Home away from home
Published 11/15/2015 by Scott De Laurelle on Connect Stoughton
A new school year always bring changes, but for a pair of Stoughton families, this year has brought new “children” as well, in the form of exchange students.
Jeff and Brenda Kitsembel and Darlene and Greg Holte have opened their homes to Marisa Reyer and Niki Herzog, exchange students from Germany who will be staying at their homes throughout the school year.
The Kitsembels welcomed Marisa Reyer to their home Aug. 22. Jeff Kitsembel said they have been host families previously for exchange programs, but on a shorter term than an entire school year, so this is a new experience for them.
He said it’s particularly exciting for his daughter Alyssa, who is a junior at Stoughton High School, like Marisa. Kitsembel said the family thought the two would make a good fit.
“We had thought we would like to do it, and somebody we know was already hosting,” he said.
In the Holte family, daughter Tara – also a junior – has a new “brother” in her grade in Herzog.
From Berlin to Stoughton
He said the process starts on the Aspect Foundation’s website, with profiles of the students to provide some general information about them. From there, the host families pare the list down to one or two that might work, and then there is a “vetting” process to find the right fit with the family dynamic.
The family exchanged emails regularly with Marisa before she came over.
“By the time she got here, we had gotten to know her a bit,” Kitsembel said.
Kitsembel said Marisa has already gotten a taste for the local culture.
“We’ve done a corn maze and Old World Wisconsin and toured the capitol building as a family so far,” he said.
Communication has not been a problem at all.
“Her English is very good,” Kitsembel said. “She has an English class, and that’s her most challenging class, so we’ve been helping her. She seems to be doing fairly well. She played tennis and got into some group activities.
“It’s been a real nice experience to have Marisa here.”
Marisa, 16, is in the U.S. for the third time, having previously visited Seattle during her older sister’s exchange program 10 years ago, and also visited New York as a tourist with her family a few years ago. She also said communicating has gone fairly well so far.
“It wasn’t that hard to speak to people and other students, but just in class sometimes when we read text, I didn’t know a lot of vocabulary, but it was OK,” she said.
Marisa, who comes from Germany’s bustling capital of Berlin, home to around 3.5 million people, said she’s getting used to life in a smaller-town America.
“It’s different in Germany, you have a lot of public traffic, buses and trains that I use a lot every day, and that’s different here,” she said. “You always need a parent or someone to drive you everywhere, because there are no buses.”
Marisa said she has enjoyed homecoming and football games, and meeting SHS students in classes and on the tennis team. She said she Skypes with friends and family back home to keep up with things in Germany, but she’s focused on learning about and enjoying her “new” home in Stoughton.
“I am really happy and glad with my new family,” she said.
The Holtes, who have a 16-year-old daughter and 21-year-old son of their own, are excited to see what the year brings. Their daughter, Tara, is in the same grade as Niki, 17, though a year apart in age.
The students have been in Stoughton for about 10 weeks, and have already been keeping busy both in school and out. Darlene Holte said when Niki arrived, they started traveling right away, spending a long Labor Day weekend in Boulder Junction, where they stayed in a cabin. They also took trips to the Field Museum in Chicago, Old World Wisconsin, the state Capitol building and a corn maze.
“We’re continually doing things,” she said. “Things are going great with Niki. It’s like he has been with us always.”
Niki said he had the opportunity to go to either the United States, England or Australia – all places where he could work on his English skills, but all offering some different opportunities. In the end, he chose to come to the U.S., and Stoughton.
“Australia has some dangerous animals, and England is our neighbor, just two hours away by plane,” he explained. “America has got a lot of opportunities and a lot of things to enjoy.”
Niki said he’s enjoyed everything about his new experience so far.
“I like all the stuff, going to school, though everything is different,” he said. “I’ve already done a lot of things, and I’m always looking forward to trying out something new. I’m very glad I got this opportunity.”