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From Vietnam to Lester Prairie
Jan. 23, 2017

By Starrla Cray
Associate Editor

LESTER PRAIRIE, MN – The life of a teenager in Ho Chi Minh City (population over 8 million) is a lot different than that of teens in Lester Prairie and Winsted, according to foreign exchange student Nhan Nguyen.

“It was very noisy, and this is quiet,” said Nguyen, who began his time at Holy Trinity High School as a freshman.

Now a junior, Nguyen is halfway through his third year staying with host family Ken and Lori Pelzel of Lester Prairie.

“They’re very nice to me,” Nguyen commented.

As for Minnesota, he describes it as “very cold.”

“Every day, he comes out just shivering,” Ken said. “He’s done a few things outdoors, but he’s not much for winter sports.”

Despite the weather, Nguyen said America has definite advantages over Vietnam.

“I stay at home more,” he said. “In Vietnam, I had school every day.”

Students wore uniforms at Nguyen’s old school, but he didn’t mind that part.

“I like the uniform much better, so I don’t have to think what to wear,” he said.

While relaxing at the Pelzel house, Nguyen said he spends a lot of time listening to music (both American and Vietnamese songs), watching movies, chatting with friends, and singing.

“We’ve threatened to sign him up for choir,” Ken said, adding that they’ve also given him some beginner guitar lessons.

Ken and Lori’s family loves music, and their daughter, Julia, plans to study music education at the University of St. Thomas after she graduates from Holy Trinity this spring. (Their other daughter, Gwen, graduated from Holy Trinity in 2010, and went on to study music therapy.)

Nguyen is the ninth exchange student the Pelzel’s have hosted, and Julia said she’s enjoying the company. She also appreciates having “a little help with the chores.”

Nguyen’s English has improved dramatically since his first year at the Pelzel household. He said he began learning the language about three months before he left Vietnam, and the rest he picked up along the way.

“We still chew him out that he needs to practice more,” Ken laughed.

With other Vietnamese exchange students, and with his family back home, Nguyen is able to revert back to the language he’s most comfortable speaking.

“I call my mom every day,” he said.

Ken explained that Nguyen does video chat through Facebook, a form of communication that has made being away from family easier on many exchange students.

Nguyen also has an aunt, uncle, and several young cousins in Tulsa, OK. When his mother and little brother came to visit this past summer, they all stayed in Oklahoma together. Nguyen described living with his cousins as “noisier than Vietnam.”

Nguyen must not mind the noise too much, because he’s considering attending college in Oklahoma to be near family after high school.

Wherever Nguyen is, it’s likely he and the Pelzels will keep in touch. After all, they’ve become like family, too.

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