Foreign exchange student painting ‘pictures’ of normal day in United States

Tim Leonhardt is a foreign exchange student from Germany studying at Chatfield this year. SUBMITTED PHOTO
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Tim Leonhardt wants to see the real pictures.

“In Germany, Germans have pictures that they think are America, and Americans have pictures that they see as German, and I want to see a part of the American pictures,” stated Leonhard.

The 17-year-old foreign exchange student from Potsdam, Germany, is staying with John and Holly Martinka and attending Chatfield High School for the year to explore what it really means to live as an American citizen.

He’s a long way from home, but Leonhardt hopes this becomes his home over the course of the next months. He arrived here in late August, leaving behind his family in a city southwest of Berlin that has a population well over 100 times Chatfield’s population.

For Leonhardt, “home” means living in a place with 270,000 other people, having medieval castles as part of the everyday landscape, and dreaming of American football and baseball as games that happen only in far-off destinations.

The “picture” of the Leonhardt family includes Tim, his parents, his two brothers, one sister and a pet rabbit, but he lives only with his parents and the rabbit.

“My parents are older than normal, and that’s really good because they’re really relaxed and also funny. I am the youngest,” he said. “My dad works for 40 years with traffic lights, designing how to build and program them, and my mom also works with traffic — when somebody has an accident, she checks how traffic could be better. We live in a house that’s big enough for three people. I don’t have a driver’s license because I take the train or bike often, and I like going to tae kwon do or meeting friends sometimes.”

He’s studied English for some time, but he aspires to expand his vocabulary and fluency so he may someday become a computer programmer or work in another computer science-related field.

“I wanted to be an exchange student because my English isn’t so good and because I want to learn more about the culture in the U.S.A.,” he said. “It’s different from Germany for many reasons. I’ve seen a little bit of town, walked the dog and seen a little bit of Chatfield. I’d like to see a football and baseball game, traditional American things. My parents like to come and travel a bit. I want to go to Niagara Falls.”

Leonhardt is quite traveled for a young person, as he’s been to Singapore, Italy, Greece and Morocco before, as well as to the U.S. on a vacation. However, realizing that he’d be gone for a full year took some contemplation once he packed his bags.

“The last night, I realized that I’m flying and the next day was different. It was unbelievable…I was on a plane coming here,” he said. “I haven’t been here alone before, but I’ve been to the U.S. Starting school, I’m not nervous. Maybe a little bit, but it’s normal. I’ve lived in the same city since I was born, and the elementary and the school that I’m going to now, I’ve had the same friends, and my school is less than a mile away.”

So far, the Martinkas have taken Leonhardt to their family’s cabin for a summer vacation and shown him around Chatfield when they’ve got a moment or two. In the future, they are pondering a trip to watch a Minnesota Gophers football game at the University of Minnesota or down into the earth to see Niagara Cave, if not travel hundreds of miles to see Niagara Falls.

“I want to learn more about maybe the normal day,” Leonhardt said. “I have an aunt who lives in the U.S.A., and we did vacation with her, but that was not a normal day. When I go home, I think I’ll be more independent and have a lot more American experiences.”