Seven foreign exchange students from six different countries walked the halls of Monticello High School this past year.
Recently, Guillermo Bermejo and Andrea Julve Julve, from Spain, DaHyun Kang, from South Korea, Albin Biro, from Romania, Honza Stibingr, from the Czech Republic, Christian Stamm, from Germany, and Gabrielle Incarbone, from Italy sat down with the Monticello Times to answer a few questions and recap a year living in a foreign country
Here’s what the seven students had to say about living in the United States, their school experiences, and the opportunity of learning in another land.
Q: How did you learn about where Monticello was and what did you feel when you learned you were going to come here for your foreign exchange experience?
Guillermo Bermejo, Spain: “The first thing that I found out was that it was going to be really cold,” Bermejo said. “I watched a program on television about Minnesota, and I found out about the Twin Cities, then I found out some information about the school, and I looked up the sports that they had, some of the classes.”
Andrea Julve, Spain: “They told me I was coming here two weeks before I was going to arrive,” Julve said. “I didn’t have much time to get ready and prepare for things, and my first impression when they told me I was going to Minnesota was, ‘What is that? It’s in the middle of nowhere.’ When they tell you about going to the U.S. you think about California, New York, and similar places, and you go to Minnesota, and think, OK, it’s a new thing.”
DaHyun Kang, South Korea: “I wanted to go to Florida, but then learned I was going to Minnesota,” Kang said.
Albin Biro, Romania: “The weather is almost the same in the city that I come from,” Biro said. “Actually, it’s a little bit colder than here. I didn’t have any problem with the cold. The first thing that I checked up on the Internet and the first thing I found was a video clip of Charlie Voller making an awesome touchdown. That was back in June.”
Honza Stibingr, Czech Republic: “I found out some my favorite things about Minnesota. Three of them are hunting, fishing, and hockey. I love all three of those things. The first day I came here, my host family showed me their guns and that they were a hunting family. I used to go fishing when I was younger. Hockey is my favorite sport. I played for 12 years. I played for the Moose, and saw a couple of Minnesota Wild games.
Christian Stamm, Germany: “When I found out I was going to Minnesota, I didn’t really know where Minnesota was, so I looked it up. When I found out I was going to be in Monticello, I looked up the city on Google maps, and I went through everything I could find. It was pretty cool. I learned the most when I got here.”
Gabrielle Incarbone, Italy: “I found out about Minnesota in July,” said Incarbone. “My host family wrote their telephone number, but not the city, so I found out more about Monticello through an Internet search. I had never seen snow before. It was rare to see it in Italy. The thing that most impressed me was the snow. And football.”
Q: When you arrived and met your host families for the first time, what was it like?
Guillermo Bermejo, Spain: “It was really kind of weird,” Bermejo said. “I got off the plane after eight hours, and I was sleepy. We drove home and they introduced me to all of the members of the family. We had a great time. I’ve had a great experience with my family.”
Andrea Julve, Spain: “This was first time I was scared of going someplace new,” Julve said. “You have to get used to a new house, new siblings, which is hard. They have their own things to do and their own dynamics. You have to get used to everything, including learning a new language. The first day, my host family asked me, ‘What do you want for breakfast?”
DaHyun Kang, South Korea: “I met my host family at the airport, and I had a 14-hour flight,” Kang said. “I was so tired. They kept asking me, ‘Are you hungry, are you hungry?’ I told them no, that I just wanted to sleep. In Korea, we bow to the other person, and it’s a habit, and I did, and my host family was laughing so hard. I was so embarrassed. Being with a family that had pets was a new experience for me.”
Albin Biro, Romania: “For me, it was like, Hmm, it was kind of like what I expected it to be. My host family was nice and kind, and the first thing we did was go to Five Guys and eat in Maple Grove. I want one here.”
Honza Stibingr, Czech Republic: “I was excited,” Stibingr said. “Finally, when I came, they asked if I wanted to go and eat somewhere, and I said yes, ‘I’m hungry, let’s go someplace and eat. My host family brother and sister said, ‘Let’s go to Pittsburgh Blue in Maple Grove.’ They had huge 2-pound steaks there. That was a nice experience.”
