Across the pond
German exchange student enjoying Au Gres
By Kevin Bunch
Staff Writer | firstname.lastname@example.org
Au GRES — An exchange student from Germany is attending her junior year at Au Gres-Sims High School.
Staying with Sue Warr in Au Gres, Tina Leuthe, 17, has been interested in studying in another country for a few years. Tina said she attempted to study in France two years ago, but it fell apart. Afterward, she had the idea of studying in the U.S.
“The first time I told them I wanted to be an exchange student here, my parents said no because it costs a lot of money and they thought they would miss me a lot,” Tina said. “But then they thought about it, and changed their mind. They’re great; my mother said she would do it if she wasn’t too old for that.”
Tina said it can cost in excess of $10,000 for a student to come to the U.S. to study. To come stateside she had to fill out an application and participate in an interview to determine whether her English-speaking skills were good enough.
Her family had to pay the fee once she was approved, and then she found out about her host family and school placement.
Tina said she is enjoying her time at AGS so far. She said the classes here are a bit more difficult than the ones she is used to, with different lessons spread out among five days a week. Additionally, Tina said lockers were new to her, since in German schools everyone just uses bookbags.
Tina said she also appreciates the more in-depth class lineup at AGS.
“I like Forensics,” Tina said. “There are different classes here. We just have math, biology, German, but no fun classes.”
Tina said she also joined the AGS volleyball team and intends on joining softball in the spring, since the sport is unpopular in Germany and she does not believe she would get the chance to play it again.
The city of Au Gres agrees with Tina as well. She said Au Gres is about the same size as her hometown, and residents have been very friendly and interested in her and her experiences.
“They said they never really got to talk to a German or an exchange student,” Tina said. “Some people ask the weirdest questions about life in Germany.”
She also celebrated her birthday in Au Gres a couple weeks ago, meeting up with two exchange students from Omer and getting dinner together at Dunleavy’s after seeing a movie.
“American food is not as healthy, but there’s so many new things, like macaroni and cheese, that taste great,” Tina said.
With Halloween around the corner, Tina noted Americans celebrate the holiday a bit differently. While in Germany it is focused entirely on children going trick-or-treating, in the U.S. she said people of all ages seem to celebrate it and put together elaborate decorations for the holiday.
A more dramatic change has been the language barrier. Tina said when she first arrived she had a bit of difficulty understanding people, but has been improving.
“I’ve been studying English since the third grade,” Tina said. “I don’t feel as prepared. We learned everything, but not so much that we can use here. I’m learning lots of new words.”
Tina hopes to travel a bit while in the U.S., and has already visited Lansing and Grand Rapids with her host mother. Tina said she has visited the U.S. before — having been in Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee before — but not for the length of time she is staying here now. She has also visited numerous countries in Europe, such as England, Turkey, Italy, and Spain.
Nevertheless, Au Gres has a certain appeal for Tina.
“I like it here,” Tina said. “The school is great. So much is different, but it’s great.”
Warr said she has been hosting exchange students since 2004. She had been talking about being a host mother for a while with Mark Schaffer, local coordinator of the Academic Year in America program through the American Institute for Foreign Study Foundation, when she received a letter in the mail about hosting.
“I called Mark about it and he said he didn’t send it, but he did have some kids,” Warr said.
She took him up on his offer, and has been hosting exchange students since. Warr said the kids who sign up for the program must be rather brave to go overseas for a year. She said she has also heard from, and had visits from, students she hosted in the past.
“The kids are great,” Warr said. “They’re teenagers, so you have to keep up with them and treat them like teenagers, but it’s a great thing. It brings the world home.”