By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, MN The Elayne and Bill Teorey family of Howard Lake is in their second year of hosting foreign exchange students, and loving every minute of it.
This year, the family is hosting Katie Nettenbreijers, 16, of The Netherlands (Holland), who takes four classes at the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School and attends Wright Technical Center in the afternoons for cosmetology.
The Teoreys and Katie were already familiar with each other before Katie came to stay due to the technology available today.
Katie found out she would be staying with them right after Christmas last year, and she and the Teoreys immediately began to get to know each other through Facebook and Skype.
Learning new things
“I like to learn their languages,” said 9-year-old Marissa. “I also like to learn about their culture and what they do.”
Marissa, Gabby, 8, and Brody, 6, not only enjoy learning new languages and cultures, they also enjoy helping the foreign exchange students learn English and US culture.
For instance, Gabby often plays teacher with Katie as her student, and even gives her homework. The children also help to correct bad English when it occurs.
“Katie appreciates being corrected,” mom Elayne noted. “She’s here to make sure her English improves.”
Brody enjoys “huggin’ on Katie,” who is not used to having a younger brother, noted Elayne.
Katie has learned to play Transformers and cars which Brody often tells her she is not doing right, Elayne said.
Brody also likes her to “play” his Nintendo DSi video games with him, which basically consists of her “watching” him play and cheering him on, Katie added.
Wanting to work on her English skills, Katie could have chosen to go to Australia, England, or Canada, but wanted to come to America because she thought it was the best country, she said.
In The Netherlands, Katie lives with her parents and two sisters, one older and one younger. It is a new experience for her to be the oldest child in a family.
“I’m used to my biggest sister being the boss, and my little sister teaming up with my big sister,” Katie said, admitting she is rarely the boss in the Teorey household, either.
She is constantly learning new things, and trying to not always feel like she is doing something wrong when Teorey family members ask her why she is doing something.
“They just want to know stuff,” Katie said.
“It’s really fun to do things we like to do as a family, and introduce her to them,” Elayne said. “Probably the biggest thing for her is she’s always learning something new. It’s overstimulating.”
Coming from a small, urbanized country with a good public transportation system, Katie was surprised how often people drive here.
She also noted it was “scary” riding with younger drivers when she first arrived, adding that the driving age in Europe is 18.
Another difference Katie notices is how dark it is here, as there are streetlights everywhere in The Netherlands, she said.
Katie admits her family has a big car for The Netherlands, but she said the number of people driving “big cars” in America, such as full-size SUVs and pickup trucks, surprises her.
Portion sizes in America are much bigger than in The Netherlands. “A kid’s meal here is comparable to a small meal for adults in The Netherlands,” she noted.
She now takes Elayne’s advice and orders from the kids’ menu to get portion sizes more consistent with what she is used to.
Staying connected to her family back home
Although her parents were supportive and thought it was “cool” that Katie wanted to be a foreign exchange student, they were still scared that she was going to be gone a whole year, Katie noted.
“Her mom and I talked a lot before she came because she was so nervous,” Elayne said.
She has not really felt homesick, because she is able to communicate with her parents and sisters whenever she wants through Skype, Facebook, and e-mail.
In fact, Katie still fights with her sisters over Skype, Elayne said. For instance, Katie wore her sister’s shoes to the Twins game the Teorey family took her to, and posted a picture on Facebook.
Her sister quickly asked, “Why are you wearing my shoes?” which Katie had not asked permission to take to America.
In Katie’s defense, her sister was using her shoes when Katie left The Netherlands, so Katie thought it only fair to take her sister’s shoes.
Having fun in America
Along with the Twins game, the Teoreys also took Katie to a Vikings game. “I was surprised by football I really wanted to see that,” Katie added. “Football was way more fun (than baseball) and they won.”
“We told her that was a rare thing,” Elayne said.
The family has also visited the Mall of America. “It surprised me how big it was. I knew it was big but wasn’t expecting that, a whole amusement park inside a mall,” she said.
Another experience that didn’t really impress Katie was the Minnesota State Fair. “It was so strange for me,” Katie said about the food vendors everywhere.
It probably didn’t help that Katie is not adventurous with food, as noted by Elayne.
Katie also visited The History Center at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, where she especially liked the Open House: If These Walls Could Talk exhibit.
The exhibit is a re-created home telling the stories of the German, Italian, African American, and Hmong families that have lived there in the last century.
A fun summer activity was tubing on Lake Marie, and Katie would also like to try water skiing, but the water will not be warm enough before she returns to Europe.
Katie is looking forward to experiencing an American Christmas soon.
She’s also excited for prom and graduation, although those events will be bittersweet, knowing her time here is coming to an end, she said.
Katie is now participating on the gymnastics team for HLWW. “She’s amazing. Really, really good,” Elayne said.
In The Netherlands, Katie had participated in “acro” when younger. Acro is almost like danceline or cheerleading, only with more gymnastics, she said.
“The first gymnastics meet was really fun,” Katie said. “It had been a long time since (I had competed). It’s fun to cheer with the whole team.”
It was also fun for Katie to hear the girls cheering for her in Dutch at the second gymnastics meet, Katie said.
Not looking forward to the cold winter
Katie readily admits she is not really looking forward to months of cold weather and snow. She already gets cold, and it has not even dropped below zero yet, Elayne noted.
She wants to go skating with Gabby, and see houses on the lake, but “I just want to experience one day, and that is enough,” Katie said, knowing she will probably not be so lucky.
The Netherlands gets snow, but it is usually very little. People wish for a white Christmas, but then want the snow to go away before New Year’s so they can enjoy the fireworks, Katie said.
Small, shallow ponds also freeze enough to allow people to skate on them in The Netherlands.