By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN The east side of Lester Prairie has a distinctly foreign flair these days, with four exchange students all living with families on Blake Avenue.
It all started with Jeff and Jen Sullivan, who built their Blake Avenue home about a year ago. The Sullivans had hosted an exchange student before, and liked it so much that Jen became a coordinator.
“So, I actually place students with families,” she explained.
This year, the Sullivans chose to have two students live with them Katrine of Denmark and Narita of Thailand.
Not wanting to be left out, two of Jen’s neighbors jumped on board.
“We had been hearing about Jen’s foreign exchange students, and we just found it very interesting,” said Rose Motzko.
Motzko’s family chose to host Renyin Zhang “Christina” of Shenzhen, China.
“I’m glad we did,” Motzko said. “We definitely like having her here.”
Nearby Blake Avenue resident Julie Winkelman also has a Chinese exchange student this year Yishan Li “Poppy” of Hong Kong.
“I’m enjoying Poppy. She’s a very polite, well-mannered young lady,” Winkelman said.
Loving to learn
All four exchange students are scholars. At Lester Prairie High School, Katrine’s favorite class is business law. Narita enjoys biology, Poppy loves French, and Christina likes psychology.
“She’s very smart. She’ll sit for hours doing homework,” Motzko said of Christina.
“Poppy loves to study and learn,” Winkelman added.
Poppy, Christina, and Katrine were all in boarding schools before coming to America.
“My school is kind of special in China,” Christina said, explaining that she’s allowed to take electives. Similar to a university, her school also offers several extracurricular clubs.
In contrast, Poppy said her school has a lot of rules, and students aren’t allowed to pick their classes.
Katrine didn’t choose her classes either, but said there are benefits to attending boarding school.
“It’s like living with your friends,” Katrine said, explaining that her school has less than 150 students.
Food, weather, and fun
Katrine’s hometown is even smaller than Lester Prairie.
“It’s a road with 11 houses,” she said. “I live in number four. That’s basically the town.”
Katrine is accustomed to fresh, home-style cooking in Denmark.
“I love a lot of things, but I don’t really like junk food,” Christina agreed.
Narita said her favorite dish back home is green curry.
“In Thailand, they like spicy foods,” Jen said.
Weather is also less “hot” in Lester Prairie.
Katrine is used to snow in Denmark, but the other three girls are already unsure about the chilly fall air.
“It’s cold,” Narita said.
“It’s too cold for me,” Christina added. “At home, the coldest temperature it gets is 6 or 7 degrees Celsius [about 43 degrees Fahrenheit].”
Despite not being used to the cold, Christina is looking forward to skiing this winter.
Narita is also excited for the months ahead, so she can experience an American Christmas.
Katrine is planning to try out an indoor water park this winter, and Poppy is hoping to make some friends and visit colleges in the area.
“I think having a foreign exchange student makes your house more fun,” said Jen, whose young sons, Jake and Carter, love having older “sisters” around.
“I would definitely do it again,” Motzko added.