What motivates a 16 year-old to move halfway across the world to live without their family and friends for an entire year?
Carolin Klettke, a German exchange student at MHS, said, ” I want to learn the language and culture, meet new people, experience American life, and see the landscape.” Moritz Wortmann said he was inspired by his sister. “She spent two years as an exchange student in Arkansas.”
Moritz’s adopted family in the United States are Selena and Ray Evenson and their son Ethan. Carolin lives with the Irvin and Betsy Johanson family.
According to Moritz’s American mother, Moritz fits right in with his new family. “He and Ethan treat each other like real brothers. They get on each others nerves at times, but are very protective.” Moritz said he was also quickly accepted by the students at MHS. “The first day of school a group of girls asked if I was an exchange student. When I said yes, they said, Okay then, you are going to hang out with us. They all have been very nice.”
Carolin admits she was shy at the beginning of the school year, but is making more friends. “At first it was very hard to understand people because they speak so fast, but it is getting better every day. The kids are helpful, especially when I was first trying to get my locker open. I really needed help with that. It is funny, when I meet people here, it’s like they are the same in Germany, like they are the same person. They look and act the same.”
Mya, the youngest in the Johanson family, was quite used to being the only child when her new sister arrived. “I like having Carolin here, though,” she said. “It’s different because I’m used to being alone, but it’s good.” The two found a quick connection. “We both like and know the same type of music.” Back in Germany, Carolin enjoyed being in the choir and also played in a couple of bands. “Not like a marching band,” she said. “We have guitars, drums, a piano, and bass guitars.” She and her friends put on street performances. “We would have an open guitar case and people put money in it. It’s the best work you can do and fun.”
Moritz and Carolin are in the eleventh grade at MHS and in Germany. When they return to Deutschland, they will repeat the grade. “That’s okay because it’s just one year without my friends and just one year behind in school,” said Carolin. “It is worth it to have this experience.”
German and American schools differ greatly. Because Carolin lives in a smaller area, the school she attends has approximately 400 students in grades 7-12. Within the eleventh grade, there are about 80 students which are broken up into four classes of about 25 students each. “We stay with the same students for every class. Here, all of the high school grades are mixed together.”
Moritz explained in Germany the students have six to ten periods each day, but each day is a different set of classes. “That took time to get used to, but it’s fine now,” he said. At Moritz’s school, each student has a profile with specialized subjects. “I am taking the politics and geography profile. So, I had three periods of politics and three of geography every week.” His other classes included: German, English, math, biology, drama, history, and philosophy. The grading system in Germany is also different,” he noted. “In middle school, we get a 1-6 with 1 being the best and 6 the worst. In high school, there is 15-0. 15 is like an A+ and 0 is like an F.”
Carolin took many of the same classes as Moritz. She was enrolled in chemistry, biology, physics, geography, music, art, German, English and math. She also has taken Russian, Latin, Spanish, and French. “My favorite subjects are chemistry, biology, and music. Someday, my dream is to work with medicine and be a pediatrician in Africa.”
Both students have encountered challenges at MHS, but adapted and improved quickly. “For me, reading and following the teachers has been hard,” Carolin stated. “I studied English for seven years, but there are many words I did not know. Also, people speak fast and use slang. I also think people have an accent.” Moritz has found learning poems and American history difficult. He said, “I have to study a lot.”
Another thing both students find challenging is transportation. “We can’t drive here. So, we always have to get a ride wherever we go,” Moritz said. Carolin explained that kids in Germany can drive a motorcycle when they are 16, drive with their parents at age 17, and at 18 drive a car alone. “Here all the students drive – that’s weird to me.”
Moritz auditioned for the MHS fall play and was given a part, which he is excited about. “Back in Germany, I was in theater and I played volleyball.” He went on to explain that there are no sports teams in the school. “We play all the sports, but just in our gym class.” If students want to participate in team sports in Germany, they do so through a private club. Before the year is over, he hopes to audition for the one-act play and try a team sport. “I’m not sure which, maybe tennis or track and field. I don’t think I am so good, but I just want to try it. I also really like dodgeball.”
Carolin also jumped into activities at MHS. She joined the choir and is taking flute lessons from Mrs. Karels. She is working backstage for the fall play and hopes to join a team sport later in the year. “I also enjoy going to the football and volleyball games. It’s so different because we don’t have school sports, but I like the atmosphere and the school spirit.”
The two also agree when it comes to American food. “You eat a lot of fast food,” they remarked. They both enjoy pizza and tacos and are open to trying new dishes. “Moritz didn’t like the goulash, though,” Selena laughed and said.
This is the first time Moritz has been away from his family for so long and he feels the time is going fast. “I miss them, but so many great things are happening here.” He has skyped with his family a couple of times and writes letters to them regularly. He also keeps up with everyone back home through social media.
In Germany, Moritz lives with his mother and father and his older sister who is a senior in high school. His dad is an orthopedic physician and his mom works at his practice. The family resides about 30 minutes north of Hamburg, in a city with about 50,000 people. Hamburg is the second largest city in Germany with a population of nearly two million. “It is very different. Here there is basically nothing; we are surrounded by four fields,” he said. “It is different, but not worse.”
Carolin’s mom, dad, and younger brother live in the city of Anklam, which has a population of about 14,000 people. Both parents are bankers and her brother is 11 years old. “He really misses me and we get along, so I miss him, too.” Carolin said, She feels the landscape around Milbank is much the same as where she lives in Germany and she is more accustomed to the smaller population. “The space is much the same and not too different than where I live.”
Carolin has already traveled to several places outside of Milbank. Her American family took her to a Vikings pre-season football game in Minneapolis and the Twin Cities several times since. We hope to see the musical, Sister Act, too and hope to go to the Black Hills,” Betsy said. Carolin is also going with a group of exchange students to the Mall of America.
The Evenson family also has plans to take Moritz to Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills. “I have seen photos, but do not know much about it,” Moritz said.
While living in another country thousands of miles from your home is exciting, both students find comfort in having a little piece of home nearby. The two exchange students have become close friends. “We are always asked if we knew each other before we came here,” Carolin said. “Nope – there are more than two people in Germany, but we are friends now and have a lot to talk about. We are enjoying our time here.”