By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Exchange student Franziska “Franzi” Wunsch, 15, of Germany isn’t the only one who gets to experience a new culture this school year.
Her Lester Prairie host parents, Kevin and Holly Oestreich, and their children, Maggie, 11, and Matt, 5, are also ready to learn.
“It’s our own adventure,” said Holly, explaining that hosting is a unique opportunity to explore another country.
Last year, the Oestreichs hosted a student from Berlin, Germany named Marlene Reeck.
“Since Marlene was from a big city, it’s fun to learn about a smaller one,” Kevin said.
Franzi grew up on a pig farm, and her hometown of Wamel is comparable in size to Lester Prairie.
However, she attends school a few miles away, in the city of Soest, with a population of nearly 50,000.
The Oestreichs selected Franzi based on her values, interests, and compatibility with their family.
“We fell in love with her profile,” Maggie said.
Franzi didn’t get to choose where she was placed, but said her first few weeks in Minnesota have been fantastic.
“I love your food, and your landscape is wonderful, too,” she said. “You have so many lakes. That is so cool.”
Franzi went tubing for the first time, visited Mall of America, and attended a Lester Prairie High School football game.
“My first football game,” she said, explaining that in Germany, soccer is the primary sport.
For Franzi, getting used to the language hasn’t been difficult, because she’s been taking English classes since elementary school.
“If I don’t understand, then I ask,” she said.
Franzi’s twin sister, Friederike, and her 16-year-old brother also speak English. Her parents only know the basics, but the Oestreichs still enjoy talking with them through Skype.
Holly said that hosting foreign exchange students has been a great education for their family.
“We look at the map more,” she said.
“I think it’s fun getting to know people from other cultures,” Maggie added.
Hosting has also sparked Maggie’s interest in becoming an exchange student someday.
“I want to go to Greece,” she said. “It’s a very cool culture.”
Being a foreign exchange student is “really expensive, but a great experience,” according to Franzi.
“I always wanted to travel, and I’m fascinated by America,” she said. “I want to try as much as I can.”
The day after the Oestreichs picked Franzi up from the airport, they celebrated with cupcakes decorated with German and American flags.
Last year, the Oestreichs took their exchange student to a Vikings game, rode the light rail, saw the sculpture gardens in Minneapolis, rented a cabin in Bemidji, and took trips to Wisconsin Dells and the North Shore.
“Hosting has helped us to do more as a family,” Holly said. “It’s also helped us get to know more people in town, because we’re involved at the high school.”
At the end of the year, the Oestreichs created two identical scrapbooks, so that the student could take one home to Germany.
“We’ll do that again, too,” Holly said.
They also planted apple trees in the backyard, in honor of Marlene. Next spring, they’ll plant a different kind of tree for Franzi.
The Oestreichs have never been to Germany, but they’re hoping to go there within the next few years.
“We have two families to stay with now,” Holly said.
For the Oestreich family, the hardest thing about hosting a student is having to say goodbye.
“Last year, Matt thought Marlene was really his sister,” Holly said. “He thinks Germany’s not that far away.”
To learn more about hosting, go to the Youth For Understanding USA website.