A few years ago ViAnn Pearson thought her rural Hoffman farmhouse was a little empty and quiet. “I had a big house and a big place and wanted to share it,” she said. She considered being a foster parent and then her path crossed that of Carolee Haack, who places foreign students in American homes for the Aspect Foundation. Her home is no longer quiet or partially empty. “I had assumed that I would not be able to host foreign exchange students,” said Pearson, because her own children were now adults and living elsewhere. But she was interviewed, passed the appropriate screenings and was given a chance to host a student. Her first experience with an exchange student came during the 2008-2009 school year when she hosted a Norwegian student, Anja Onstad. Anja was involved in girls athletics and that drew ViAnn to West Central Area High School, a place she had never visited. “I’d never been to school since I moved back,” she said. “There was no need for it.” But going back to school to support Anja in her activities brought her into contact with people and expanded her circle of social contacts. Having a foreign student opened many conversations with parents of students at West Central and started some friendships. “Everybody wants to know everything about them,” said ViAnn. “Your social life is very different.” “I had a good experience with Anja and decided to do it again, this time with two boys.” Because of her rural location, she decided to host two students. Her thought was that two young people would be less likely to get lonely out in the country. And she chose boys because she was used to having lots of boys around the house, her son had lots of friends who were constantly at her home. So this year she is hosting Tim Grundel, 16, from Koblenz, Germany and Jardar Amundsen, 18, Kunna, Norway. Earlier this school year she hosted Niklas Strobel, 16, also from Germany. He returned to Germany in January about the same time Grundel arrived. Both are sophomores in the German school system so by coming for just half a year they avoid having to repeat a year when they return. The Aspect Foundation approves having two students in one household provided they are not from the same country. “Then we can’t talk our own language,” said Grundel. Both students agree with Pearson that having two students is a good idea. This is Tim’s first trip to the United States. He is an only child, his father is an engineer and his mother is at home. He arrived late one day in January when it was dark and the first thing he noticed were all the lighted billboards, something he admits is kind of a strange first thing to notice. “The countryside is so large,” he said. “There is so much wildlife. And the farm fields are big. We have some big farm fields but more mountains in Germany.” “People and teachers here are very friendly,” he said. “You feel like you can ask them questions.” And the best part is, “you get to pick your classes,” he said. “And you have the same classes every day.” In Germany all students study the same coursework in their early schooling. They can specialize later. But the school day in Germany is shorter ending just before 1 p.m. And students have different classes every day. Grundel thinks the American practice of having the same class daily might make it easier to remember things. The other big difference is his English class. In Germany he learned English but classes concentrated on grammar. (His English, as is Jardar’s, very good.) He will go back to school when he returns and is thinking about going into medicine. But before he returns his family is coming here and he and his family will see a little more of the United States and Canada. Jardar lives north of the Arctic Circle on the west coast of Norway. His father is a lumberjack and also works for a company that makes solar panels. His mother is a hairdresser. He has a sister who is 25 years old who is studying psychology. “I expected people to be bigger,” he said. He didn’t know why he thought people should be bigger, it was just something he picked up someplace. But being larger than Jardar would not be easy, he is 6’4”. “And I didn’t expect it to be so flat,” he said of his other preconception about the United States. The area in which he lives in Norway is mountainous along the coast. Jardar will finish his senior year of high school when he returns and then he plans to study psychology. He hasn’t decided whether to follow a four or five-year program. The two boys, who are both actually 6’4”, didn’t participate in sports but both sang in choir and enjoyed that. Jardar also participated in a Prairie Wind Players production and sang in a church cantata. When she worked, Pearson figured she traveled close to 70 percent of the time with Imation, then a 3M company, so she is a seasoned traveler. She and her husband traveled quite a bit making several trips to Europe and other trips to places like Ireland and Norway. Pearson is a Hoffman area native who spent her working career in the Twin Cities with husband, Chuck. They acquired the Hoffman farm of Chuck’s family but Chuck’s life ended early with a brain tumor in 1998. In 2000, ViAnn retired and moved back to the Hoffman farmstead. She has two children, Jeff who is married and lives in Richfield and Jennifer, who is married and lives in Hudson, Wisconsin. And she has four grandchildren and four great grandchildren. She’s had a long time interest in sailing and last year spent four weeks in the British Virgin Islands learning to sail on boats from 26 to 54 feet long. “I’ve always wanted to learn to sail,” she said. “I’d been on some sailing trips before and wanted to learn more.” But, at this point, she doesn’t plan on traveling to Europe to visit the young people who have stayed with her. And she won’t need to. Niklas and his family are coming this summer as is Tim’s family. Both Tim and Jardar will be leaving around the first part of June. “I have to leave soon,” said Tim, “And I’m kind of sad about that.” Would she do it again? “I sure would,” she said. “I’ve had good kids.” “I’m going to miss my going-to-bed hugs and my going-to-school hugs,” she said. And, for better or worse, it will be a lot quieter around her house.
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