While most Van-Far R-I High School students have lived in the Vandalia area their entire lives, one junior has traveled more than 4,600 miles from her hometown to attend the district this year. Lara Krautkraemer, who is originally from Boppard, Germany, located in the Rhine Valley, has been staying with the Ralph and Christy Nelson family since August as a part of the AFS-USA (formerly the American Field Service) Intercultural Programs USA organization. This is the same organization the Nelson’s went through when they hosted foreign exchange student Enrique Caceres, of Paraguay, in 2011-2012. Krautkraemer said the schools are different in the U.S. as compared to Germany. “We have the same subjects here every day, in Germany we don’t,” she said. Christy Nelson said Krautkraemer was surprised at how the teachers seem to care about their students in the states. “She said that teachers don’t seem to care about kids in Germany,” Christy Nelson added. “They are more caring here. They are more involved in the kids and want them to do well.” Another difference is that in Germany, the students don’t turn in homework. She said German schools don’t have sports but do have some club sports in her area like track and tennis. During this past Fall sports season, Krautkraemer played softball for the first time and enjoyed her experience in a Lady Indians uniform. She mostly played a hitting roll on the squad. “With softball, I didn’t even know what it was,” she said. Christy Nelson said Krautkraemer’s mom is now looking for a club softball team back in Germany that she might be able to be a part of in the future. Krautkraemer has plans to participate with the track and field team in the Spring. Last September, she placed third in the Prairie Days 5K race for female runners under age 40. Krautkraemer has also enjoyed her experience performing with the Van-Far marching band. She played the cymbals for the band and noted the challenge of marching onto the field. “I just tried to stay with the others in line,” she added. She is currently playing a viola, a new instrument for the band in concert season but one she’s played for about seven years. “It’s good to play my instrument again,” she said. Christy Nelson said she’s enjoyed hearing the viola sound. The exchange student recently played her instrument for a Christmas Eve service at the Nelsons’ Mexico church, St. John’s Lutheran. “It’s beautiful to hear,” Christy Nelson said. “She’s doesn’t play it a whole lot at home but it is beautiful to listen to.” Another experience Krautkraemer has enjoyed since being in the states was working with the Nelsons during harvest. “She enjoyed riding in the combine with Ralph,” Christy Nelson added. Krautkraemer lives in a rural area in Germany with her family, that includes one brother and one sister. There she helps the family take care of some animals, which includes horses, among others. “It’s a little different from at home,” Krautkraemer said. “In the harvest, I didn’t experience something like (that) before.” She’s also a member of the Van-Far FFA and recently attended the National FFA Convention in Kentucky. Meeting new people isn’t a new concept for Krautkraemer. Back in Germany, her family rents out flats to tourists looking for the farming experience. She said she’s met people from all over the world as the family went from renting out one flat to five. She already knew some information about Hermann, Mo., though she hasn’t been since being in the states. Back in Germany, there was information on Hermann, Mo. is some educational material. Christy Nelson said their family is enjoying the opportunity to be a part of the AFS-USA program again.
“For us, the biggest thing was to show our kids, as well as everybody in the community, that it’s a small world but yet it’s a big world,” she added.
“There’s more out there than what we see right here. We can learn a lot from other cultures. We felt it was important for our own kids and be good for the community to have an exchange student the last couple of times. It’s very worthwhile and a good thing to do. It can be stressful but you get out more of it than what you put into it. It’s a good thing.”
As for Caceres, the Nelsons said he came back to visit them in early December.
He is currently a part of a work program in Colorado.
More about AFS-USA
The 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization is considered a leader in intercultural learning and offers international exchange programs in more than 40 countries around the world through independent, nonprofit AFS Organizations, each with a network of volunteers, a professionally staffed office, and headed up by a volunteer board.
It has been exchanging students throughout the world for more than 65 years.
Christy Nelson said you can tell the organization what type of student you are looking for. She said you have to fill out some paperwork and get background check before an interview process allows someone the opportunity to host a child for either a short or long period of time.
Krautkraemer will return to Germany in June.
For more information on how to host an AFS Exchange Student, call 1-800-AFS-INFO and press No. 2.