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Dassel-Cokato’s foreign exchange students share their experiences
Monday, March 25, 2013

By Jennifer Kotila
Staff Writer

DASSEL, COKATO, MN – There are five foreign exchange students at Dassel-Cokato High School this year, and the Enterprise Dispatch asked them to share their experiences and a little about their home countries with readers.

The foreign exchange students are Julia Cubo Hernandez of Brazil, Henrik Fleischmann of Germany, Chiara Ceseracciu of Italy, Teresa Echsel of Austria, and Yun-Jie Chen (Hona) of Taiwan.

Julia Cubo Hernandez

Host family: Rachel and Brian Kimber of Dassel.

Hometown: Ilha Solteira, Brazil.

Explain your home country and traditions: I live in a rural setting, of about 25,000 people. Brazil has one holiday we are famous for – Carnaval – which is a big party for everybody and is a way to show our culture. We are mostly Catholics, so that has a lot of influence in our culture and history. The weather is really hot, and it is never winter in some places in Brazil near the equator.

First impressions of MN: I think the weather was what surprised me the most, because it is the coldest that I have ever seen in my life. I never saw snow before I came here, so it was a very happy moment to me when I saw snow falling for the first time.

I think the people here are really nice and polite, I always feel welcomed here.

The school here is very different from the ones in Brazil. I really like the classes here, and how I have more freedom to choose what classes I will be in.

I think it is not exactly like I thought it would be, because you have no idea what will happen. You just hope for it to be the best year of your life, and so far it has been because I got the chance to see things like snow, meet new people, and learn about different things.

Activities involved in: In my home country, I am a LEO, which is the Lions, but for teenagers. They invited me to participate, and it was really an honor for me. They only invite teenagers (to participate) who are doing well in school, and care about society and helping people. We meet Saturdays, and do volunteer work during the week.

Here, I was in swimming, and now I will try track. I want to try new things, and sports are new, because there is not a lot of support for sports in Brazil. So, I have never been involved in sports until now.

I thought swimming was fun, and meeting new people helped me to adapt to DC.

I was surprised when, at the end of the season, I was only 5 seconds from state time.

Things you will miss about DC: Everything! School, people, sports; I will even miss riding in the yellow bus everyday.

Funny stories: The confusion that I get into because people can’t understand very well, I don’t know a lot of words, and have an accent is always funny. Like when my friend asked if I had gum, and I said, “I don’t have gums because I don’t like them.”

Highlights of the year: Swimming season, snow, trip to Washington, D.C. with the National Honor Society, and the birthday surprise my host parents did for me.

Henrik Fleischmann

Host family: Margaret and Bob Slagle, and daughter Ellen Slagle (17) of Cokato.

Hometown: Neckarsulum, Germany.

Explain your home country and traditions: I live at the edge of a small city of 27,000 people where the big car factory Audi is located.

The most German holiday is “Tag der deutschen Einheit,” which is Oct. 3 every year. Germany was divided into two countries, and on this day Germany came together again.

The weather in Germany is almost the same as here, but always a little bit warmer. Especially in the winter.

The most popular sport in Germany and Europe is soccer. In Germany, there are no activities like football or baseball.

First impressions of MN: My first impression about Minnesota was good and bad at the same time. It was exciting to be somewhere else, but I was also scared because everything was so big. The first few days I had culture shock, but after a few weeks everything was almost normal.

Activities involved in: In Germany, I do a lot of sports; triathlon, swimming, cycling, track and field, skiing, and snowboarding. Triathlon is swimming, cycling, and running without a break.

When not participating in sports, I study or work at my job. When I was smaller, I started with a newspaper route, and I was working at Hollister before coming here.

Probably the most exciting activity here is football. I never played football before, and it was something I will never forget. It was so awesome playing in games with all those fans who support you.

Right now I just started track and field. Both sports are also fun because you meet new people and hang out a lot with your friends.

Things you will miss about DC: I will miss the sports here. I love playing football or baseball, because in Germany I don’t have the chance to do those sports. I will also miss the nice people here. People in the US are really nice. They are always asking something like “How are you?” I will miss that, because in Germany, the people are not like this.

Funny stories: At the beginning of the year, it sometimes happened that I was talking in English, and then said a German word in the middle of the sentence.

Highlights of the year: My highlight of the year was at the very beginning. I was with my old host family at a lake. They had a cabin and a boat, so we went fishing, tubing, and wakeboarding.

