Read all about German exchange student Ole Winkler, written from the perspective of his host dad, Jeff Hunt, and what it was like for a teen from Berlin to live in a small, Midwestern town in the U.S.!
Ole’s stay was enlightening, entertaining, and fun. We enjoyed his time here and have learned almost as much as he has, I’m sure. He is a very well-rounded kid with many experiences, a very good understanding of America, and speaks English very well. He also is very personable and has met many people. Many of the things he initially was amazed by, he, and we, now take for granted. It has been fun watching him experience a lot of these.
It has been a good adventure for us and I think for him too. No high schooler from Berlin chooses the small-town Midwest over California or New York City, but he has enjoyed and learned to the point that I don’t think he regrets it anyway.
He got to experience playing soccer for his school. We went to many games and he was fortunate enough to have a coach and team that was receptive to a new kid and gave him much playing time. Since they have no school sports in Germany, the whole concept of having your classmates cheer for you at regionals and fans watching the games, let alone having it on TV, was a huge thing for him. The team also gave him a bunch of immediate friends and acquaintances. He liked being able to go to the high school basketball and football games too. Dressing up at "themed" cheering sessions, he excelled and entertained. He also got to go several of the school dances, a thing they don’t do in his country.
We do feel fortunate to have had a kid who made an effort to get out and meet people, ask for rides, but was conscientious in who he hung out with. Our 3 kids did not meet any high school foreign exchange students that were as well known in the school or as well liked and accepted as Ole had been. That sentiment has been repeated to us by other kids still in or just out of school. He was lucky enough to tag along with a couple of his friends' family Florida vacations at spring break. He was able to experience a fairly unique to America situation apparently, traveling in huge motorhomes! At $6 a gallon maybe that deters them over there. He thinks it’s because there is nowhere they’d fit.
Ole is from Berlin so there were many new concepts and contrasts to experience in a small Midwestern town. He was amazed by the sunsets and now he must have the world’s largest collection of ‘cool sunsets’ on his phone. The buildings in Berlin must obstruct them all. He also couldn't fathom the drive to a little nearby town to watch school basketball. "There was literally nothing but open fields as far as you can see," he marveled. He is also amazed by our gardens, which I now know means yards. Traveling and eating in a lot of little towns gave him the real Midwest experience. I asked him if he thought we needed mass transportation like Europe. He said, "It wouldn’t work, you are too spread out, you’d have a million trains!" Another thought that I don’t think we or Europeans having not visited here, really appreciate.
Watching sports with him is also entertaining. He was already a big fan of the NBA, American NFL, and of course, European Soccer. He had no idea how baseball was played so going to Busch Stadium was a marvel and very curious to him. The March Madness time was addictive for him! He catches on very fast to things that interest him. He also has a great understanding of most of the governmental differences between the U.S. and Germany. We do not appreciate things like being able to poke fun at our government or our past. When asked about sensitive things about Germany’s past he said, "You can’t say or do that, you’d be put in jail." When we asked about freedom of speech, he said, "What, we don’t have that." The freedom to carry guns in our country just blew his mind. He had to ask, "Is that real?" According to him there is no pride in the military or the country near to the point we have here.
We also brought Ole to our extended family dinners or lunch gatherings, which always enhanced the conversations. He always had some new perspective or question about things that made it entertaining to all. He joined us on a ski trip with Sue’s sister’s family. That is where the concept of real Midwestern cold (- 9F without wind chill) and the weather changing "jet stream" was introduced. Prior to that we were just curious why at 10 degrees higher latitude in Berlin it was so much colder in the winter here. We also traveled around to our kids’ colleges. That took us to Mizzou and Indianapolis. We went to a Bulls/Pacers game and Ethan quickly pulled up pictures on his phone of him playing against one of the starters. It is a smaller world than we think. If he had it to do over again he would take driver’s education at school and hope to learn to drive himself. Other than that minor point, he wouldn’t change a thing.
We are looking forward to meeting his family and expect that this hosting experience is the start of a life-long relationship.
--Jeff Hunt, Host Dad