Christian Stamm, Germany: “I remember I was really tired when I met them at the airport,” Stamm said. “I had traveled for 12 hours. On the highway to Monticello, my host family asked me if I had noticed something different, and I said no, because we were on the highway. Then I fell asleep, I slept the whole ride from the airport.”
Gabriele Incarbone, Italy: “I’ve had two host families here,” Incarbone said. “The first family, when I arrived at the airport, there was a whole group of people there to say welcome. My family was 100 yards away. The first thing they asked me was my name, because nobody can pronounce my first name correctly.”
Q: Regarding names, has there been one name that you’ve preferred? Did it take a little while before you became comfortable with what you were being called?
Guillermo Bermejo, Spain: “I asked everybody to call me Guille, which is what everybody calls me in my country, but they kept mispronouncing it,” Bermejo said.
Andrea Julve, Spain: “In the beginning, every kept forgetting to emphasize the letter ‘R’ in my first name,” Julve said. “From the first day of school, math teacher just called me ‘Spain.’”
DaHyun Kang, South Korea: “Everyone could not pronounce my first name,” Kang said. “After a while, my friends just gave me the nickname of Katie. It’s kind of like my last name and first name mixed. If they can’t pronounce my name, they call me Katie.”
Albin Biro, Romania: “My first name is Albin, and it’s pretty easy [for Americans] to say,” Biro said.
Honza Stibingr, Czech Republic: “My actual name is Jan,” Stibingr said. “Everybody kept asking me, ‘Hey, I heard your name is Jan and not Honza.’ I said, it’s true. All of my teachers asked me how I wanted to be called, and I said Jan is more formal, and I wanted to be called Honza. I also said my teachers and coaches could call me Jan. Finally, everybody started calling me Honza. So for hockey, I got a new identity and two names.”
Christian Stamm, Germany: “My first name is pronounced a little bit differently,” Stamm said. “I just got used to people here saying it a different way.”
Gabriele Incarbone, Italy: “Nobody can pronounce my first name here,” said Incarbone. “Everybody calls me Gabe.”
Q: Talk about your involvement with sports, clubs and other activities at Monticello High School.
Guillermo Bermejo, Spain: “I played soccer on the varsity team here, and I didn’t like it,” Bermejo said. “I really miss how it’s played back home, because in Spain, we know about soccer. People don’t know anything about soccer here. When I say that, they get mad at me. I say I’m sorry, and ask them not to get mad at me. During the winter, I didn’t play any sports, because I didn’t know how to play hockey or basketball. I just played soccer in Spain. So during the winter, I just played indoor soccer by myself and other friends. Now, I’m playing JV tennis for fun.”
Andrea Julve Julve, Spain: “At home, I used to practice artistic roller skating, which is like figure skating on a floor,” Julve said. “Here, I found a club in St. Louis Park. It was awesome that I could practice my sport there. I’ve been doing it 10 years. Right now, I’m doing lacrosse, and it’s awesome. I’m having fun.”
DaHyun Kang, South Korea: “In my country, it’s study, study, study during high school, so we really don’t have time to learn sports,” Kang said. “Right now, I’m in golf, and it’s hard to learn in Korea. It’s an expensive sport. I’m not good at it, but I’m having fun.”
Albin Biro, Romania: “I played football in the fall, which was awesome, and Coach [Jason] Telecky was my favorite coach of my life. I started playing sports when I was age 5. I’ve never had a coach like him. In the winter, I played ice hockey. That was awesome. Now, I’m playing tennis.”
Honza Stibingr, Czech Republic: “I played football in the fall, and we lost against the No. 1 team, Elk River,” Stibingr said. “My second sport was hockey, and finishing second in state was a beautiful experience. I played first line defense, and I watched my games like 20 times on television. My host family recorded it. Playing in front of 12,000 people at the state tournament is something I will remember forever. My third sport is lacrosse.”
