Editor’s Note: Welcome to a special series from the Sutterlin Family. This month, the family wraps up their experience hosting a German high school exchange student. Enjoy!
From the Sutterlin Family
After waiting for a few months and communicating only by email, we felt we knew Sophie, but she was still a stranger when we met at the airport. She was the outsider joining four overjoyed people, which must have been overwhelming, especially after such a long trip. It only took a few miles for us to get through a litany of questions and then a song came on the radio that all the kids knew. Soon they were singing along as if they’d been siblings on car rides for years. Soon enough they’d be fighting just the same, but for now we were happy to take it.
Sophie arrived while we still had a few weeks of summer break and we intended to fill it with as much experience as would fit into the waning days before the routine of the school year would consume us. We planned a number of small trips, but everything was tentative based on how Sophie felt and how we got along. We had to consider that stepping off a plane and going on a camping trip with strangers in a strange land might be toxic to everybody, so we prepared options. Sophie quickly made us realize how flexible and willing she was for any life experience. Within a few days, we were off to Lake Michigan. The next weekend, was Lake Erie, Ohio, Pennsylvania and a few weeks later we headed to Lake Huron and Drummond Island. It was our goal, and seemed like Sophie’s delight, to travel locally so she could really know her new home.
School started too soon, as always for American kids, but Sophie was nervously excited. We warned her that the pace of the school year would change our relaxed dynamic, but Sophie just wanted to get there and start making new friends.
Having a third child was not overwhelming to us, but the additional carpooling for a very social high-school student surprised us. Within weeks, she was committed to a school play, German club, Anime club, choir, church youth group, and a group of friends with whom she went to dances and football games. There were some unique challenges when the rules we planned clashed with the flexibility we needed. Having not had a teenager and not knowing many teens thrust us into new experiences, but we learned to adjust our expectations and put trust in her judgment.
The first weeks in my new home were amazing! I thought I would miss Germany and not feel at home but I was a part of the family right away. There was so much to talk about! My new little brother was throwing funny questions at me like; “Do you know what Basketball is?” He thought Germany was a different planet. But surely enough there are differences and the more we did together the more differences became noticeable.
Because it was summer break when I arrived, we drove around a lot. In Germany, four hours is a long drive, but my second trip in America took seven hours and my host family didn’t even regard it as a long trip. It was absolutely not normal for me! I think that’s because the German infrastructure is very different from the American. We don’t depend on having a car because everything is connected by trains, trams and busses and so I’m not very used to long car drives. That makes it also a lot easier to meet with friends, because you don’t need your parents to drive you, like I do now that I’m
Another big difference is the food. I didn’t notice it at first because I expected fast food chains everywhere and nothing else. However the food didn’t seem very different from what I was used to back home, but soon I recognized that I always felt hungry. The lunch at school was not as nutritious as the food that I had at school in Germany where I was used to eating many grain products that filled me up. My host-mom helped me by adjusting the food and buying yogurt and bread to make sandwiches for lunch at school.
I thought it would be much easier to make friends at school than to become a part of a new family. But it was the other way around. My host parents made me feel just as important as their own kids and I enjoyed playing with my new siblings. But the first days of school weren’t easy. I didn’t make friends as fast as I thought I would but then I became involved in the school play and signed up for other clubs. That helped me find people I could relate to and soon I had a whole bunch of great friends.
Tags: communicating, email, high-school, lake, michigan, overjoyed, people, school, sophie