After reading the article on community service clubs in the Perham Focus of December 4th, I just had to write to you as a former exchange student in ‘94/’95 at Perham High School.
Your work is important in the local community – and it stretches out far beyond that. Through the youth exchange program, you give local teens the opportunity to spend time abroad and kids from all around to get to know your community from the inside and share their culture. I am a firm believer in the impact of these exchange programs. Through them, we learn about other people and also about ourselves in a profound way. It is interesting and fun to learn about different perspectives and to find out we have much in common and we can laugh together.
The one thing I knew about Minnesota when I arrived in the summer of ’94 was that Brandon and Brenda (Beverly Hills 90210) were from Minneapolis. You betcha! I was hosted by the Perham Rotary Club, with officer Steven Peloquin, and I was lucky enough to be welcomed into the best host family one could wish for: Joe and Carol Peeters and their kids in Dent.
I have amazing memories of my year in Dent/Perham. Too many to mention, but I’ll share some. Fellow exchange student Anne Foitzig from Germany and I explored Perham. As a senior at high school, I soon made friends. I enjoyed Advanced English with Mr. Tweeton ‘Could you dissect this sentence, Juicekey?’ who taught me new words like ‘ubiquitous’. Psychology and Government were fun with Mr. Critchley, who gave me the tough task of tax collector in Micro-Community, collecting dollars with his face on them from my classmates. Ms. Christensen was nice enough to borrow me her college Spanish books and Mrs. Klitzkes Creative Writing Class was great. When Marcus shared his story about ugly French women who didn’t even shave their legs, I quickly hid mine! The best time was being in ‘Guys and Dolls’ with my friend Jody Rohweller.
As an ambassador for my country, I talked to many groups about the Netherlands. I remember starting my talk with ‘The Netherlands are surrounded by dikes’ and not understanding why people were laughing?!
I am not religious, but was welcome at the Dent Sacred Heart Church and learned about Catholicism. Hunting, ice fishing and snowmobiling were also new to me, I had not seen that much snow in my life! With help of Rotary, I also embarked on a US trip with 100 other exchange students, which was wonderful.
And the Peeters, what can I say. You are family to me and I cannot thank you enough for opening your home to me!
You might think this story ends in 1995 when I returned home. It doesn’t. That year in Minnesota has had a big impact in my life. Inspired by Mr. Critchleys psychology class, I obtained a Masters Degree in Psychology, and I am currently Head of the Technical Faculty of a University of Applied Sciences.
More importantly, when I visited my exchange friend Anne in Germany, among her friends I met a lovely Italian man, Mario and we have been married for 20 years now. As a matter of fact, Anne and I became family when she married his cousin Vincenzo. Can you believe it!
Over here in The Netherlands, I have told many people about Minnesota. These days, of course, it’s much easier to be in contact than in 1994, but it’s still nice to be able to add some nuance to the US news we get over here. This year, we had our own first short stay exchange students: two German girls. And my daughters are already discussing going on exchange to the US themselves in a couple of years.
Every once in a while, Minnesota calls me home and I have to come back. Through the years, I have made it over many times. I even was at the 20 year PHS class reunion in 2015. A favorite moment was a visit to Joe & Carol’s in 2016 with Mario and our two girls Julia and Fee. Very special.
So, Perham Rotary, I thank you once more for helping to make my stay in Minnesota possible. Keep up the good work for the community!
Right now, we are on Covid lockdown in The Netherlands, much like you are, I think. Let’s hope for better times in the new year. In any case, I wish you all the best for 2021!