German Teen Discovers America

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Selke (pronounced Zelka) Tombraegel, 16, arrived in Payson from Germany three days after the school year started.

"I always wanted to come to the United States, go away from home for a year and learn better English."

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In addition to the United States, Selke Tombraegel has been to Greece, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands and Poland.

She is doing that and more with her host family, Jim and Judy Buettner.

"Over fall break we drove to Minnesota, so I saw 13 states," Selke said. "I've been to Sedona in Arizona. For Christmas we are going to fly to Maryland."

She didn't know before leaving Germany that she was going to be able to do so much traveling, but she is excited to be having the opportunity.

Living as a teenager in Payson is different from her hometown of Oldenburg, population, 157,000.

Education is different

At her school in Germany, teachers don't have their own room. They travel with the students, for instance, from the regular classroom to the science lab.

"We have one or two school buildings, where here there are so many. The first day, I got lost here," she said.

Classes are harder in Germany and Selke said she would have to repeat the 11th grade when she goes home, but she is not upset about it.

"It would be hard to catch up a whole year," she said.

In Germany, there are not all the sporting events like in America, so Selke played the flute for six years in the school orchestra at home. At Payson High School, she is in the marching band.

"Marching is fun, but it's a lot of pressure," she said. "I am looking forward to concert season."

School spirit is what she said she likes best about the United States thus far.

Selke said she is not driving here, but would like to. The driving age in Germany is 18 -- 17 with a parent in the car.

Teens are on the go more here because they can drive, she said. Combine the lack of mobility with the heavier homework load, and Selke said that high school students are less likely to have part-time jobs in Germany; and that hanging out with friends happens primarily on the weekends.

American teens don't dress much differently than German teens, Selke said.

She is making friends here, and some she believes she will stay in touch with for life.

"I am busy all the time, so I don't have a lot of time to be homesick," she said.

She misses her mother the most, but is excited that her family: mother, Sabine; father, Heinz; and little brother, Moritz, are coming for a visit before she goes home in June.

"My family is pretty close, especially with my grandparents. I would see them every Wednesday because they always come and cook. I kind of miss that -- when they tell me, ‘Oh, we're having a birthday and everyone is coming.' It's strange.

"I don't like fast food and I miss good German bread and chocolate," Selke said. "The bread here is just so soft. You can just squeeze it down. In Germany there's just more in it (it is a denser, heavier, dark bread with grains). When I eat it I feel like, oh, I'm full now."

Despite that, she is delighted she is able to experience the United States.

"I didn't really expect anything (ahead of the trip) because you don't know," she said. "You just can't expect anything."

Host families

"Education First Foundation is the oldest student exchange program in the world," said local coordinator Edie Miller. "Our success is mostly based on finding host families and finding school slots. (The Rotary places one student at Payson High School and EFF can place two.) I usually find host families by word of mouth and making dozens of phone calls."

Host families need to be "receptive to teenagers, willing to bring a student in like he/she is a member of the family. They have to be willing to support the student with a room and food. The room doesn't have to be a private room, but they have to have their own bed."

Miller has to see the student's room and take the host family's application. She gives them two reference forms that are sent directly to her from the people providing the reference.

"Students are totally responsible for all their expenses, other than room and board," Miller said.

After the first of the year, Miller will begin searching for host families and emergency families, but said she would be happy to take applications sooner.

Emergency families are needed in the event the host family must go out of town, in the case of illness, etc.

"I'm there for the family and the student throughout the whole year. I'm required to make reports to the Boston office every four weeks."

If a Payson student wishes to become an exchange student, he or she should check www.effoundation.org or call 1-800-44-share. Potential host families may look on the Web site or contact Miller at (928) 476-4871.

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