Marshfield, WI (OnFocus) International students are given a true Wisconsin experience during their exchange year at area high schools.
This year, 15 students from 6 countries are attending 7 different high schools in Central Wisconsin.
Coordinators for the Education First (EF) High School Exchange Year arrange the visits of thousands of international exchange students to the United States from 13 participating countries.
Two local exchange students are Lucas, 18, of the Netherlands, who is currently attending Loyal High School and Alessia, 15, of Switzerland, who goes to Marshfield High School.
Finished with high school back home, Lucas decided to enroll in the exchange program for his gap year before heading to college. The experience was highly recommended to him by a family friend.
Although unsure initially if he would like Wisconsin, since arriving it’s quickly become a second home. “The people are so nice here, and the culture — it’s really American, and that’s what I was hoping to get,” he said.
One of his first activities was attending Loyal Cornfest this August. “I’ve been to America before but that was like okay, this is by far the most American thing I’ve ever seen, just people standing at a belt, waiting for corn!” he said.
Alessia, hailing from Swiss German-speaking Lucerne, wanted to improve her English skills and learn what an American high school is like. “I always watch High School Musical and stuff, so I wanted to see it in real life, how it is,” she said.
So far her high school experience has been more drama-free than the movies, though she’s enjoyed helping with makeup for the Drama Club as well as participating with the tennis team and the Spanish Club. She views Wisconsin culture as more relaxed and open.
Lucas has joined the basketball team this winter, a sport not as big in the Netherlands, and enjoyed attending football games with his host family this fall. “When I came here I was instantly a Packers fan because they sort of made me to,” he said. “I love watching football on Sundays and just playing with my family and friends.”
One of the biggest differences they’ve noticed during their stay is the weather, as Wisconsin is much colder than their home countries and gets far more snow. While driving everywhere by car is typical in Wisconsin, biking is more common in the Netherlands and in Switzerland, public transportation is readily available.
The state is also bigger than their home countries. “Wisconsin is four times as big as the Netherlands alone,” Lucas said. “You can drive the whole country in three hours.”
While American teenagers typically get cars once they get a driver’s license, he said in the Netherlands it’s more common to purchase one after college.
During their stay, both students have been able to enjoy fun activities and explore the region. Alessia tried out a haunted forest and trail for Halloween and attended the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at Minnesota Zoo. A favorite new food is cheese curds.
Lucas took part in hunting season this fall, something not available at home, and even shot a deer. An American product he’s taken to is Mountain Dew.
In the coming year, Lucas looks forward to playing baseball and a visit from his family in February. Alessia was excited to try snow tubing for the first time and enjoys spending time with her host family, which includes a fellow exchange student from Denmark. As an EF ambassador, she completes monthly projects about her experience and helps to prepare students interested in an exchange.
Her host mom, Jessica Nowaczyk, also happens to be an International Exchange Coordinator for the region. Nowaczyk said students are encouraged to become as involved as possible to make the most of their time abroad.
“Exchange isn’t a year in your life, it’s a life in a year,” she said.
A total of 13 families are hosting the exchange students this year, which provides an opportunity to experience another culture and create lasting friendships.
“Hosting an exchange student is an incredibly rewarding and life-changing experience in so many ways,” said Nowaczyk. “And for the student you welcome into your family, you’re providing a once-in-a-lifetime experience they’ll treasure forever.”
The program is always looking for families of all shapes and sizes to host students and has already started placing students for next school year.
Those interested in learning more about the exchange program or becoming a host family can visit www.efexchangeyear.org or connect with a local International Exchange Coordinator. Contact Nowaczyk at [email protected] or 715.305.1570, or Jo Schultz at [email protected] or 715.507.0434.
Local EF Exchange Students:
Hannah – Germany – Athens High School
Mateo – Spain – Auburndale High School
Benedicte – Norway – Greenwood High School
Maria – Germany – Greenwood High School
Lucas – Netherlands – Loyal High School
Alessia – Switzerland – Marshfield High School
Amalie – Denmark – Marshfield High School
Olalla – Spain – Marshfield High School
Marvin – Switzerland – Medford High School
Anniken – Norway – Spencer High School
Emelie – Germany – Spencer High School
Emily – Germany – Spencer High School
Rouven – Germany – Spencer High School
Sarah – Norway – Spencer High School
Tara – Germany – Spencer High School