Chiara Ceseracciu

Host family: Jared and Melissa Williams and children, Mercedes (Sadie) (16), Dylan (15), and Dustin (13) of Cokato.

Hometown: Ploaghe, Italy – located on the small island Sardinia.

Explain your home country and traditions: I live in a small town of about 5,000 people, but go to school and spend most of my time in a bigger city about a 10-minute drive from my house.

The main religion is Catholicism, so the main holidays can be traced back to religion. One of the most important is Christmas, followed by New Year.

Epiphany is in January, and children put stockings in the fireplace waiting for Befana, an old woman who flies up on a broom to put candy in them.

Mardi Gras is in February, and people dress up in funny ways and dance in the streets. Then it is Easter and April Fools.

One of the biggest holidays is Ferragosto, Aug. 15 – especially in my town. Three huge candle-like statues, each weighing about 400 kilograms, pay tribute to the Assumption of Virgin Mary.

Young men carry them all over town on their shoulders, and dance with them in the town’s main square. This is my favorite tradition of all, and is extremely entertaining to watch.

Sardinia has a Mediterranean climate with long, hot summers, and short, cool winters. Being surrounded by breathtaking beaches, people enjoy going to the sea.

The most popular sport is probably soccer, but we have a really good basketball team, too.

First impressions of MN: When I came to Minnesota, the first thing I notices was the huge amount of lakes and corn fields; and later on, the snow. I even started calling it MinneSNOWta.

I love the scenery because it is full of amazing places like Gooseberry Falls.

I really like how people seem to always be really nice, friendly, and polite.

The school is one of the best parts of my life as a foreign exchange student, because it is newer than my old school and offers so many activities like sports and clubs, which schools in Italy lack.

The hardest challenge was the weather, because I had to get used to temperatures I didn’t even know existed in the world.

But at least I got the chance to do fun activities like tubing and sledding so I got used to the cold, and, now, it’s not too bad.

Activities involved in: In Italy, I played piano and was part of the track team. I’ve been playing piano since I was 5 years old, and running since eighth grade.

I was also part of a drama club which I joined in high school. I love acting, and my group and I went to perform in Spain and Greece.

Here, I joined the hockey team. It was my first time, and I loved it so much that I will probably play street hockey back home.

I chose this sport because I wanted to try something totally new for me, but that was part of Minnesotans every day life. I wasn’t very good at first, so I didn’t play many games – but it was fun because it gave me a chance to meet a lot of people. Besides, I got to be part of a team.

I will be joining track soon, because I really like it as a sport, and I want to meet new people.

Things you will miss about DC: When I go back home, I will miss the friends I met here extremely. Friendships a lot stronger than I expected were born along this year.

Then I will miss hockey, because it’s a sport that I love to play and watch.

I will miss the school system that is a lot more fun than mine.

In general, I will miss the feeling that I have here that there are so many doors open for everybody.

Funny stories: When coming back with some of my hockey teammates from a pasta feed, we saw a little dog running in the middle of the street and decided to save it.

Some of us jumped out of the car, but it was too fast. We watched it cross the highway, running right under a big truck – but it survived.

Finally, we got the dog into the car by driving up to it and allowing it to jump in, where it hid under the driver’s seat.

Not knowing what to do with it, we brought it to the police. But nobody was there, so we just left it – we didn’t know what else to do. It was still an interesting night!

Highlights of the year: This year has been amazing. I feel like I’ve grown up so much. There have been hard moments, of course, but it was definitely worth it.

I improved my English so much, I had a great host family, I met amazing people that I will remember for the rest of my life, and I experienced so many new things.

Most of all, I experienced the life of an American teenager, and I did it by myself. I wanted to prove that I was independent, and I did it; this is priceless.

Teresa Echsel

Host family: Carol and Hans Impola of Cokato, and children Katrina (15) and Garrett (18), along with six others not living at home anymore.

Hometown: Graz, Austria.

Explain your home country and traditions: I live in a city of 300,000 people with a lot of nice old buildings, a river running right through it, and a hill with buildings from the middle ages in the center.

Most people are Christian, but there are also Jews and Protestants, and a lot of people with roots in East European countries who are Muslim.

Because of the Alps, people like to go skiing and hiking. We also have some lakes where we like to swim and boat.

