NEW ULM — Over the next year, the New Ulm community can expect to see a greater number of international students through the High School in the USA (HSUSA) program.
HSUSA is a relatively new exchange program that brings international students into United States classrooms. Students are brought in for either a full academic year (10 months) or for a single semester.
HSUSA regional manager Angela Goetz said each student is between 15 and 17 years old and is placed with a local volunteer family. HSUSA placed its first two exchange students in New Ulm before the start of the school year.
Silija Fink of Germany and Debra Piazzi of Italy has been in the New Ulm since August. Fink is living with Sara Jenness and her kids Lauren and Carson. Piazzi is living with Staci and Robert Leach and their son Jackson.
Two more exchange students, both from Italy, will come to New Ulm in January for the Spring semester. The Jenness family will take on Giacomo Piombo and Elena Fantegrossi will be staying with New Ulm’s third host family, the Iorio family –Jolynn Iorio, Brian Kelly, and Janelle Iorio.
Of the three host families volunteering to host international students, the Jenness and Leach families are new to the program. Jolynn Iorio and Janelle Iorio are veterans of the program, having hosted other students while living in California.
Jolynn said it was an extremely rewarding experience. Her family grew close with the kids they hosted. This will be the first time hosting students in Minnesota, but they feel up to the challenge.
Asked what inspired them to become host families, Sara Jennes said “Why not?”
Jenness said their few months living with Fink has been a great experience and brought a new culture to the home. It was also fun to have a teenager in the house. Sara Jenness said her kids are still young and it’s good practice.
The Leach family was also happy to experience a different culture in their home. Staci Leach said that for her it was fun to welcome someone else into their family.
“It’s fun watching these young women grow,” Jenness said. She marveled at the courage it took Fink to get on a plane and travel to a foreign country at such a young age.
It has been an eye-opening experience for the exchange students as well, to experience U.S. culture firsthand.
Piazzi said she was inspired to join the HSUSA program to learn about U.S. culture; especially holiday traditions.
“I always saw how people in the United States celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas and I think that was my biggest inspiration to come to the United State,” Piazzi said.
The HSUSA program has a specific focus on education. The international students are enrolled at local schools. The education system is unique compared to Italy and Germany.
Piazzi said having several different classes was unusual. In Italy, they have one class at a time and typically students cannot choose their classes. Fink was also surprised by the different education tracks available but was also impressed with New Ulm’s strong school spirit.
One of the larger cultural stops for international students is getting used to Minnesota winters. Fink and Piazzi were both taken aback by the cold.
Piazzi said in her hometown in Italy they do get snow, but it does not stay for long. The lowest temperature is usually zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit).
The host families have taken to warning incoming students about the severity of Minnesota winters.
Outside of school, Fink and Piazzi were also able to take a special shopping trip to the Mall of America. It was a first for them to see a full amusement park inside of a mall.
Both students have a few things they wish to experience before leaving the U.S. The Leach family is hoping to take Piazzi camping in the spring and to a Twins game. Fink is planning to go skiing for the first time with some local friends.
The goal of the HSUSA program is to create strong global connections. Goetz said the hope is the program gives international students a second family for life. The idea is to create relationships that last.
HSUSA does partner with other organizations internationally. Students in their home country work with partner agencies to fill out applications to come to the U.S. In addition to bringing students to the U.S., the program offers leadership skills. Each student in the program must complete a study topic each month they are in the program.
Goetz is hopeful the program will continue to grow in the New Ulm area. There are currently 130 students HSUSA is seeking to place with host families. Goetz said the organization is always looking for additional host families. The program goes the other way as well. Goetz said there are government programs to allow U.S. students to study abroad and she would be willing to help those interested.
Those interested in volunteering with the HSUSA are encouraged to contact Goetz by phone at 970-405-7342 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.