Studying abroad is a blend of learning a new culture, meeting new people and seeing the world in a different way. Sina Weiller and Monica Monfort, students at CHS this year, have experienced all of these things and more.
Weiller, 16, comes from southern Germany near Munich. She has one younger brother.
"Two years ago I was with a big band in Florida and I spent two days with a host family," said Weiller. "I kind of liked how they lived and a friend told me, like, you can spend a year in the United States. Then I met my primary teacher and she said, 'Do it now, because you don't know what will happen during the years when you finish school.' So I decided to apply to be an exchange student."
Monfort, 15, is from Barcelona in eastern Spain. She has one younger brother.
"For me the biggest (thing) was learn the language ... I prefer the American accent to the British and the Australian," said Monfort. "I'm planning on coming back in college."
"I think for her (Monica) it's more different than for me because I'm from a village," Weiller said, "so it was kind of more familiar for me."
The exchange program the girls used to study abroad chose where they were to study. The girls live with Clark and Susan Finehout and their children Hannah, Sarah, Isaac and Russel.
"We love to have young people in our home sharing our life," explained Susan. "We feel that hosting exchange students enriches not only our family, but also our school and community."
Weiller and Monfort attend Creston High School. They take a variety of classes, such as biology and sociology, and were not used to walking to their classes because in their home countries the teachers come to them. Classes are not mixed overseas, whereas here freshmen and seniors can be in the same class together.
Weiller was active in badminton and running and is looking at doing a sport in the spring. She is also a member of band and plays baritone and trombone. Monfort plays soccer, tennis and baseball at home, and plans on playing soccer in the spring.
Even though neither of the girls have suffered culture shock, being away from home still can be difficult.
"There's like a big thing now in Spain," Monfort said. "Where I'm from, Catalonia, a big region, they want to be dependent from Spain. They are doing elections and all this, and I don't know, I want to be there."
The first Thanksgiving and Black Friday
This November was the first time Weiller and Monfort experienced Thanksgiving and Black Friday.
"It was a new experience, I think," said Monfort, "but I heard a lot from TV shows and all this because I watch a lot of things. I knew more or less how it was so it wasn't that new."
"(It was) a lot of eating," said Weiller, "a lot of food ... (for Black Friday) we went on Thursday night to Walmart and it was really crazy."
"I know a girl was in the parking lot, and she was with her mother ... someone took their spot or something, and they were sayng, 'Hey, get lost blah blah blah,'" Monfort said. "... she started screaming and then when they come back, the car was (covered) with lotion. It was crazy."
The spirit of Christmas
The Christmas spirit is alive in the Finehout household already, with decorations and a Christmas tree up.
"So we, in my country, the biggest day to celebrate is the 24th," said Weiller. "And, like, I heard here it's the 25th they most celebrate, like, with the presents and all that stuff. We celebrate three days, the 24th to the 26th. I don't know, it will be different."
"Okay, for my Christmas it's, like, ...the holiday is more time, not just one week," said Monfort. "It's also the Three Kings...we celebrate the Three Kings, but I have this strange thing that my parents plan to celebrate the Three Kings the day Santa Clause came, so it's like I celebrate Three Kings but on the 25th, so it's not going to be that strange."
The girls flew into Des Moines in August. Before the school year started, the Finehout family took Monfort and Weiller to Minnesota where they fished, boated and swam. They plan on going to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon before going back to their home countries in May.
"It is exciting to witness the students experiencing things for the first time and to see these things through their eyes. We love to learn about their countries and customs," said Susan. "We have now hosted seven exchange students and plan to host more in the future. My husband, Clark, and I are now qualified to assist families hosting exchange students. For more information people may check out www.effoundation.org or call us at 641-344-8607. It really is an amazing experience."
The Three Kings:
The holiday of Epiphany, also known as the Day of the Kings, is celebrated on Jan. 6 and the end of the holiday break is Jan. 9 in Spain. This holiday is celebrated around the world, though it is not as common in the United States.