The weather is similar to Minnesota, even though spring comes earlier and we don’t get quite so much snow (only in the Alps).

First impressions of MN: My first day here was really hot and humid; I didn’t really expect that. I thought there would be more snow, because I always heard of snow up to the roof.

Then everybody was saying it was going to be a hard winter because last year’s wasn’t. I like the cold more than heat!

The people are very nice, and the school is very different.

In Austria, I spend the whole day in the same room with the same people, and the teachers travel around.

That’s nice because you know everybody so well, and you are like a family.

What I like about school here is the chance to meet way more people. And, if there is anybody you don’t like, you don’t have to spend much time with them.

But I didn’t want to expect much before I came here, so I can just see how everything is and won’t be disappointed. And it worked, so far!

Activities involved in: I go to yoga with my friends sometimes. We raised money for a school project so a girl in Guatemala could go to school, selling old toys or food.

We collected clothes for another school project to send to Botswana where other nuns from our school convent work (I go to a Catholic private school).

Minnesota is the hockey state, so I had to try hockey!

It was so much fun. I never tried it before, but I learned a lot and met a lot of new people from Litchfield.

This trimester I will be in track. I’m curious how it will go, because I’m really bad in all the categories! But I will still do it and try to improve.

Things you will miss about DC: I will miss the people I met, and also some of the food we don’t have, like cheese sticks. But we have some really good food, too!

Funny stories: One of the snow days, it was a friend’s birthday and we went shopping in St. Cloud. On our way home, we dropped off another friend, and got stuck while backing out of the driveway, which curved.

We had to try to push the car out. That was pretty funny already, but then we pushed it up the tiny hill, and then the car began to roll backwards.

One of my friends did not realize that, and stayed behind the car. I was yelling to her that she had to step aside, and panicked so much that I tried to push the car back up the hill so it wouldn’t run over my friend.

Of course, I was not strong enough for that, so I fell on the ground and was full of snow!

Highlights of the year: It didn’t happen yet, but it will probably be going to Florida; otherwise, Christmas.

Yun-Jie Chen (Hona)

Host family: Jeff and Katherine Meredith of Cokato, and children, Bella Schaefer (16), Lydia Meredith (13), and Eric.

Hometown: parents, and siblings: Taipei, Taiwan. Mom and dad, Po-Dong Chen and Sefen Chong; sibling Yun-Min Chen (16).

Explain your home country and traditions: Taiwan is a small, but beautiful island near China; Taipei is the capital.

Chinese is the main language, but there are differences from the Chinese spoken in China.

Taiwan is always hot, and does not get snow in the winter except for on the big mountain.

The biggest holiday is the Chinese New Year, and is always during our winter break.

Basketball and baseball are popular activities.

First impressions of MN: I think people here are really nice, and they always ask, “How are you?”

School is totally different here. In Taiwan, we can’t choose what classes we want. The school places students in classes and gives us a schedule, and everyday is different.

Teachers will come to the classroom, and it will be the classroom for the whole year (students don’t move from classroom to classroom).

There are not classes like ceramics or accounting in high school.

The weather – I can’t believe we have lots of snow here. I was really excited to see the snow, at first, but I was so cold! Before I came here, I didn’t really expect it, but I liked it.

Activities involved in: Our activities in Taiwan are not like here. We don’t have winter, spring, summer, or fall sports. Students kind of do every sport. Our school is a lot busier than here, most of the students don’t really have time for doing other activities.

I did join gymnastics in the winter at DC. I tried to do it because it’s a new sport to me. We do have gymnastics in my country, but you have to go to a special school and learn it.

I think the time in gymnastics is the most unforgettable and the best time since I have been here; I had lots of fun with the girls; learned different things; tried new stuff; got to know new friends – everything is just amazing.

Things you will miss about DC: I will miss my host family and people here the most.

Funny stories: Every time people ask me where I am from, and I reply “Taiwan,” most people will think I am from Thailand or China. That really bugs me. Thailand and Taiwan just sound similar, but people speak totally different languages and have totally different cultures.

Even though I speak Chinese, it is not the same as China. Taiwan is not part of China, either. Sometimes people will also ask me, “Are you from Korea?”

No, I am from Taiwan!

Highlights of the year: I think it would be the time I spent in gymnastics. This was so fun, and I started from nothing to where I can compete with my team mates. I had a really great time with them.

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