Johannes Eisenhardt, Monett High School's foreign exchange student through the American Field Service (AFS) program, has had an eventful year in southwest Missouri. Moving into the final weeks of school, Eisenhardt, whose friends call him "Joe," took time to reflect on his experience.
Eisenhardt has been living with the Ted and Carol Dahlstrom family. Their rural Monett home has been a change from living in the southern German city of Karlsruhe and its population of 300,000.
"I kind of like living in the country and the farmland," Eisenhardt said. "You can do what you want, like riding fourwheelers, hunting and fishing. It's so far away from downtown, though. I have to get rides. That's a problem."
Americans have not been a disappointment to Eisenhardt. He expected to find people who were welcoming and hardworking. The fast-food culture was here, as he expected. What has been a surprise has been school.
"In Germany, we have 13 or 14 difference classes. You would take three or four one day, and three or four different ones tomorrow. It's more exciting," Eisenhardt said.
Also, in the German system, students attend classes from 7:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. generally, and only two days a week stay in classes until 3 or 4 p.m. The longer days were difficult, especially for the first two months, Eisenhardt said, when he participated in school sports.
Sports are separate from the public schools in Germany. A youth has to join a sports club to participate there. Eisenhardt, like most of his fellow students, got active at an early age, joining a club to play soccer as goalie. He started playing tennis at age 12.
Eisenhardt currently plays tennis on the Monett High School team, and used his soccer kicking skills to kick field goals for the Cubs' football team. He set a school record for kicking nine consecutive field goals without a miss but said he was not even aware he had done something outstanding.
"People take sports like way more seriously here," Eisenhardt said. "My favorite part of the year was the whole football season. It was pretty awesome seeing the stands full, people cheering. It was really nice."
Eisenhardt said people in Monett have been "very nice and friendly. Everybody welcomed me. This is a small town, so everybody knows me and I don't know everybody. I fit in well."
Part of the traditional role of an AFS student has been to speak to local community groups about the experience of coming here and the home country. Eisenhardt has spoken to two groups in Freistatt, talking about how Germany has changed since the 1940s, when a number of Freistatt residents left. He recalled speaking to several of the women in German and having no difficulty communicating.
Eisenhardt visited Colorado on spring break where he got to polish his snowboarding skills. In Germany, the major mountains are only three hours away from Karlsruhe, so Eisenhardt would go snowboarding weekly. He said the Dahlstroms' daughter, Whitney, was "not too bad" in her attempts to learn snowboarding on the Colorado slopes.
So far Eisenhardt has not seen a lot of America. He would like to see New York City or San Francisco, perhaps on a future trip.
Eisenhardt felt he was more openminded because of his experience in the United States, having seen two cultures and being able to draw comparisons. The main benefit of his experience has been polishing his English. He hopes to use his language skills in pursuing a career. At this point Eisenhardt is looking at becoming a surgeon or joining the car factory management at BMW.
"I have to go back and study pretty hard. School is more difficult in Germany than here," said Eisenhardt. "I have two more years to finish. For now, I'm taking the end of school as it comes. It's been a pleasant experience for sure."