By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, MN Folks stopping to grab a bite to eat at Sunni’s Grille in Howard Lake may be surprised when they are served by a young lady with a French accent.
That young lady is Klervi Millon, a French foreign exchange student who is staying with the Sundt family, owners of Sunni’s Grille.
Nicole and Mike Sundt never contemplated having a foreign exchange student because they stay so busy running a business.
However, their daughter, Kelsey, 16, came home from school one day and asked if a foreign exchange student attending Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School could stay with them.
At the time, Klervi was staying with the Williams family in Cokato, and the children in the family attended Dassel-Cokato Schools.
Although the Williams were good to Klervi, she was finding it hard to fit into the family when she was attending a different school than the other children, she said.
The Sundts agreed to meet with Klervi, who had become good friends with Kelsey during study hall.
Gaining a sister and daughter
“We met her and she seemed sweet. We didn’t want her to have a bad experience,” Nicole said.
With a few reservations about how well Kelsey, an only child, would adjust to having another child in the home, the Sundts decided to become Klervi’s foreign exchange parents.
“I’m proud of Kelsey for suggesting this,” Mike said. “I was not sure what she would get out of this, but for her to do it is a life-changing decision. I was concerned with how she would deal with it, but it turned into a positive experience.”
After a whirlwind week of filling out paperwork, Klervi moved in with the Sundts Oct. 29, just in time to have fun handing out Halloween candy to the children of Howard Lake.
“It was awkward for Kelsey at first. Being an only child, the world revolved around her,” Mike said. “It was a growing pain process, but it turned out fantastically well.”
Kelsey admits that it was difficult to learn to share her parents, space, and her friends with another person, but added, “I’m glad she came. It’s nice to have a sister you can talk to.”
“I’ve seen the two of them work through some things together, and as a parent, it made me smile,” Mike said. “I’m pleased to have Kelsey use the term sister. That’s what I hoped would happen she would gain a sister.”
Nicole noted that the girls could be upset or fighting about something in the morning, but by the end of the day, they were able to work it out.
Getting used to living in America
Although Klervi has a younger sister in France, and is used to sharing space, parents, and friends, she had her own adjusting to do after coming to the US.
She came to the US to learn the English language better, and found it difficult to understand people when they talked.
Concentrating hard every time people talked gave her headaches when she first came.
“I find it unbelievable how brave these kids are. They don’t know English well and come to a strange place by themselves,” Mike noted.
At first, Klervi was also really afraid to go to school, she said.
“She was in my first-hour class, and I just stared at her the whole time,” Kelsey said. She knew Klervi was not from around here because she was wearing big, square glasses that nobody from here would wear, she added.
Now she likes American school, calling it “lazy” compared to her schooling in France, where she attended a boarding school three minutes from the ocean.
However, she finds the lunch time at HLWW to be “super short” compared to the amount of time they have for lunch in France.
Klervi has also found it difficult to be away from her family. “It’s hard to be without your parents, who do everything for you,” she said, noting she thinks this experience has brought her closer to her family.
While missing her family, Klervi is still able to enjoy the Sundts, and celebrated her first Thanksgiving with Mike’s family in the Twin Cities.
“It was cool. I was shy, but it’s a really nice family,” Klervi said.
She is also “learning how to work” by helping them out at the restaurant, where Kelsey also works.
Interestingly, her parents share birthdays with the Sundts. Klervi’s mother has the same birthday as Mike, and her father has the same birthday as Nicole.
Klervi had to get used to living in Minnesota after expecting something more like Florida or California.
“I didn’t even know they had a place like Minnesota in the US,” Klervi commented, adding that Minnesota is not usually depicted in US movies.
She thought the snowstorm was cool, but didn’t like it that you can’t use a car during a blizzard. “And it’s cold, very cold,” she added.
France only gets small amounts of snow, and school is cancelled anytime it snows because they do not have the equipment to clear the streets and sidewalks, Klervi noted.
Some of the things she has learned since being here is to have an open mind and not to judge people by how they look, but by who they are, she said.
This has also given her more self-confidence, Klervi said, noting she no longer really cares what people think she will do what she wants to do.
“I’m really happy to be here. It’s a great experience, and I have a great new family and friends,” Klervi said.
“We’ll miss her when she has to go back home. She has become a part of our family and our home it will be weird to get used to,” Nicole said.
Klervi noted that although she was homesick when she came to the US, she will be homesick for the US when she goes back to France.
“For inviting a strange young lady into our house I don’t think we could have done any better,” Mike added.
Klervi visited Duluth and Gooseberry Falls while staying with the Williams, and she had fun Black Friday shopping with the Sundts.
“We have done quite a bit of shopping,” Nicole said. “We’re taking a break. It was fun, though.”
Klervi is amazed at how “super cheap” clothes are in the US, and is looking forward to visiting the Mall of America at some point.
She and the Sundts are also looking forward to going to the Holidazzle Parade, visiting the French restaurant on Nicollet Mall, and taking a ski trip to Giants Ridge in March.
“Every day, it’s something different and fun,” Klervi said about being in the US.