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Sisters for a season
Dec. 31, 2012

Weinzierl family welcomes German student to Lester Prairie

By Starrla Cray
Staff Writer

LESTER PRAIRIE, MN – “Remember the cake?” Lester Prairie seventh-grader Kayla Weinzierl asks German exchange student Nina Kukowski after school one day.

These three words are enough to set both girls into a fit of giggles, as they recall a cooking mishap in which someone didn’t measure ingredients correctly. (Of course, each insists the other is the culprit.)

“They’re goofy – they like to have fun together,” laughed Kayla’s mother, Kim.

To hear Kayla and Nina talk, one would think they’ve been sisters for a lifetime. It’s hard to believe it’s only been four months since the Weinzierl family brought Nina home from the airport.

“This is my first time in the US,” Nina said.

Her decision to leave home for a year was sparked when a teacher in Germany suggested she skip a grade because of high academic achievement.

“I didn’t want to do that,” Nina said. “I didn’t want to be the youngest one, and I wanted to stay with my friends.”

However, when the teacher suggested becoming an exchange student, Nina gave it some thought.

“When I first talked to my mom about it, she was like, ‘are you crazy?’ But, slowly, the idea became true,” she said.

Kim and Kevin Weinzierl’s first time hosting was with a Swiss student named Geraldine.

This year, after Kim and Kayla took a nine-day driving tour through Europe with a few other women, they wanted to host a student from Germany.

Nina arrived Aug. 30, and jumped right into the family’s busy routine.

“We picked her up on a Thursday, went to a wedding in South Dakota that Saturday, and celebrated Nina’s 16th birthday on Sunday,” Kim said.

“We went boating on Lake Minnetonka, and saw fireworks,” Nina said of her birthday. “It was really nice out, and there was a nice sunset.”

An easy adjustment
For Nina, who grew up in Mildstedt (about 15 miles from the North Sea), transitioning to life in Minnesota has been fairly effortless.

“The culture differences between America and Germany are not that big. There are some differences, but it’s not like coming from an Asian culture,” she said. “I live in the country, and it’s as flat as here, so it’s not a big difference. Lester Prairie is smaller, but my city is small, too, with about 4,000 people.”

Her school, located in a neighboring city with 30,000 people, is much larger than Lester Prairie Public School, however, with about 1,200 students in grades five through 13.

To get to class, Nina often took a public transit bus or rode her bicycle.

“We don’t have yellow buses that come to your house,” she said. “I bike a lot, even in the winter.”

In Lester Prairie, Nina and Kayla are involved in sports and other after-school activities, so they usually get a ride home from Kim.

However, one day they were planning to ride the school bus, but didn’t make it out on time. Rather than wait for Kim to get done with work, they decided to walk – a nearly four-mile trek north of town.

Kayla and Nina both started laughing as they recalled the journey.

“We were close to Highway 7 when a car started slowing down,” Kayla said. “I was freaked out.”

“She was really freaked out,” Nina agreed.

Kayla was relieved when the driver turned out to be one of their teachers, who gave them a lift the rest of the way.

Time, taste, traditions
Although school in Lester Prairie always ends the same time, classes in Germany vary due to block scheduling.

“Sometimes school ends at noon or 1 p.m. Our main meal is at lunch,” Nina said, adding that because of Mildstedt’s proximity to the North Sea, she grew up eating fish for many meals.

Fortunately, Nina didn’t have to adjust her diet much when she came to the Weinzierl home.

“We eat fish here at least once a week,” Kim said. “We’re a big tilapia family.”

Nina’s also fond of American cuisine, especially tacos and burritos.

“Nina loves to cook,” Kim said, adding that they planned to make Christmas cookies together.

Nina describes Christmas in Germany as “very traditional,” with presents exchanged on Christmas Eve. One addition, though, is St. Nicholas Day, which is celebrated Dec. 6.

“You put shoes in front of the door and get little gifts,” Nina explained.

The Weinzierls weren’t able to incorporate that tradition into their family’s festivities, however.

“If we leave shoes out, our dog, Daisy, will get them,” Kim explained.

“I lost seven pairs of flip flops in one summer,” Kayla added.

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