Ellen Thunberg sat on her school bus in Stockholm, Sweden, a bit dismayed at the monotony of her life. She was bored with school and wondered if she was going to have to continue with her mundane schedule. As she pondered on her lackluster situation, Thunberg’s friend presented an idea she had never before contemplated: she suggested they become foreign exchange students! Fast forward through the paperwork, selection process and waiting, and Thunberg found herself on the other side of the world on an adventure right here in Morgan, Utah, while her friend stays with a family in Chicago, Illinois!
Thunberg is staying with Gary and Carol Brooks as part of the foreign exchange program. This is the second time the Morgan couple have hosted students from around the world. Shortly before accepting the students into their home, the Brooks family knew little of the opportunity.
“It’s not something I ever thought about doing,” Carol explained.
Prior to the 2011-2012 school year beginning, Gary and Carol’s youngest of five children left for an LDS mission, leaving their house empty. They dreaded the thought of a quiet house, void of activity and youth, and so when Carol was presented with the prospect of bringing a student into the home, she was on board. She called Gary, who didn’t object.
In that first discussion of hosting he told Carol, “I don’t think we should have just one because we are old and boring.” So the couple opened their home to Sally Yang and Minji Park.
They absolutely loved the experience and so they opened their home again. Like last year, this school year has been great for the Morgan couple.
Anna Hochleitner also joins the Brooks family from her home in Kaufbeuren, Germany. She is thrilled at the opportunity to be part of the foreign exchange program. From the very beginning, she knew she wanted to come to America out of all the countries around the world. Hochleitner speaks English fluently, carrying a conversation effortlessly. It is not uncommon for Germans to pick up English skills; Hochleitner hopes to be the best when she returns home at the end of the school year. She shares the goal with Thunberg of finishing this year with no foreign accent.
Thunberg and Hochleitner come from European cultures that are closer to our American ways than those of the Far East. Carol is surprised of how “they all can come and fit right in. They are all totally different and unique,” she said, noting there are no comparisons.
“I like learning about them and having them in my home,” Carol said. Last year they accepted the exchange students last minute and didn’t have an opportunity to make contact prior to their arrival. This year, however, with experience under their belt and early timing, Gary and Carol were able to read through the applications and participate in the selection process. After being matched with Hochleitner and Thunberg, they were able to communicate before living under one roof. “We picked early so they got to know each other before they came,” Carol explained. Email exchanges made arrival day more exciting and less nerve racking as they felt like they finally got to meet friends versus strangers.
Now they are here, they are meeting new friends and settling into our community.
The girls are trying new things including new foods. Hochleitner’s favorite new food is an American classic: a Poptart, specifically Oreo flavored. She loves to eat these tasty breakfast treats. Thunberg has also found a new food. However it is not as all-American as a Poptart. In fact it isn’t really an American dish at all. Thunberg loves enchiladas and didn’t know it until she arrived in Morgan. There are many new foods they have enjoyed and both worry about the weight they will gain this school year because they enjoy American food very much.
Gary and Carol have found the hardest part of hosting foreign students is saying goodbye. Tears were shed when she had to say farewell to Minji and Sally last year at the airport and it is something they are already dreading repeating at the end of the school year. However, because of the deep bonds they formed during their time together, they are already expecting visits from each of last year’s students before the end of the year.
Thunberg and Hochleitner are elated with the reception they have received. They have received a warm welcome and have been surprised at how everyone wants to get to know them and asks questions about them.
“Everyone is open-minded and friendly,” Hochlietner said.
They both feel Europeans would not be so curious and kind. We hope they continue to feel happy and comfortable so that our community can learn from them as they learn from us.