By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN A typical foreign exchange student stay is one year or less, but with Loretta Lundquist of Lester Prairie, the bond may last a lifetime.
“I don’t know if I’m doing something wrong or something right they come into my home and they don’t leave,” Loretta says with a laugh.
Her first student arrived from South Korea nine years ago, as a freshman at Holy Trinity High School in Winsted. At that time, Loretta’s own children, Hannah and Abby, were both living at home. Originally planned as a five-month stint, the Lundquists ended up hosting until the girl graduated high school. When she went to college, they welcomed her back for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and summer breaks.
Other students have come and gone since then, the newest being Sally Yin, who arrived one year ago from China.
“My parents decided to send me abroad a long time ago,” Yin said, adding that they were familiar with Minnesota because one of her dad’s friends is a professor in St. Bonifacius.
Also currently at the Lundquist household is Sunny Huynh of Vietnam. She was an exchange student at Holy Trinity for three years, and is now “home” from the University of Minnesota-Morris for winter break.
When asked how her freshman year is going, Huynh answered “perfect, awesome, amazing.”
Huynh is a serious student, with plans to double major in chemistry and biology, and to continue on to medical school. One day, Huynh had the opportunity to shadow Dr. John Bergseng at Glencoe Regional Medical Services.
“My final goal is to become a cardiovascular surgeon,” she said.
Yin, a junior at Holy Trinity, is also dedicated to learning. After school, she studies for the TOEFL® test, which measures English-language proficiency for college in America. She also hopes to visit a few colleges and take the ACT or SAT exams this year.
Although education is a focus, Loretta’s exchange students have plenty of recreational experiences, too.
“We love going to museums,” Loretta said. “The girls and I went to Chicago for a weekend we went museum hopping, saw the Sears Tower, things like that.”
Taking the plunge
They also love exploring Minnesota’s outdoors.
“I have a 25-foot camper, so we go camping,” Loretta said.
The family pokes fun at Huynh, who adores campfires, and has a fascination with fire in general.
“We gave her matches for Christmas,” Hannah said.
To ring in the New Year, the family went snowtubing at Buck Hill in Burnsville.
“They have a great fireworks display at midnight,” Loretta said.
Huynh isn’t afraid of the cold, even though she’s used to much milder temperatures in Vietnam. One year, she and Hannah did the Polar Plunge in Brainerd, which involved jumping into freezing water in the wintertime.
“The wind chill was 50 below zero,” Huynh recalled with a laugh. “There were icicles on my socks.”
Loretta, who remembers peeling back frozen clothing to help the girls get dressed after the plunge, said “they almost cancelled the event, because of the weather.”
In the years Huynh lived with the Lundquists, she’s become a true Minnesotan, even though her English classes in Vietnam focused on British dialect.
“We taught her all the slang,” Hannah laughed.
“She’s completely Americanized,” Loretta added.
Huynh admitted that when she first arrived in Lester Prairie, the size of the city was “a big shock.”
“I’m from Saigon [Ho Chi Minh City], which is like the biggest city in Vietnam,” she said.
Exchange students are never bored at the Lundquist household, though.
“We all chip in and get work done,” Loretta said. “They all learn how to blow snow and run a lawn mower.”
For Loretta, the girls are all family, and are treated as such. When introducing them to people, she says, “These are my daughters.”
“I tell people I have six sisters . . . it’s complicated,” Hannah added.
Loretta commented, “I love them,” to which Huynh immediately quipped, “We’re so lovable.”
The room was again filled with laughter, everyone’s faces smiling like in their family portraits on the nearby wall. And just like the statement printed on one of the frames, the family isn’t afraid to “live, laugh, and love.”