Dutch foreign exchange student getting a break from pedaling his bike to school

Tim Koorneef, a foreign exchange student from the Netherlands, is living with Simon and Mary Hershberger this fall, attending Fillmore Central High School. CHARLIE WARNER/NEWS LEADER
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“When I was your age, I had to walk to school. Uphill. Both ways.” That was an old saying parents and grandparents jokingly stated when discussing the subject of riding the bus or driving a car to school with their children.

For Tim Koorneef, a foreign exchange student from the Netherlands, that old saying is somewhat apropos.

“We don’t have school buses in the Netherlands. I live 11 miles from the school I was attending and I rode my bike (pedal bike that is) 11 miles to school. At the end of the day, I rode it 11 miles home,” Tim said with a wry grin.

When he tells this to his new fellow students, at Fillmore Central, they find it hard to believe. “But it is the truth,” he added.

Tim is staying with the Simon and Mary Hershberger family of rural Fountain. The farms of Fillmore County are similar to those that surround Boijl, population 800. Farmers in Tim’s home province of Friesland raise corn, potatoes and dairy farming is very big. The farms are smaller. He said he was amazed at the large equipment used here and also the “gigantic silos.”

Fillmore County is much more hilly than Tim’s home area. He noted the wooded hills and deep valleys with rivers and streams are a welcomed change in the scenery.

Because he hails from such a small town, living near Fountain and attending school in Harmony hasn’t been a real cultural shock for him. While his hometown has a population of only about 800, the school he attends 11 miles away in Oosterwolde, has about 1,500 students in grades seven through 12, which is considerably larger than Fillmore Central.

Tim speaks very fluent English, with hardly an accent. Besides Dutch and English, he speaks French, Spanish, German and West Frisian, which is the official language in Friesland. “Frisian is quite similar to Dutch, but for people who only speak Dutch, Frisian can be difficult to understand,” he said.  

He started learning English when he was 11 years old. English is taught in the Dutch schools at an early age. Just about everyone in the Netherlands speaks English, Tim added.

Tim comes from a musical family. His mother is a choir director and teaches singing and his father is a park ranger and also enjoys singing.

Tim was “forced” to take piano lessons at an early age. He switched to drums and still enjoys playing a drum set at the Hershberger home.

Tim said that American culture is quite influential in the Netherlands, especially movies.

“The Dutch don’t have a very good movie industry,” Tim said. “I never watch Dutch films. They just aren’t any good.” But he added that while American music is very popular with the Dutch youth, musicians in the Netherlands produce some very good music.

Tim played club soccer until an ACL injury sidelined him. He hopes that his knee will have healed up by this winter, as he’s looking forward to skiing, as well as snowmobiling.

The weather in the Friesland Province is milder than Fillmore County, as the ocean winds from the North Sea keep low temps there around freezing at worst.

“I’m excited about the Minnesota winter, mostly for the snow days. We hardly ever get let out of school because of snow,” he said.

Tim noted that folks living in Fillmore County are pretty much what he had anticipated. They are friendly and have made him feel at home. He added that they are much stricter when it comes to religion and have a much greater passion with their politics.

“During our elections, the candidates don’t try to blackball each other the way they do here,” he concluded.