much to sustain themselves at night, Vahlenkamp explained.
“School is different. Classes are just 45 minutes long. I’m used to being home by 1:30 p.m.,” Vahlenkamp said. “We don’t have school sports, but we have club sports one or two times per week. I have less free time here.”
Both girls described classroom operation differences like having to be more vocal in class back in their home countries and not having to hand in homework.
“We have to be very verbal (back home). We get graded on talking in class,” Vahlenkamp said.
Prices of everything from clothing to gas in the US versus their home countries are another big difference the girls noted.
“Everything is half the price here compared with Denmark,” Lauritzen said.
The favorable exchange rate further benefits the girls.
“So we are shopping a lot. I don’t know how I’m getting all my stuff home,” Vahlenkamp said.
The girls are enjoying their stay in rural Howard Lake and have taken many small trips either sightseeing or shopping, or both, as well as attending many sporting events.
They’ll leave with many memories in six to seven weeks bound for their home countries. For now, they’re enjoying every minute, and even plan to attend prom.