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Coming to America

May 5, 2008

Four foreign exchange students relate their Dassel-Cokato experience

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

This year, four foreign exchange students left their homes in Poland, Germany, and Brazil to spend a year with their host families in Dassel and Cokato.

Despite coming from half a world away, the overall theme among them was that the culture here in the United States is “similar, but different at the same time.”

Alex Stien, from Bremen, Germany, is staying with Ron and Lisa Nyquist of Cokato.

For Stein, it was hard to say what she enjoyed most about her time at DC.

“It becomes your everyday life,” Stein said.

Overall, she is having a good time here and has enjoyed meeting new people.

Here, Stien is a senior, but in Germany, she would be a junior. She likes that at DC High School, she can choose her own classes.

The people of DC and Stein’s peers have been “really nice,” she said.

Right from the start, DC students welcomed her and were interested in talking and learning about her and the German culture.

So far, during her stay in the states, Stien has been to the Mall of America, Chicago, and “up north.”

Douglas Silva is from the large city of Sau Paulo, Brazil (population approximately 10 million).

He actually met his host mother, Heidi Smith, while she was on a mission trip to his home country – Douglas was her translator.

From that point on, Douglas and Heidi kept in touch and since Heidi and her husband, Darrel, have been host parents before, they invited him to come and stay.

“I’m liking it a lot,” he said.

This is despite having arrived in Minnesota in January, on the coldest day of the year, with the temperature 40 degrees below zero.

This was quite a shock for Douglas, who came from a tropical climate where it was summer.

As he got off the plane, he was thinking, “Oh gosh.”

“I began praying, ‘Jesus, help me,’” Douglas said.

After the weather warmed up a bit, he went sledding with his host brother, Landon, which he had fun doing.

“Now, it’s good weather. I’m enjoying it,” he said.

Having arrived in January, Silva will continue attending DC High School in the fall.

Silva says the American culture is “kind of similar, but different at the same time.”

One noticable difference between the culture here and his home in Brazil is the food.

“You eat a lot of junk food,” he said.

In Brazil, food is fresher, partly because of the warmer climate all year, he said.

As for school at DC, there are more sports offered, whereas Brazil’s traditional public schools have less variety, he said.

Here, Silva likes being in track, where he sprints.

Silva hasn’t had any trouble finding friends.

“Everybody is really friendly and really nice,” he said.

Coming from the fourth largest city in the world, Silva is getting accustomed to the slower pace of American country life.

“People aren’t so much in a hurry as in Sao Paulo,” he said.

“People eat early and go to bed early,” he said.

One thing he isn’t getting used to is the lack of transportation.

Coming from a city with an abundance of public transportation, Silva feels dependent on others in order to get from place to place.

Silva joking suggested investing in public transportation.

He also mentioned he likes the American morals.

Brunna Medici is also from Brazil, but from the “smaller” city of Bauru (population approximately 400,000).

Her host family is Steve and Becky Nelson.

Medici says the biggest assumption the typical American has of Brazil is that it is all Amazon rain forest.

This is not the case. The rain forest covers the northern portion of the country, whereas Bauru and Sau Paulo are in the southern portion of Brazil.

Unlike Silva, Medici became a little more accustomed to the cold weather, and joined ice hockey.

If she could, Medici would make a career of it, she said.

Medici was so proud she scored one goal this year.

“I almost cried,” she said.

Hockey is also where she met a lot of her friends.

School days are much longer here in comparison to Brazil, where the class periods are 45 minutes long and many days, school is out by lunchtime. School is also year-round in Brazil which doesn’t bother Medici, she said.

Students in Brazil stay in one classroom all day, unless they have science, where they would go into a lab, Medici said.

Class schedules also vary from day-to-day, Medici said.

Two things she noticed that are different about the American culture are that here, “No one shows their belly,” and “you can text a lot more,” Medici said.

Marek Aftyka, of Crachow, Poland, has been wanting to come to the US for a long time now, he said.

Aftyka is staying with Pat and Mary Fitzsimmons.

“I really like my host family,” he said. “It’s the best family I could ever dream of. They are very warm and loving,” he added.

The weather was much warmer when Aftyka arrived in Minnesota at the end of August.

He has many interests including history, geography, reading, writing, and traveling. He wants to visit San Francisco.

Similar to schools in Brazil, there is no typical day in Poland; schedules vary each day, he said.

Aftyka likes the education system in DC; he says, “it’s working well.”

This year, he has participated in cross country and track.

He enjoys being in a whole different culture with different traditions, but also says they are quite similar to Poland’s.

One difference he found was that life is much easier here.

“In Poland, people like making life harder,” he said, explaining there is more bureaucracy and paperwork in Poland. For example, it is more difficult getting a passport, he said.

The exchange students collectively commented they were surprised at how everyone knows who each other is, yet adults don’t trust the kids.

They explained that in Europe and Brazil, there aren’t curfews on the weekends.

“There are more rules. Everyone here gets ‘grounded’, Medici said., unfamiliar of the term.

Also, the World Cup is huge in Europe, but even more so in Brazil, Silva said.

If Brazil’s soccer team is playing during the World Cup, schools are closed.

“It’s a huge deal,” Silva said.

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