Learning how to speak English more fluently may have been one of the main reasons Milaca High School exchange students chose to study away from their homes, families and friends, but the students have learned so much more than that in the few short months they have been in Milaca.
Home: Brescia, Italy; population 193,000.
Host parents: Joe and Debby Sahlstrom.
Hobbies: Hanging out with friends and trying new things.
Spoken languages: English, Spanish, Italian and French.
Scolari, who left behind a twin brother, said although it was hard to leave her family, she was excited to hone her English speaking skills and learn about Minnesotan culture.
“My brother didn’t say anything because we don’t get along, but now we communicate with each other. We text,” Scolari said. “My parents were proud of me because I’ve always wanted to do this.”
The 16-year-old would like to one day work in the States and is hoping the exchange program will help her land that goal.
“I wanted to see how people live here,” she said. “When we think about America, we think of New York and Los Angeles, and it’s not like that everywhere.”
Scolari has visited New York City and will be checking out Atlanta this weekend when she meets up with her father. She said one of the most fascinating aspects of her host family is church attendance.
“I didn’t used to go to church. I’d never been to church before,” she said. “The youth group is very nice.”
The biggest difference between attending school in Milaca and back home in Brescia is the schedule. Scolari said in Italy her schedule changes much more often and she only attends class from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Although she is having fun meeting new people and experiencing new things, Scolari said she does have moments of homesickness.
“I miss my family and my friends,” she said. “Also, when you live in a big city or next to a big city, you can always find something to do.”
Home: Frankfurt, Germany; population 690,000.
Host parents: Jenny and James Santema.
Hobbies: Hanging out with friends and watching TV.
Spoken languages: German and English.
As the youngest of four children, Giehl said it was exciting to experience a new school, culture and country.
“I wanted to come here to learn English better and to meet new friends,” he said. “To see how people live here and what is different.”
He said the biggest difference he has noticed so far is how nice everybody seems.
“In Germany, I have friends who are exchange students and some of them get bad families,” he said. “My family here is very good.”
He, of course, misses his family and friends back home, but Giehl also misses his freedom to pick up and go.
“In Germany, I have a motorcycle and I can drive wherever I want,” he said. “Here, I have to see if the house mom is home.”
When Giehl returns home, he will tell his friends all about his experiences, some that vary greatly from their own.
“I would tell them all the stuff that’s different,” Giehl said. “Here, you can go to Walmart and buy guns. In Germany, you can’t do that.”
Back home in Germany, Giehl attends a private school from 8 a.m. to sometimes 5 p.m. He finds the school work in the U.S. very easy in comparison. This winter, he’s looking forward to having his first snowball fight.
Home: Meitzendorf, Germany; population 1,600.
Host parents: Rachel and Scott Gotlovics.
Hobbies: Shopping, meeting new friends and listening to music.
Spoken languages: German, English and Spanish.
Lange left one older sister back home in Germany to come study in America.
“She was sad, but also she said she was happy that I’m doing it,” Lange said. “I wanted to learn the culture of your country. It’s not so much different, but it is a little. We go to church every Sunday; back home just on Christmas.”
Having traveled previously to Florida, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, Lange has experienced American culture before. What surprised her the most is the differences between the states.
“The people talk different,” she said. “The most surprising thing to me is that the people here are so nice. They are extremely helpful.”
Lange misses her family and friends, but also one aspect of German life that is not very accessible in Milaca.
“Pubic transportation,” she said. “There, I often ride on a bike to friends, but here everything is so far.”
The high school junior can’t wait to tell her friends back home about the amazing host family she has been living alongside.
“My family is so nice,” she said. “They’re like my second family.”
Home: Quito, Ecuador; population 1.6 million.
Host parents: Jody and Jim Zellman.
Hobbies: Spending time with his little brothers and soccer.
Spoken languages: English, Spanish and Portuguese.
Veloz was sorry to leave his 9-month-old baby brother and younger brother, 13, as well, but he said he was happy for the opportunity to experience America.
“My little brother was sad. He calls me all the time,” Veloz said. “My father was happy because I’m growing up. My mother was sad, but she’s happy now.”
Veloz wanted to study in the states to prove to his father that one day he will be able to take over the agricultural business he runs.
“I wanted to improve my profile because I have to continue the business of my father,” Veloz said. “He is the boss.”
The most surprising aspect of Minnesotan life for the Ecuadorian was how nice and friendly the people seem.
“In my country, the people are very angry,” he said. “I was thinking here people would be strict, but it was surprising. They’re just like my family.”
While he is enjoying his stay with the Zellmans, Veloz does miss some comforts of home.
“I miss my family, especially my mom and my little brother,” he said. “I miss my bed, and the sun. We are right at the equator, so we have the sun all the time.”
He did have the chance to watch one of America’s favorite sports — football — but he said it’s no soccer.
“I was like, ‘What are they doing!?’” he said of his first view of the game. “Soccer, back home, is more important than high school sometimes.”
In Ecuador, Veloz attends school from noon to 5 p.m. Waking up before the sun is a new experience for him.
“I have to set like seven alarms,” he said laughing.
Here, however, he doesn’t have to wear a school uniform and he can change up his hair from the military-style cut required of his native school. He noticed another difference between his home and the culture here.
“I like a silent meal. I like to eat slow and enjoy my food,” he said. “Here is too fast and everyone is talking.”
One of the most surprisingly pleasant experiences for Veloz was his introduction to church.
“I don’t know how to explain it. I never felt that way before,” he said. “My host mom is very close to God and it’s like another world is open for me. I love the church.”