Christian Stamm, Germany: “I came here too late for fall sports,” Stamm said. “I tried hockey in the winter, which didn’t go so well, because I had never played hockey before. It was always a sport that was there, but I never really paid attention to it. Now that I’m here, I realized that it’s a really fun sport. I didn’t make it on the team, but I played pick-up hockey at Fourth Street Park the entire winter and now, this spring, I’m playing tennis. I thought about playing lacrosse, but it’s not a sport I would do in Germany.”
Gabriele Incarbone, Italy: “I played varsity football in the fall, and was the varsity kicker,” Incarbone said. “Coach Telecky was a second dad for me here in America, and I tried to play basketball, but I quit after a couple of weeks because I really didn’t play well. Now I am playing track and field and it’s fun.”
Q: What about your academic activities and favorite classes at Monticello High School?
Guillermo Bermejo, Spain: “My favorite classes here have been economics, business and marketing,” Bermejo said. “I’m really interested in business and money. I’m enjoying school. You can tell the teachers here really enjoy their jobs and they try to make it fun. All of the classes are interesting. I don’t like waking up in the morning at 6 a.m. but I do like coming to school because it’s interesting.”
Andrea Julve, Spain: “My favorite class here has been astronomy,” Julve said. “It’s something I didn’t know was a subject. I love all the teachers here. They don’t put too much pressure on us. In Spain, it’s so stressful.”
DaHyun Kang, South Korea: “The teachers here are so friendly,” Kang said. “They like to help us. I love that.”
Albin Biro, Romania: “I have two favorite classes, economics and creative writing,” Biro said. “I like how the teachers here teach. It’s different from Romania. It’s so much better. I like to go to school here.”
Honza Stibingr, Czech Republic: “I like chemistry and math,” Stibingr said.
Christian Stamm, Germany: “I feel like the teachers here aren’t just teachers, they are friends,” Stamm said. “In Germany, you could never go to a teacher and say, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ or something. That would be a no-go in Germany. I really like the teachers here. Academically, this year doesn’t count for me, so I took a lot of classes that I just can’t take in Germany, like game design. I play a lot of video games in Germany, and it’s cool to see how things like this develop. I also took robotics, because I thought it was interesting to see how these things work and how they are programmed. I also took interpersonal communication. In Germany, we just have English class and German class, and that’s it. I wish I could have taken a shop class like woodworking.”
Gabriele Incarbone, Italy: “In Italy, they always remind us that if you want to become somebody, you have to learn,” Incarbone said. “Here, the relationship with our teachers is more friendly. The class that I like the most here is American Literature.
Q: What did you think of the 2016 U.S. presidential election? What are people in your country saying about the United States as another country in the world?
Guillermo Bermejo, Spain: “I watched the U.S. election on television, and I was really worried if Trump would win,” Bermejo said. “I got upset when he won, and the next day, I got thousands of text messages from Spain asking if everything was going normally here. In Spain, people are worried about what’s going to happen, and what the relationships are going to be and how Spain and Europe are going to be affected. Nobody in Spain expected Trump to win.”
Andrea Julve, Spain: “When Trump won, people from Spain were super, super worried,” Julve said. “They thought the world was going to end. I told them to stop thinking like that. It’s not that bad. I don’t defend him and I don’t like him, but back home, they should not be worrying that much about it. We have bigger problems in Spain right now than worrying about Donald Trump.”
DaHyun Kang, South Korea: “When Trump won, all my friends were texting me, telling me that Donald Trump would be sending me home,” Kang said. “I told them, ‘No.’ North Korea is right next door, so, a lot of people were saying there would be a second war with them, and I said, ‘No’ to that, too.”
Albin Biro, Romania: “My friends back home didn’t like either presidential candidate,” Biro said. “Really bad things were happening in Romania at the same time. Basically, they legalized the corruption overnight. That’s a 10 times bigger problem to worry about.”
