German exchange student comes to Upsala to take advantage of more opportunities

By SARAH LIDEEN, Staff Writer

The Gunderson family isn’t new to hosting exchange students. In December 2011, they brought in their third student, Johanna Verholen from Northwest Germany.

Johanna Verholen instantly clicked with her host family and has been told she is very similar to her host mother. Pictured are front row from left: Derek Bollig, Alan Gunderson holding Daniel and Jacob Gunderson. Back row: Johanna Verholen and Tina Gunderson. Not pictured: Kaitlynn Bollig.

“I grew up with exchange students, so it’s pretty natural for me,” said Tina Gunderson. “It’s a pretty big commitment.”

Verholen arrived in America in August and enrolled as a sophomore at the Upsala High School. Staying with another host family, she did not join the Gundersons until December, where she was able to take part in the holidays.

In Germany, Christmas traditions vary from house to house. Verholen said that in her household back home, the Christmas tree is put up on Christmas Eve and taken down by Dec. 27. New Year’s Eve is also quite different.

“It’s a huge deal in Germany,” said Verholen.

People meet in groups and go places together to celebrate, while each house sets off their own set of fireworks at midnight. Verholen said that more people come out to celebrate the holiday in Germany than they do here.

One tradition involves throwing hot metal into a bucket of cold water to form a shape, where people then try to tell the future.

Back home, Verholen has three older brothers and is experiencing a new home life with three younger boys in her host family and doesn’t have a lot of experience.

“She’s getting better at it though,” said Gunderson.

Verholen is finding herself fitting right in, shopping with friends and spending the night at their house.

“It feels like every weekend we’ve been running to do something,” said Gunderson.

School is different too.

“In Germany I am done with school at 1:15 p.m., sometimes earlier,” said Verholen.

Having longer days is still new to Verholen, but she said that the school day is more fun in America and has favorite and not so favorite classes already.

“I really like welding and wildlife,” said Verholen, who added that American history has proved to be the most difficult as she wasn’t able to experience any of it first-hand.

Verholen will receive no credit for her time spent in America at her school in Germany, and is hoping she won’t have to repeat her sophomore year.

“I’m considered being on vacation for a year. I’m just not there,” said Verholen.

This isn’t the first time Verholen has traveled far from home. She has visited Hungary, Denmark, Belgium, England and the Netherlands, which she said has been her favorite.

“I’ve only been there for day trips, but I like to go wind surfing there,” said Verholen.

Verholen is taking advantage of many sports at school since her school in Germany does not offer any. She is currently involved in dance, and was also on the volleyball team.

Verholen encourages other students to travel and to get involved with an exchange program at their school.

“Just be open and try to get along with people. I always wanted to do something different and now I have the opportunity to see everything,” said Verholen.

Gunderson also encourages families to host students.

“Don’t be afraid of having someone in your house. Don’t let that stop you. You get just as much out of it as they do,” said Gunderson.

After graduation, Verholen plans to travel to Australia where she would like to continue her education and become a pilot.