German Foreign Exchange Student Loves Life in USA
Traveling to another country is something many people hope they can do at some point in their life. Few get to do it at a young age, let alone without their family by their side. Others, however, like CWHS sophomore Hannah Horsthemke, jump at the chance as soon as they can.
Horsthemeke is this year’s foreign exchange student at CWHS. She hails from Nordrach, a town in southwestern Germany near its border with France. Being only 15, she almost missed the age-limit for being able to participate in a foreign exchange program this year. Her birthday is Sept. 11, 2001, and along with that day’s obvious other significance, that birth date allowed her the ability to arrive in the United States with just enough time to start the beginning of the school year. Her parents, although surprised she wanted to make such a significant journey so young, were very supportive of her decision. She discovered a foreign exchange program through her cousin late in February 2016. The deadline to apply was Feb. 28. She was still working on her application that day, but got it in on time.
Hannah explained that studying in another country was something that she’s wanted to do for a long time. She lives on a farm with several animals, which makes traveling very far difficult for her family. Ironically, her father also studied in Wisconsin for a short time during college. While she didn’t know she’d end up with a host family in the same state, sometimes things just have a funny way of working themselves out. Either way, she was just excited to make it to the United States!
"I like the [English] language," Hannah notes. "America was always my dream. I always wanted to go there, ever since I was little."
She arrived in Chetek on Aug. 24, and is staying with host family Ken and Jackie Shaurett. Being from the Black Forest area of Germany, Hannah is no stranger to the rural lifestyle, so she adjusted pretty quickly. In fact, she notes that while the population of her hometown is very similar to Chetek’s, it is spread out over a larger area.
Although being from a rural area is in her blood, she was still surprised by a couple of things here—especially how "big" everything is. "Everything is bigger," she is quick to point out. The lakes were also something she noticed were a bit different than what she was used to. Up until this winter, she had never seen a frozen lake before—so snowmobiling and walking on ice was something pretty new and exciting.
Many foreign exchange students often observe that school is a little easier here in the United States than it is in their home country. Hannah is no exception. She explains that they tend to have more classes in a day than here, and school is in session year round, which means they often learn more in a year than what students typically do here. However, she adds that the classes she is allowed to take in Germany tend to be more controlled and structured, allowing little opportunity to choose a course of study. Here, there are more electives and options; additionally, she likes the opportunity to play sports (she is playing basketball and hopes to run track this spring). Athletics isn’t something that is tied to school in Germany, so there are few options for playing athletics competitively.
When talking about school, Hannah is quick to also bring up the opportunity to have a closer relationship with your educators. That, specifically, has been helpful for her as she adjusted to life in the United States.
"Students here have a really good relationship with their teachers," she notes. "Students and teachers get along in Germany, but they don’t have that personal relationship. It’s been nice to have someone to go to if you have problems. They understand you, and they are someone you get to know."
Hannah doesn’t have a lot of specific things she wants to do with the remainder of her time in the United States, but
she does have a couple of goals: namely, to see lots of Wisconsin, especially more of Madison. She also would like to see a Native American reservation. She’s already gone to the Mall of America, and to Valley Scare with the Spanish Club at CWHS.
Ultimately, Hannah notes she just wants to experience the food, people and school system in the United States—and of course, to make lots of new friends and meet new people (which she has been well on her way to doing). While her priority is not to necessarily tell others a lot about her country and culture, she has noticed that the people she’s met have been very open—which was something she wasn’t used to.
"I love it here," she notes. "I came from a small town, too, so I like it. I can’t really explain it. People have been so nice, and are so willing to talk to people they don’t know. American’s pay better attention to the people around them. That’s what I’m experiencing. I don’t think a lot of Germans would do that."
Maybe it’s that hospitality she’s experienced that has made her trip, thus far, a successful one—and she fully encourages others to consider being a foreign exchange student as well.
"The experience is worth it," she says. "If you are thinking about doing an exchange program, do it. I was scared I’d miss my family, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought. You know you are going back, so that helps. Just use the experience to do the things you want and be yourself."
Hannah will return to Germany in late June. She adds that her father hopes to join her in June, which may extend her stay—something to which she is looking forward. In full disclosure, that may be just because once she returns home she still has to attend six more weeks of school in Germany. There are somethings every student has in common, no matter their country of origin!