Kuettel gains experience of lifetime in Switzerland

Published 1:13 am Monday, March 3, 2014

Six months into her Switzerland experience, Halle Kuettel has visited a chocolate factory, had her picture taken in front of an iconic clock tower and is working on learning German, but her study abroad experience has been vastly different from what a tourist would see.

“I am absolutely in love with everything and everyone,” Kuettel said. “This year has been the most amazing experience of my life. I have had the chance to meet people from all around the world and connect with so many other students and families.”

Kuettel, through AFS Intercultural Programs and a scholarship from the Polk County Community Foundation, will live with a host family for a total of 11 months in a town 20-minutes outside of Zurich.

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“Switzerland is a very small country, but it couldn’t be filled with more culture and diversity,” Kuettel said. “I think one thing that makes this country so unique, is that it has four national languages. This sets apart the different regions, making the culture even more diverse while still having many of the same Swiss similarities.”

Kuettel said one of the best things about Switzerland is the country’s public transportation system as it caused little need for anyone to drive a car.

While Kuettel learns much about Switzerland and its people, ASF Polk County representative Lone Krarup said her host family and fellow students would hopefully learn a different perspective on America.

“It is such a form of diplomacy, going out there and learning that other people are different but also the same. It’s important too to teach people that the U.S. is a lot more diverse than many people think,” Krarup said.

Krarup has served as an ASF host mother for almost a decade.

She said Polk County has made a more than three-decade commitment to welcoming students from abroad.

Krarup said there have consistently been kids from other countries studying in Polk County for the last 30 years.

The Krarups themselves have hosted five kids here over the last eight years. There is a Hungarian student currently attending PCHS, while countries such as Germany, Japan, China and Thailand tend to send the most students, Krarup said.

Two kids – a female from Finland and a male student from Austria – are lined up to study at Polk County High School next year.

“The duration of the program’s success here is really quite impressive. We only have one high school and they are wonderful working with the program. They’ve even had as many as five or six students at once.”

Kuettel said she was interested to see how her schedule in Switzerland was both similar to and different from life here in North Carolina. She said when school is over she goes home to complete homework, relax and have dinner with her host family.

Some days those school days end at noon, while others last until 5 p.m.

“At first the all of the classes were very overwhelming. I didn’t understand anything the teachers were saying, and classes where they don’t write on the boards are even worse,” she said. “Luckily I understand so much more now, I may not understand everything while teachers are lecturing, but at least I can catch up later or ask questions. I am looking forward to connecting with so many other people and becoming more fluent in German.”

Krarup said one of the greatest advantage students discover from the study abroad experience is personal growth. She said kids who study abroad learn a lot of skills and lessons they take on into adulthood. After studying abroad, she said attending college is a breeze for most students.

Krarup and Kuettel agreed the experience, from both a student and host parent standpoint, also opens a person’s eyes to the rest of the world and other human beings’ ways of life.

“You really learn a lot about your own family and learn a lot from the kids because they come with a whole fresh approach to life,” Krarup said. “We feel now that we have a son in Argentina and a daughter in Japan. They aren’t really our family but they certainly feel like they are a part of our family. It really is lifelong.”

Kuettel said she already feels like she’s known her host family her whole life and has been excited for the opportunity to travel across Europe.

“This is the best decision I have ever made and The Polk County Community Foundation has made this year happen with the scholarship I was given,” Kuettel said. “I couldn’t be anymore grateful for the support everyone at home has given me.”

While the deadline is fast approaching for students wishing to study abroad next year, Krarup said it’s not to late to apply.

“They can still do it, they just need to get on it,” Krarup said. “We haven’t had any interest this year for going but it comes and goes in waves.”

The application process involves paperwork, health certificates, photos, recommendations and an interview.Students interested in studying abroad or adults interested in hosting students from other countries can learn more information by visiting www.asf.org or contacting Krarup directly at 828-863-4020.