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Foreign exchange students: A world of difference

Talk about cultural differences.

This year, five students from around the globe attended Farmington High School as foreign exchange students. It was the first time FHS has played host to so many foreign exchange students, but it most likelywill not be the last.

The students -- Pieter vander Hiel of Holland, Lukas Roth of Germany, Chidchanok Thanajaroonrut of Thailand, Joni Karlsson of Finland and Marthe Sundaas of Norway -- came to Farmington at different times last summer, but will leave with a lifetime of memories.

"It has been an amazing experience," Roth said. "The school has real school spirit. The sports are a lot of fun."

Roth and vander Hiel said they fell right into the school spirit thing, too. Both played soccer for the junior varsity team, but became very good at being hockey and football fans.

"The hockey games were really amazing," Roth said. "Me and Pieter were kind of super fans."

What that means, they explained, was that they found themselves some orange robes and wore the get-ups to games religiously. It was a ploy that helped them to meet a lot of new people.

"Yeah, we were well known," vander Hiel agreed.

Besides immersing themselves in the Tiger culture, vander Hiel and Roth said they were impressed by how large everything seems to be in America versus Europe. vander Hiel pointed to the Mall of America and how wide the roads are here, calling them "huge" compared to what he is used to.

And that Minnesota nice thing that people always talk about? Well, Roth and vander Hiel agree it is true. They will leave Farmington with many friends because classmates and folks around them have been very friendly.

"It was really easy to make friends," Roth said.

All five of the students are juniors at FHS, so they will all return home in the next few weeks to finish their education in their respective countries.

Roth spent his year living with host father David Nelsen. vander Hiel's host family was Joyce and Greg Wickett. Karlsson spent his year with William and Kimberly Donohue and Mark and Donna Thompson were host parents to Sundaas. Thanajaroonrut was hosted by Lita and Gary Paz.

Joyce Wickett is the community representative for Face the World, the educational exchange foundation through which vander Hiel came to Minnesota. Wickett said there is always a great need for host families, because many students are looking to come to the United States to study. Host families are volunteers, she added.

For information on how to host a family, contact Joyce Wickett by calling 651-463-7498 or 651-329-3072, or by emailing her at