By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
ASSE exchange student Jennifer Kuka, 15, is living in the Buckman area and attending Pierz Healy High School. Kuka is from a small town outside of Frankfurt, Germany called Oberursel, which is still considerably larger than Pierz.
“Oberursel has about 30,000 people, while the Frankfurt metropolitan region has more than five million,” she said.
Frankfurt is located in the northern part of the southwest quadrant of Germany. It’s the largest city in the state of Hesse, the financial and transportation center of the country and the largest financial center in continental Europe. The average high temperature in March is 50 degrees and the average low is 35 degrees.
Kuka became part of the international student exchange program because it has always been a dream of hers to travel.
“I can learn better English and experience all I have read about while in the United States,” she said. She also cited her mental development and a growth in her independence and her maturity since she arrived.
Coming to the United States was her first choice, but she said if she was given another choice, she would have lived in a larger city than Pierz, population 1,393.
“Pierz is a very friendly town,” she said. “People truly seem to care. And, it has everything a person needs, only compressed.”
Unlike the United States, Germany has four classes of high school, depending on a student’s grades and their desire to go on to college. Grammar, or gymnasium schools are for those wishing to attend college, realschules are for second-level students who may attend a trade school, and gesamtschules and hauptschules are for those who will not be getting a higher education.
“In Germany, we have different classes each day of the week. Some days we attend for six hours, other days for nine hours,” she said. “An average student will attend 15 different classes each week.”
Kuka and her fellow students attend all-year school. They have six weeks off in the summer, two in the fall, three in the winter and two in the spring.
“English is required for everyone, but I also take Spanish and French,” she said. Kuka speaks five different languages, including Polish and German.
Kuka lives with her parents in an apartment. Her father, Heinrich, works for Rolls Royce in its aircraft division and her mother is a dietitian in a rehabilitation center. She has one sister, Marie Sophie, who is 11 years old.
Kuka is living with Dana and Brian Stangl and she is loving it. The Stangls have eight children and their daughter Liza is one of Kuka’s best friends. With seven other children in the home, there is never a lonely moment.
“I do feel homesick once in a while, but the Stangls make me feel at home,” she said. “I love talking with them in the evening and really like their sense of humor. They tease me a lot and I’ve learned to tease back. I also appreciate their faith in God.”
There is not too much difference between American and German meals, Kuka said. She is used to potatoes, pasta or rice with meat and vegetables. They also eat pizza and spaghetti in Germany. But here, she said Americans eat too many burgers.
“And, Americans eat out much more than Europeans,” she said. “There are so many more fast food restaurants here.”
Kuka has found she loves sloppy Joes, Mountain Dew and popcorn shrimp, three items she had never tried before. She also discovered she dislikes root beer and turkey.
Her life in Germany, outside of school, is filled with dance club, badminton, book club and bike riding. She also takes piano lessons, is a Mass server in church, tutors French, hangs with her friends, shops and listens to music.
Since coming to Pierz, she has started a book club, worked with the Lions Club during their fish fries, joined the tennis team and plans to be a member of the track team which starts soon. She is also a member of SADD.
The Stangls have taken her ice fishing, which she tried for the first time. She said that while it’s cold enough in Germany to freeze the lakes, there are not many lakes available. She also went snowmobiling, which she loved, and ice skating on a lake, different from the indoor rinks she is used to.
“While here, I have learned to appreciate my family life and discovered I cannot worry about the future or dwell on the past, but live for now. I have learned to talk about my problems or things that are bothering me,” she said. “I also feel I have grown in my faith because of the Stangls.”
For more information about ASSE, an international foreign exchange organization, contact Jessica Erickson at (218) 391-9812 or go to www.asse.com.