German exchange student living her American dream By Kristin Burdey

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Sixteen-year-old Johanna Siefert always kind of knew that she wanted to study abroad, but it wasn’t until a year ago that she made the decision to move forward with her dream. Her brother Bruno had been an exchange student in South Carolina two years prior and had come home very enthusiastic about his experience. “He’s not normally excited about things,” Seifert admits, noting her brother’s enthusiasm kind of sealed the deal for her.

Seifert’s home is Strausberg, Germany, a city of 27,000 people near Berlin. She arrived in New York City on August 22, where she spent three days with PAX going to orientation sessions and meeting people from all over the world. Seifert arrived in Rushford three days later and was immediately struck with how beautiful the landscape was. “We went up on (Magelssen’s Bluff) and saw the town; the view is so peaceful,” she said.

Mike and Heidi Halvorson, who have now hosted nine exchange students, will be Seifert’s host family for the the entire school year. When she returns home, Seifert will redo her entire eleventh grade year, as the last two years of high school are by far the most important in Germany. In essence, Seifert determined that studying abroad was so important that she was willing to add a full year of schooling to her high school career.

 Seifert began studying English in the first grade, which is common for German students. “I’ve always been interested in English, so that led me to go where I haven’t gone before,” she explains. “I want to gain experience, see something different. I knew that my parents would support me in whatever I wanted to do.”  Her mother and father both work in government offices, and her big brother Bruno will graduate from high school this year. “I am the little sweet sister, although my brother doesn’t share that opinion,” she laughs.

One of Seifert’s long-range goals is to study book history, learn how to publish books, and figure out the economics of production and publication. “I want to help writers to give birth to a new story,” she explains. “Right now that’s the plan, but it is just my first month here,” she says with a smile, knowing that her love of learning may take her down many different roads.

Since starting school, Johanna has found plenty of outlets for her creative energy. In Germany, many activities and clubs aren’t school-affiliated, so the opportunities are not quite as easy to come by. However, she has been involved in choir and kickboxing for some time back home. Since arriving at R-P, Seifert has joined fall dance, which she calls “awesome, except when you get hurt,” she laughs while holding an ice pack to her leg.

Seifert also auditioned for the All-School play, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, in which she will be playing the “best Oompa-Loompa ever!” She also took note of an art club that will be starting up at the school. “I want to have some friends, and I figured the best way to meet people is by joining clubs,” she said.

Seifert is also enjoying the variety of classes she is able to take at RP, such as art, sociology, and psychology, and especially the poetry unit of her English class, as she loves literature. She finds most classes both interesting and challenging. “I really like my teachers and try to get involved in the discussions.”

Some differences she has noticed in daily life are the numbers of stores that are open every day. “In Germany, all the stores are closed on Sunday,” Seifert said. She has found the transportation options to be more limited, because there are more public transit options in areas with greater population. 

Something else she noticed almost immediately is how friendly Rushford people are. “It must be an American thing to be friendly,” Seifert laughed. “Asking ‘How are you?’ is normal’, even if they don’t want to hear a long answer; no German would ask you that. Everyone tries to get in contact with me, and it really feels like I’m a part of the team, they really want me to be here.”

Seifert readily acknowledges three addictions, two of which she had before arriving in America,: the first is books, the second is musicals, and the third is host mom Heidi’s sewing machine. She has already learned how to make all manner of cute crafts and has project ideas for gifts to bring back home to her family and friends. “I have a giraffe pillow for my best friend, who has always supported me,” Seifert said.

Even though back home her first name is pronounced differently, Johanna loves the way her Minnesota friends say it, beginning with a hard “J’ instead of the Germanic “Y”. “It is my American name,” she says with a big smile.

Seifert has the perspective of a young lady that has big dreams for her life. “I will see things differently, because I have been exposed to different views.” She plans to become fully immersed in as much as she can while here in the United States. “I want to get all the American Dream experience,” she enthuses. “That’s why I’m here.”