Honza Stibingr, Czech Republic: “In Europe, we make fun of everything, so when we saw the American elections, it was natural to make fun of Trump,” Stibingr said. “We didn’t feel he’s a good president, so we started laughing when he finally won it.”
Christian Stamm, Germany: “From Germany, I also got a few text messages,” Stamm said. “We also made jokes about it, and mostly made fun of the wall that he [Trump] said he wanted to build. That sounds just crazy.”
Gabriele Incarbone, Italy: “America is the only country in the world where a debate can become a TV show,” Incarbone said. “When it was 2 a.m. on Election Night, some of my friends in Italy knew before me that Trump had won, so they sent me a picture of Trump as president. I was sad about that.”
Q: What are your future plans, and what do you think about the end of the school year? What’s next for you as you get ready to leave Monticello?
Guillermo Bermejo, Spain: “I will graduate, but I’m a junior here, so I still have my senior year next year in Spain,” Bermejo said. “I am planning to study journalism, and want to go to college to study that. I don’t know if that’s going to be in Spain or the U.S. I want to play soccer when I go off to college.”
Andrea Julve, Spain: “Next year, I’ll graduate from high school in Spain, and I want to study anthropology and human evolution,” Julve said. “I will do a couple of years in Spain, then I want to be a foreign student again. Italy is calling me. I don’t want to be in Spain forever. I want to get my master’s degree and doctorate.”
DaHyun Kang, South Korea: “I’m a sophomore in Korea, and I have 2 1/2 years left of school,” Kang said. “So, I’m planning to go to college in 2020. I want to be an interpreter or a math teacher. I want to go to college on foreign exchange.”
Albin Biro, Romania: “I want to go to college for business marketing or management,” Biro said. “I would like to get a scholarship to the U.S. and go to college here, or London at a business college.”
Honza Stibingr, Czech Republic: “I will have two more years in Czech Republic,” Stibingr said. “I would love to play hockey in college, so I would love to play Division I or Division III hockey in the United States. I like chemistry, too, so I can think about it a little more.
Christian Stamm, Germany: “I have three more years in Germany,” Stamm said. “I want to work in law enforcement as a police officer. That’s my goal that I’m going after right now.”
Gabriele Incarbone, Italy: “I have two more years of school in Italy,” Incarbone said. “I don’t have a clear idea of what I want to do, but I want to go to college and study aerospace engineering or economics and business. I would like to come back to America to study.”
Q: What do you want to say to your classmates as you are getting ready to finish the school year and go your separate ways?
Guillermo Bermejo, Spain: “Thank you to everyone who helped me out when I came here,” Bermejo said. “We had to learn how to live a life that was different from the one we built back home over the last 15 to 16 years. We had to start over for 10 months. Thank you to everyone who made it possible.”
Andrea Julve, Spain: “It could have been awful being here if no one had helped us,” Julve said. “Most of our friends here are going to leave their homes to go to college, and I will tell them not to be afraid, because they will be going to college in the same country. The time will go by so fast. Enjoy the time you have.”
DaHyun Kang, South Korea: “Thank you to everyone,” Kang said. “It was interesting learning how to socialize here as part of a new life.”
Albin Biro, Romania: “It was an awesome experience,” Biro said. “Without the help of my friends here, I don’t know if I would have made it.”
Honza Stibingr, Czech Republic: “I have two messages,” Stibingr said. “One is for Jaden, my host brother, he’s going into the U.S. Marine Corps, so I want to wish him just the best. The second message is to Charlie Voller. I hope one day I will play hockey again with him.”
Christian Stamm, Germany: “I want to say thank you to everyone who made my stay possible,” Stamm said. “Without our host families, we could not have done this year. If you have a chance to be in a different country for a year, do it. You actually win by doing a year overseas. It’s an experience that will be valuable later in life.”
Gabriele Incarbone, Italy: “Thank you so much,” Incarbone said. “Find a good college and a good life, and come visit me in Italy.”
Contact Tim Hennagir at [email protected]