Unlike many exchange students, Dominika Kodlová, 16, of Prague, Czech Republic, is not completely new to Minnesota. Earlier this year, she and the Czech Republic robotics team competed in the First Robotics Competition.
“It was awesome to come here, but I was still a little nervous,” she said.
The process of Kodlová becoming an exchange student started in January when her parents, Marian Kodl and Ivona Lhotská, received information about becoming an exchange student.
Exchange students have an option of how long they want to stay. Kodlová wanted to only stay for about five months.
“I figured a year would be too long. I would miss home too much,” Kodlová said.
Normally, host parents Brian and Sheryl Czech would only accept exchange students who would stay for a year or longer.
“It usually takes exchange students at least a couple of months to really settle in and feel like they’re a part of the family. That’s why we prefer to host students who stay longer,” Brian said.
But Kodlová became the exception. She’s the seventh exchange student the family is hosting. Previously the Czech family has hosted exchange students from various countries, such as Spain, France and Denmark. This time they were looking for someone from Eastern Europe as Brian has ancestors from Prussia, Sheryl said.
Despite the fact that Kodlová only wanted to stay for five months, the Czechs decided to give it a try, Brian said.
“Before I couldn’t really imagine that I would be here in the United States. But when the Czechs chose me, it all became so real. I didn’t know what to do at first,” Kodlová said.
The Czechs communicated with Kodlová for some time before she traveled to Minnesota, to help put her at ease.
“It helped, but I was still a little nervous,” Kodlová said.
The flight to Minnesota went well. Kodlová departed from Prague, Aug. 27 and caught a connection flight in Amsterdam that brought her to Minneapolis.
One thing Kodlová noticed when she went through customs was how easy it was. Normally, when she has traveled with the robotic team, border personnel usually search their backpacks and ask questions about what they find.
“When we travel to compete in robotics, we all usually carry some kind of parts for repair in our backpacks. Many times, the people who work in customs don’t know what it is for, so we tell them,” Kodlová said.
Since Kodlová arrived, she has adjusted to living with the Czechs.
“They are very kind,” she said.
A couple of weeks ago, Kodlová also started attending Royalton High School. During her time in the U.S., she’s studying English, algebra, sociology, the human body system, photography, world history and U.S. history.
Initially, she thought she would struggle with math, but since she learned algebra last year in her school in the Czech Republic, it isn’t very difficult. English, on the other hand, can get a little tricky at times.
She’s continuously learning new words and if there’s one she doesn’t know, she will try to describe it to make herself understood, she said. Other times, she remains silent when she realizes she lacks the words to explain something, she said.
“Sometimes all you can do is to just nod your head and smile,” Kodlová said.
Kodlová plays volleyball at Royalton High School. Although she’s not new to the sport, she’s hoping to improve her skills.
“I believe I will get better. Here, we practice almost every day. In the Czech Republic, we don’t practice as often,” Kodlová said.
There are a lot of things to get adjusted to as an exchange student. Food is one example.
“They have a lot more junk food here than we have in the Czech Republic,” she said.
In the Czech Republic, it is more common for people to cook their own meal rather than eat “meals from a box,” Kodlová said.
Just as Kodlová is learning more about the customs in the United States, those around her learn some about life in the Czech Republic, as well.
One example is the extension “ová” to her last name. It is a Czech tradition to add it to the last names of girls and women to signify that they are females, Kodlová said.
Kodlová is looking forward to experiencing some holidays she has only heard about before. In her country, Halloween is not as celebrated as in the United States. Thanksgiving is another upcoming American holiday, she said.
Kodlová is looking forward to celebrating Christmas with the Czechs this year. As expected, it will be done differently than what she is used to.
In her country, as most of Europe, Christmas is celebrated on Dec. 24.
“In the United States, it’s a lot about Santa Claus, but in my country, we have baby Jesus,” she said.
She is also looking forward to winter and has heard that Minnesota usually gets quite a bit of snow. She’s also been warned about the really cold temperatures, but doesn’t foresee they’d get to her too much, she said.
“We haven’t had much snow at all in my country for the last five years. It will be nice to celebrate Christmas with snow on the ground,” Kodlová said.
One furry friend Kodlová has made is the Czech family’s cat, Callie.
“She keeps laying down on my lap or on my homework when I’m studying and wants me to pet her,” Kodlová said.
The fact that Callie has taken as much to Kodlová has the cat has is a surprise to the Czechs.
“She usually doesn’t like females,” Brian said.
In the Czech Republic, Kodlová has a pet turtle named Kvido.
Kodlová will return to the Czech Republic, Jan. 21, 2018.