By Jennifer Von Ohlen
COKATO, MN When Clara Muller’s father asked her if she would like to become a foreign exchange student, Muller wasn’t sure where she wanted to study at first.
Her older brother had attended Dassel-Cokato High School during the 2014-2015 school year, but Muller was also interested in seeing South Africa and Canada.
After meeting Mallie and Phil Johnson (and their family) of Cokato last fall, however, Muller’s contemplation was over.
“I knew that this was the right family for me,” she said. “So, I finally decided to come to the USA.”
In addition to her brother, Muller also has a younger sister back home in a village near Frankfort, Germany. Here in America, however, she has gained seven other sisters and eight more brothers through the Johnson family.
“Clara adds a wonderful dynamic to our large household that we just love,” stated Mallie. “She is so kind, generous, and loving to all of our children here at home.”
In the six months she’s been here, Muller said some of the most noticeable differences between German and American culture are the food and the level of friendliness between people.
“People are way nicer here than in Germany,” Muller commented. “When I arrived, everyone welcomed me, and a lot of people asked me questions about my country and my family.”
The school system is also different between the two countries. At DCHS, students have the same classes every day for a trimester. In Germany, classes vary by certain days of the week and they change every semester (similar to how US colleges are structured).
One thing Muller is really enjoying with the American school system is the ability to select her own classes (something she could never do in Germany).
“I also think that German school is harder than American school,” she continued. “At home, I have to study every evening. Here, I never study for a test, but my grades are better here.”
While experiencing a different lifestyle is anticipated for any foreign exchange student, Muller said it hasn’t come without its challenges.
“In the beginning, everything was new and it was not always easy to accept that,” she explained. With the help of her teachers and classmates, however, Muller found herself quickly making friends and participating in extracurricular activities such as cross country and the speech team. She is currently playing clarinet in the school’s symphonic band, and anticipates she will join the track team in spring.
The Johnsons also have a few things planned for the duration of Muller’s stay, such as a weekend in Duluth, a trip to Florida, visiting the Mall of America, a girl’s night at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, and a Food Truck Friday excursion.
“Our lives have been touched by Clara in so many ways,” stated Mallie. “She is so patient and always willing to help . . . She loves to help in the kitchen and read to the children, especially little Timothy (who is almost 2). She [also] enjoys the other three 16-year-olds [one of whom is another foreign exchange student], in the house and they enjoy her!”
Muller has gathered a number of memorable moments as well, including trips to Chicago and Michigan, and attending the Minnesota State Fair. Before her trip is over, Muller hopes to meet more people and see as many places as possible.
“This experience has far surpassed any expectation we ever had in hosting an exchange student,” Mallie added. “We can’t imagine our home without Clara in it. She is a treasure, and this relationship will last a lifetime. She is family now!”
Muller agreed, saying, “Leaving Cokato and the Johnsons will be way harder than leaving Germany.”