German exchange student finds solace in food, football in Albemarle, South Stanly
Published 4:27 p.m. Tuesday, March 7, 2023
From Chandler Inions, The Salisbury Post
Academic Year in America, an exchange program, is looking for host families.
A local host family said it had enriched their lives beyond what they could have imagined when they enrolled.
Meanwhile, her exchange student from Germany discovered that she loved grilled cheese and the Friday night lights at a high school football game.
Nele Wessendorf is 16. She comes from Hamburg, but has been living with her host family, the Mortons, in Albemarle for six months.
She prepared herself for things to be different in America, but that has proven to be the source of her great joy.
“The food is really different,” said Wessendorf. “Americans eat out a lot more.”
It’s not just the kitchen.
“The school system is really different and the school spirit is great,” said Wessendorf. “I think it’s really cool. At first you don’t know what to expect. You live with people you’ve never met before. But there is also a lot of excitement involved.”
Wessendorf knew American football, especially Friday nights in high school, was a big deal, but the zeal of the school spirit still surprised her.
“It was great with all the students in the stands and singing the national anthem,” said Wessendorf.
Unfortunately, their new school, South Stanly High, couldn’t pick up a win that night, but Wessendorf was thrilled nonetheless. She also does sports now and for school, which her host mom Kristy Morton says simply isn’t the case in Germany.
“If they want to play football or baseball, they have to play alone outside of school,” Morton said.
The concept of currency exchange is familiar to students abroad who, unlike many American students, believe it is a real possibility.
“In a foreign country, they learn about exchange studies from a young age,” Morton said. “It’s a tradition they look forward to and their family usually saves for it.”
To be selected, students must create a video and profile. Morton likened it to an interview.
“It’s a lot of work being a host parent, but it’s very rewarding and not just for the experience,” Morton said. “I have a 10-year-old child, Christopher, who learned a lot from Nele. It is good for children to see and learn.”
Morton pointed out that pricing the cultural exchanges that are taking place is an impossible task.
“In our small town, a lot of these kids might not be able to go far,” Morton said. “Nele taught the high school a lot.”
The experience knocked Wessendorf and her South Stanly classmates out of their shells.
“It’s hard for a kid to come into a place where everyone grew up together,” Morton said. “She overcame many obstacles by branching out.”
Now Wessendorf runs cross-country and plays for the soccer team.
Changing the life of an international student and your own is as easy as signing up.
Ginger Jeffcoat is Senior Program Coordinator for the Americas Academic Year for the North and South Carolina Region. She lives in Salisbury and has been involved with the organization for 26 years.
Chandler Inions is a reporter for the Salisbury Post. Email [email protected].