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Paynesville Press - February 9, 2005

German exchange student ends stay in Paynesville

By Michael Jacobson

During her five-month stay in the Paynesville area, Katharina Goeth-schenberg, a foreign exchange student from Germany, improved her English, learned about the American way of life, including farm life, and started to like country music and the color pink.

Spanier family with exchange student Katharina, a 16-year-old from Cologne, Germany, returned home on Monday after spending five months living with the Dale and Sue Spanier family on a dairy farm in Zion Township. The Spaniers have three children: Justin, 20; Brittney, a tenth grader at PAHS; and Trevor, a sixth grader at PAMS.

Katharina (front left) ended a five-month stay last week with (front) host parents Sue and Dale Spanier and theri children (back) Brittney and Trevor. Not pictures is their son Justin.

Katharina - who previously had visited Florida in 2003 and New York City and Washington, D.C., in 2002 - wanted to be an exchange student "because I wanted to get to know how people in America think, to compare lifestyles between America and Europe, and because I wanted to learn better English and meet new people," she said.

Katherina arrived in Paynesville in late August and left for home on Monday, Feb. 7.

Katherina, who has studied English since fifth grade, found the language to be a minor adjustment. "Her English was great," said Sue. "We could understand her right away."

But she had to adjust to everything from the school schedule to the weather and to life on the farm. For instance, when she arrived, she was shocked to see so many 16-year-olds driving in America. Katherina can't get a driver's license in Germany until she turns 18.

But she learned to appreciate America's love of its automobiles while living in a rural setting, away from public transportation. "Here you are dependent on your car. You have to have a car," said Katherina, while in Germany, since the system of public transportation (buses and trains) allows you to get almost anywhere you want, you don't really need a car.

Katharina, who took junior classes at PAHS, had to adjust to a rigid school schedule, the same classes the same hours everyday. In Germany, some classes are given on certain days of the week, and school ends at different times on different days depending on the schedule. She found the teachers at PAHS to be wonderful and very helpful.

Katharina Goethschenberg feed animals And Katharina - who lives in a small village, about the size of Paynesville, outside of Cologne, a city of about one million people on the Rhine River between Bonn and Dusseldorf - had to learn about farm life. In Germany, she was used to treating animals solely as pets and couldn't believe, at first, that the Spaniers did not allow their dog inside the house. She did chores for the family, which milks 41 cows, including cleaning the barn, feeding the cows, and feeding the calves. Because she was extremely patient, said Sue, Katherina did a great job of feeding the calves.

Katharina Goethschenberg had to learn that animals on a farm were treated differently than pets in Germany, but her patience with animals helped in feeding the calves, one of her chores at the Spaniers.

Several years ago, the Spaniers had had a Spanish exchange student (for six weeks) and a Luxemburg student (for five weeks).

When they showed interest in having an exchange student again about a year ago, their representative for ISE (International Student Exchange) told them she had the perfect student for them (Katherina). They had 24 hours to decide to accept her.

Katherina, like the Spaniers, loves to ride horses. "We picked her up on Friday, and we had her on a horse on Saturday," said Sue.

Katharina, who rides her Icelandic horse, like a pony, at least once a week in Germany, went on several trail rides with the Spaniers. And she attended the state 4-H horse show at the fair grounds in St. Paul in September, went to Draft Horse Field Days by Sauk Centre in October, attended her first barn dance, and rode in her first sleigh.

She also went snowmobiling, four-wheeling, and bought a Yamaha snowmobile jacket (and got a matching hat from Trevor), which should be real originals in Germany. And she visited the Mall of America (coming home through a snowstorm) and attended a rodeo at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Katharina has two younger sisters; her mother loves horses, too; and her father works in financing in a bank. Katharina will have two years of high school remaining in Germany. Then she plans to study marine biology at a university and is interested in living in New York. Katharina's 14-year-old sister visited her and Paynesville for 10 days over Christmas. "She got to see how cold it gets," said Dale, as her sister's visit corresponded with a cold spell. How they dealt with the cold, according to Katherina, was to stay inside the house. In Cologne, when it snows, the snow stays for a couple days before melting.

Katherina used proper table etiquette when she came in August - eating with a fork in her left hand and knife in her right - said Sue, but she gradually stopped using both utensils and started eating like an American. When her sister visited, Katherina laughed at her sister's proper table etiqutte!x

At their dinner table, you have to grab and get it or "it'll be gone," said Dale with a laugh. "Here we fight for the food."

Katherina tried everything and was not finicky at all, said Sue. But she did grow tired of Americans' love for hamburgers and French fries. In Germany, she eats a hamburger and fries maybe once a month, while here they were everywhere, she reported. She missed good German bread and chocolate, she added.

German map Katharina, in addition to horseback riding, likes to read, watch movies, spend time with her family, and shop. During her stay in America, she learned that TV reruns in Germany are really old - the kids in one of her favorite shows are much older than in America! - and she also heard the real voices of actors and actresses in movies, since the German version are all overdubbed with German dialogue not said by the real actor and actress. Her 14-year-old sister is interested in being a foreign exchange student, too, and the Spaniers would probably agree to host her, too.

Hosting a foreign exchange student is a good way to learn about another culture, said Dale, but you have to be patient and flexible. "I enjoyed it," he said. "It's fun."

"I think Katharina blended into our family just great," added Sue.

"I think every family should try this," explained Sue. "It's a wonderful experience."

Katharina said she did not realize how much she would miss her family and her parents, but she learned a lot about herself, gained self-confidence, and became more independent through her experience.

She also learned to like country music and the color pink, getting a pink cowboy hat, signed by her high school friends, as a goodbye gift.

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