Beaver, Feistel sold on foreign exchange program
Published 06/04/2014 by Britt Aamodt on Star News
Luisa Feistel attended an informational meeting at her school in Essen, Germany. The program was on overseas student exchanges. She could see herself in the United States, in land of Hollywood and big cars.
But she wasn’t sold on a year abroad until she saw another student’s scrapbook of a host exchange. Yeah, that was for her.
Not long after but thousands of miles away, Julie Beaver received an email. Some organization was seeking host families for foreign exchange students.
Julie Beaver was a teacher at Zimmerman High School. She saw kids all day. She had two grade-school children at home. But something about the idea of hosting a German high school student for a year appealed to her.
Julie and husband Jason talked it over and come spring 2013 decided to go for it.
That’s how, in August, Feistel arrived in Zimmerman and the Beavers’ daughters, Michaela and Chelsea, got an older sister.
The organization that brought them together was Aspect Foundation. Every year, the national program places a thousand foreign exchange students from 35 countries. And right now is the time of year they begin looking for host families.
Jason Beaver, apart from being a host dad to Feistel, has become the local international coordinator for Aspect Foundation. He’s the person who’s now going out there, working his network and trying to find host families.
“That’s always the hardest part,” he said, “finding homes. People feel like they can’t host because maybe they have a wedding or they’ve got a vacation coming up.”
But as the Beavers tell potential host families, what you do is you take your international student with you. That’s what they did.
Feistel no sooner got off the plane from Germany than she hopped in a car with the Beavers and headed to Grand Rapids for a family wedding.
Her goal for the year in Minnesota was, like the Aspect Foundation slogan says, “to live the American Dream,” she said.
What she got that first weekend was a big extended family, an American wedding, countryside, lots of food and a cabin by the lake.
“It was awesome,” said the Beavers’ daughter Michaela, 9. “We went to the lake and it was Luisa’s first time.”
Of course, immediately Feistel noticed differences between home and here. She grew up in a big city, population 600,000. Essen’s primary industry is coal mining. Her mother works with the handicapped and her father is a cook.
To get anywhere, all Feistel had to do was hop on mass transit. That wasn’t an option in Zimmerman.
She said the school systems were different. In Germany, students are tracked into different schools depending on academic performance. The best students attend the gymnasium, while others attend the equivalent to a vocational-technical campus or GED-track school.
She felt right at home at Zimmerman High School, where even on the first days kids were walking up to her, asking her name and asking if they could help.
“People in Germany, when you talk to them, they’re not as open,” Feistel said. “You have to get to know them. Here it’s easier to talk and share.”
The Beavers have learned a lot, too. For one, they learned they love the German chocolate Feistel’s mother sends.
“But we’ll also sit at the dinner table and talk about something we’ve seen on the news that’s taking place in Europe, like the situation in the Ukraine,” Jason Beaver said.
Mikaela and Chelsea are learning German with help from Rosetta Stone and Feistel, who makes the lesson more engaging by talking in funny voices.
As the program coordinator, Jason Beaver is eager to hear from local families who might be interested in hosting. They can call or email.
“We’re looking for great families, families that are caring, supportive and nurturing,” he said. Of his own experience, he said, “Lu is like our daughter. For us it’s about the relationship. This has been so much fun, and we’d like to do it again.”
Aspect Foundation is looking for families to host an international student for next school year.
For information or to schedule an interview, contact Jason Beaver: 763-856-8506 or at Jason@studiofiveeight.com or at www.aspectfoundation.org.