A few months ago I wrote about a unique situation in Wausa, Nebraska. The school system was in danger of being phased out due to a lack of students. Superintendent Bob Marks came up with a plan to recruit foreign exchange students to fill the population needs of the school.

I had the opportunity to visit with students from both the exchange program and the Wausa area, thanks to the generosity of the school’s principal, Brad Hoesing. When I arrived, I found that the students were very much at ease. They acted like they had known each other for years.

Most of the exchange students come from urban population centers. It was amazing how quickly they adapted to Wausa. Yet they retained their own cultural perspectives. For example, I asked Patrik, a foreign exchange student from Sweden, what he thought about Wausa’s Swedish cultural heritage. He replied, “What heritage??” Wausa may be the Swedish Capitol of Nebraska, but in Patrik’s mind it was a small village in the United States.

I fell in love with these students as they told me their tales of woe and triumph in sports, activities, food, and their longing for home. They all had something special to share about their country and what was important to them. Patrick, from Germany, was especially in awe of our mobile society. If we want a home, we can simply buy one and move it. In Germany, he stated, many of the houses are made of stone, and they don’t move.

Age-wise they differed, but many of the students expect to go back to their native country and return to school until they are 21. John did not want to go back as he genuinely appeared frightened at the prospect of joining the army, which would be required of him upon his return.

I went to Wausa expecting to find extreme differences between the students and the community. What I found was a group of teenagers who crossed cultural boundaries to form one of the most impressive senior classes you will ever see. Good luck to all of you, wherever life takes you.

Contact: Michael L. Holton, michaellh@cfra.org or 402.582.4915 with questions.