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Exchange students experience a year in Monroe
Mariana de Oliveira, left, from Brazil, and Eva-Maria Mueller, from Germany, point to their names on the Monroe High School plaque that recognizes exchange students since 1963. Both students spent the 2016-17 school year in Monroe, living with local families. (Photo supplied)
MONROE - For high school students, their international exchange experience is not a year in a life, but rather a life in a year. Eva-Maria Mueller from Germany and Mariana de Oliveira from Brazil, 2016-17 AFS exchange students, agree that they packed a lifetime of memories into their time in Monroe. They arrived in Monroe in the fall of 2016 with an open mind, ready to experience a new culture, become part of an American family, attend school and live in a Midwestern town.

The Bob and Lessa Bobak family with their three daughters, Olivia, Lily and Maggie, hosted Eva-Maria Mueller (Eva). She and Olivia became best friends as they developed a close sister relationship. According to Lessa and Bob, Eva quickly became a part of their family, and saying goodbye when Eva returned to Germany was particularly difficult. The family plans to stay in contact with possible future visits in Germany and the United States.

Mariana (Mari) enjoyed living in a large, active family with parents Jeff and Sandi Pond, sisters Reily and Zoee and brother Atticus. Because the family had previous experience with hosting college and high school students from other countries, they were able to help Mari adapt to a new culture. Although she had never participated in sports in Brazil, she enjoyed the family's active sporting life and became a fan of watching Packer football and attending her siblings' soccer and volleyball games.

In school, Eva and Mari enjoyed American activities such as prom, homecoming and the graduation ceremony at the end of the year. Since sports are not a part of school in Germany and Brazil, the girls joined MHS teams and learned to play new sports. They both played on the Cheesemakers girls basketball team. Eva played volleyball in the fall and learned to play softball in the spring. Even though soccer is popular in Brazil, Mari had not played regularly until she joined the Monroe girls junior varsity soccer team. Her teammates honored her by making her the captain of the team. She plans to continue to play soccer in Brazil.

Academics were a new experience for Eva and Mari because they could choose their classes, rather than being placed in a set course of classes as is done in Brazil and Germany. They enjoyed their relationship with their teachers who were supportive and caring in Monroe. In Germany, the teacher-student relationship can be more distant and formal, although Eva had a politics teacher in Germany whom she really enjoyed. Mari was honored by the fact that her Monroe teachers went out of their way to recognize her academic excellence in her English, math and physics classes.

Eva is from a town of 26,000 in eastern Germany, and Mari comes from a city of 80,000 located north of Rio de Janeiro. Both girls liked living in the smaller town of Monroe. They were lucky to be here for the fall biennial Cheese Days festival. People were friendly and interested in learning about them in a town of this size. They were especially touched when the community came together to support the students and teachers when three students died in a tragic car accident in February.

Mari returns to Brazil where she will attend a university to study architecture. Eva will have to complete two more years of "high school" in Germany. She does not know what she wants to do after high school, but she is interested in politics and hopes to return to the United States to study or live in the future.

Mariana and Eva-Maria are grateful for the family, friends and experiences of this past year. They join the 144 exchange students from 48 countries who have come to Monroe since the AFS Intercultural Program was established in 1963.

According to school district policy, as many as six exchange students may be placed at Monroe High School during the 2017-18 school year. Monroe AFS volunteer Lisa Hendrickson helps to place exchange students coming to this area in August with local families. There are many different types of potential host families, from families with single parents, teenagers, young children or no children. AFS exchange students come with their own spending money, full health insurance, liaison support and cultural orientations throughout the year. Host families have the opportunity to choose a student who would be a good match for them. Time frames for hosting a student include a 10-month stay from August through June, a second semester stay or a six- to 12-week commitment at the beginning of the school year.

An AFS host family provides their student with:

• The opportunity to participate in the family's daily lives and events

• The same care, support and comfort they would give another member of the family

• A bed, not convertible or inflatable in nature; sharing a room with a sibling of the same gender close in age is acceptable

• Three quality meals, including lunches and meals eaten as a family in restaurants

Because the students arrive in August, there is a Monday deadline to complete the hosting application process. In Monroe, contact Hendrickson at or 608 558-0091, or go to: for information and to start the hosting application process.