By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Snowball fights in September?
As Swiss foreign exchange student Robin Durkowitzer quickly discovered, this is a regular occurrence at the Schwantes household in Lester Prairie.
“The second day I was here, I got my own snowball,” Robin recalled.
The “snowballs” are actually just spheres of fuzzy white fabric, but for Lester Prairie seventh-grader, Tallon, and his parents, David and Kari, they are perfect for throwing at one another in the off-season.
Robin has only been with the Schwantes since Aug. 29, but he’s already become part of the family.
“I feel like Robin has always been with us,” Kari said. “He just fits right in.”
“We’re not going to let him leave,” David added.
At 16, Robin has become like an older brother for Tallon.
“It’s really fun; we’re always doing something to have fun,” Tallon said.
Set on skiing
Before Robin arrived, the family already knew they’d have one shared interest: skiing.
Robin is used to skiing in the Swiss Alps something the Schwantes have only dreamt about.
“We’ll go someday,” Kari said.
For now, David and Kari are content to chaperone for Blizzard Ski & Snowboard School in the Twin Cities, and Tallon also loves to snowboard.
Although Minnesota does have places to ski, the landscape seems completely flat compared to Switzerland.
“Everything is really hilly at home,” said Robin, whose hometown in northern Switzerland has a population of about 2,400.
Although Lester Prairie is similar in size, Robin said the roads are bigger in the US, and “the look of the town is all different.”
School and sports
The education system is also different, and some youth choose on-the-job training as part of their curriculum.
“You can study on your own, at a business,” Robin said, explaining that students can choose from different types of high schools.
When Robin returns to Switzerland, he plans to finish two years of high school, and then attend a university to become an engineer.
Robin’s school has about 1,000 students, and class schedules vary day by day. Sports are all club-based, and practices are only once a week.
Although Robin had played floor ball (indoor hockey) in Switzerland, “school spirit” was an entirely new concept he learned in Lester Prairie.
Having never played football before, being part of the Lester Prairie team was also a new adventure.
“At first I just stood there and wondered how everyone knew what to do, but I’m getting more and more into it,” Robin said. In the remainder of the school year, Robin also plans to participate in Knowledge Bowl and either baseball or track.
Chocolate and Mt. Dew
The Schwantes said they didn’t know a lot about Switzerland before Robin came, and they’re having fun learning as they go.
“We talk late, and lose track of time,” Kari said.
Robin’s native language is Swiss German, but “Germans can’t understand us at all,” he said. He also knows regular German, French, English, Spanish, and some Italian.
Learning about new foods has also been enjoyable. Robin brought Swiss chocolate along for the family, and the Schwantes introduced him to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Mountain Dew.
“Mountain Dew is so good. I’m going to miss it,” Robin said.