Foreign exchange students Marius Sprang and Claudia Tomas say they are very much enjoying their time as students this year at Colo-Nesco High School in Colo.
Sprang, 16, of Germany, has come to the United States through the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYE) program, and is living with the family of Jennifer and David Swanson of Nevada. He couldn’t get in at Nevada, and Colo-Nesco was able to take him. He said it’s very nice of his host parents to drive him back and forth from Nevada to Colo every school day. He’s very appreciative.
Tomas, 17, of Mozambique, came to the U.S. through the Youth Exchange & Study (YES) program, and is living with the family of Sarah and Ray Grover, just outside Colo.
“I wanted to do this,” Sprang said of the exchange experience. “I’m really interested in other cultures.” At 15 years of age, he was able to attend the Boy Scouts World Jamboree in Japan with over 30,000 other Scouts from 150 countries. That experience helped him also to see how important it was to speak good English. “I thought coming to American would help my English, so I searched the Internet and found this CBYE scholarship program.” He applied and was accepted.
Tomas said people came to her school to talk about the YES program and benefits. In her country, she said, most people don’t have the opportunity to do an exchange program. In fact, she applied a few years ago, and didn’t get in. Last year she applied again and made it. She knows how fortunate she is.
“What I like most (about Iowa) is my host family. They are so kind with me…it’s so quiet here … it’s so easy to get to know people, and they like to learn and know more about you,” Tomas said.
Sprang said he has found Iowa and the people at Colo-Nesco to be very welcoming, and he’s appreciated taking lots of opportunities to get involved in activities at Colo-Nesco, something both he and Tomas say is different where they are from. School in their home countries is “just school” … and for classes and studying. There aren’t other activities associated with school.
“I love it … all the activities. It’s helped me really to find fast friends,” Sprang said. He’s been involved in football and basketball. He did the fall play and speech. He has a part, as a banker, in the school musical, “Mary Poppins,” to be performed later this month. He likes how people at the school, in sports and other activities, have school spirit and cheer for their team.
Tomas has also loved getting into some of the school activities. She did volleyball and cheerleading, which was closest to dance, which she does with a group back home. Through these activities, she said, she has gotten to know people and be closer to people. She’s learned to work as a team. “It’s really good,” she said.
Tomas shares that she is amazed at how much emphasis is put on sports in this country, at all age levels and professional sports too. “In my country, it’s not like that,” she said. “I never did any sports before, until I came here.”
She also looks around the school library, as she is visiting, and shares that she loves the school library and all the books there are to read for enjoyment. In her home school, she said, the library only has books for coursework and studies.
When asked about the towns they come from and comparing them to the towns they are in here, Sprang said he lives in a small German town, of about 25,000 people. “For Germany, that’s small,” he said. In fact, he said Ames seems bigger than his home town, because they have more things, like stores and the mall, which his home town doesn’t have.
Tomas said Colo is very different from her hometown. “In my country, we have neighbors all around. I live here in the country, so it’s really different. Back home, we interact with our neighbors all the time. Your parents already know where you are at (if you aren’t at your own house),” she said. Another difference, she said, is walking — in her hometown everybody walks everywhere. They aren’t as much into driving as people are here.
Talking about food for a few minutes, Tomas said the most similar thing between Mozambique and Iowa is meat. “I think people here love meat and we do too,” she said. But they fix it different in her country. “We make meat with a sauce, not just plain,” she said.
The biggest food difference, Tomas said, is cheese. “You guys here love cheese and we don’t eat as much. We just eat it with bread. Here, it’s with everything.”
Sprang said he finds the food here to be fairly similar to in Germany. He said Americans eat more meat than in his home country. But his home country, like America, has fast food restaurants, just not as many as here.
A big difference, Sprang said, is the amount of fried foods that Americans eat. He got to go to the Iowa State Fair when he first arrived, and he was astounded at the fried foods. “They had fried butter,” he said in a tone of disbelief. He tried his first corn dog at the state fair, and that’s as much into the fried food as he got. No fried butter for him.
America’s election didn’t go unnoticed by the two Colo-Nesco exchange students. Sprang said it seemed like a very difficult time. “I think both candidates were not liked,” he said. “Here people liked Trump more; in Germany, people liked Hillary more.” When Trump was elected, Sprang said people in his home country were saying things like, “How can they do this?”
He said, “People hope that (Trump) don’t do bad stuff like start a war. I also don’t know if Hillary would have done better.”
Tomas said she didn’t care a lot of about the U.S. election, but its outcome caused fear for her family back home. “My mother asked me if I will be deported … I think parents are worried about can we be sent back.”
Both Sprang and Tomas said people in the programs they came to the United States with have talked to exchange students and assured them that they are fine.
Tomas just hopes that Trump’s plans aren’t going to make it difficult for future exchange students to come to America. “It’s an amazing experience. I hope everyone who wants to do it can do it,” she said.
One thing Tomas has loved about her time at Colo-Nesco and that she wants to see others from her country experience is the chance to have real relationships with teachers. In her home country, she said, teachers teach, and there is no time for students to ask them questions or get to know them. “Here you can talk to your teacher and they make everything clear. There are people (from my country) who need this (type of attention) more than me.”
Both Sprang and Tomas will have some high school stuff to figure out when they get home, before they head to college, which they both plan to do. Sprang wants to eventually study in a science field; Tomas wants to do international relations.
When asked about a memory they will never forget from their year here, Tomas had a little trouble narrowing it to one. She said the first time she walked out on the gym floor at a basketball game for cheerleading, she was shaking because she was so nervous. She looked at all the people in the gym and said it was so scary she didn’t quite remember the cheers. But she really enjoyed cheerleading and moving past that initial fear. She also, as a Catholic, has been working on her confirmation project while in the U.S., and as part of that, she went to the Story City theater recently to watch a movie with many other Catholics. “That movie was so touching … everybody was crying.” She said she won’t soon forget that powerful, emotional experience.
For Sprang, there is one moment that stands out over all others — his first tackle. “I’m not good in football, but when I ran out on the field, everyone was screaming for me. It was awesome. And I was safety, and I made the tackle and it was really nice. It’s something you don’t expect.” Sprang said his time with the Colo-Nesco football team was fun and exciting as a whole. “It was awesome to be on a great team.”