ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
“Parting is such sweet sorrow” is merely a well-known morsel of Shakespearian prose for most of us, but for Hillsboro High School foreign exchange students Ulrike Kornek and Florian Nae, it’s a reality staring them in the face.
Kornek, from Germany, and Nae, from Romania, have come to the end of their 10-month stay here in the United States as part of the ERDT SHARE program.
Nae left May 30 while Kornek has a departure date of June 28. Both students arrived during the first week of August.
Nae lived with host parents Bob and Susan Watson while Kornek stayed with Kyle and Christine Cederberg.
Neither had ever visited the United States before their arrival.
“I was happy I was going on an exchange,” Kornek said. “But when I found out it was in Kansas, I was kind of scared because I didn’t think there would be much to do or any people around.”
Nae had the same initial concern.
“I didn’t think there were any towns in the United States as small as Hillsboro,” he said. “I thought all the towns would have skyscrapers everywhere.
“I was a little bit disappointed at first,” he added. “But it turned out all right. If I had the chance to do it again. though, I would like to experience living in a large city.”
Kornek, after the initial shock of being placed in rural Kansas, took advantage of her opportunities and flourished.
“The small town of Hillsboro is a really good (place) to be an exchange student,” Kornek said. “It’s not so small that there isn’t anything to do, but there are also opportunities to hang out with friends.
“If I would have been in Wichita, or somewhere that size, foreign people are everywhere and you’re not unusual,” she said. “You have to have other people take an interest in you to have them want to get to know you easier.
“Hillsboro was just the right size.”
Nae was quick to say that he enjoyed his stay in Hillsboro, too, “because this is a really good community.”
Both students took advantage of their Kansas experience by participating in extracurricular activities.
Nae was a manager of the Hillsboro football team last fall and a member of the Trojan basketball team in winter.
This spring, Nae teamed with Tyler Weinbrenner to play doubles in tennis. The duo qualified for the state tournament and finished in 11th place.
Nae played what he called “performance tennis” for six years in Romania, “but not nearly as intense as I played here.”
Kornek, meanwhile, played volleyball and basketball and participated in track. She also was a candidate for homecoming queen in fall.
Both students were active in the youth group of the Hillsboro United Methodist Church.
“I didn’t really have any expectations about what I would get to do,” Kornek said. “I had hoped to get to see New York City while I was here, but it was too expensive.”
Nae, however, was more fortunate. He was able to visit the Big Apple with a group of exchange students in March.
“I didn’t expect to be able to visit New York, but the opportunity came up and I got to go,” he said. “I’ve seen more of the country than I thought I would get to, and I’m very glad that I got to see New York.”
Language was never a barrier for either student, since they both spoke English well before arriving.
“I spoke English when I got here, but I speak much better now that I’ve been here for nine months,” Kornek said. “There are a lot of slang words that I did not understand, though.”
“The saying ‘Keep your pants on’ is one that I found very funny,” she said. “Most of the time, I did not have to ask what the saying meant because if you pay attention and hear how it is used, you can usually figure out what it means on your own.”
“None of the slang words surprised me,” Nae said. “One of the words that I did not understand at first was ‘sick.’ I just thought some of the words were pretty cool.”
While both students participated in HHS graduation exercises earlier this month, each will be attending more classes when they return home.
Nae will have one year to go, while Kornek will be facing two more years of study.
The two students had differing opinions about the school system in Hillsboro.
“I think the dress codes shouldn’t be as harsh as they are,” Nae said. “We can wear shorts or anything we want in Romania.
“I thought school would be a lot easier here,” he added. “But you really have to work hard for good grades here.
“In Romania, we have 14 classes and we must pass them all to pass the grade,” he said. “If you fail even music or math or whatever, you still fail the grade.”
Kornek, however, didn’t think classes were quite as taxing as she hoped they would be.
“I think the extra-curricular activities are good because they keep students busy after school,” she said. “But I think the classes aren’t as hard as they probably should be.”
Kornek wants to study astrophysics.
“I would study the stars and the way they were formed and the way they work,” she said.
Nae plans to attend college and learn a trade associated with cars.
“I want to either work on them mechanically, or do something in the area of body work. My goal is to be an auto engineer.”
Socialization in Romania and Germany isn’t too different from here in the United States, but there are a few differences.
“In Germany, we go to a lot more parties with alcohol,” Kornek said. “You are legal to drink when you are 16.”
“The kids do a lot more sports here,” Nae said. “They also drive around a lot more here than at home. In Romania, we don’t go to peoples houses, but we meet at places like restaurants or places like that.”
Neither Germany or Romania allows driving until the age of 18.
Both have grown fond of particular foods they won’t be able to eat when they return home.
Kornek’s new favorites include Cool Whip and marshmallows, while Nae said he will miss the Mexican cuisine he’s grown accustomed to.
“We don’t have the ingredients in Romania to duplicate the food that I like to eat here,” he said.
Upon arriving in their respective home countries, Kornek and Nae have their taste buds prepared for a favorite delicacy they couldn’t find here.
“I will eat German bread,” Kornek said. “You have bread here, but it’s not German bread.”
Nae said he will feast on meatballs covered with vine leaves.
“That is a traditional food in Romania,” he said.
Both students plan to return to the United States, but aren’t sure when that might happen.
“I am coming back for sure in two years,” Kornek said. “I will attend Kirsten’s (her exchange sister) graduation.”
“My parents would like me to come back to the United States to attend college,” Nae said. “But I still have plenty of time to decide that.”
Nae and Kornek said they have formed a close bond with their respective host family, and will miss them.
“I have formed a very close bond with the Watsons,” Nae said. “They are pretty much like a second family to me. I will definitely keep in contact with them.”
“Florian is just a real good kid and we learned a lot about Romania,” Bob Watson said. “It’ll be quiet without him around. I guess we’ll go back to being old folks.”
“I don’t want to leave,” Kornek said. “But I have to and I have no choice. I will tell everyone at home how friendly everyone was here and how they welcomed me.”
“(Exchange students) become like one of your own family,” Kyle Cederberg said. “When she leaves, it’ll be like one of our own kids is leaving.”
Both host families were quick to recommend the experience to others. This was the fourth time the Watsons have hosted a student.
With the end of their stay fast approaching, travel itineraries for Nae and Kornek have been set.
Nae will head back to Romania via Wichita, Chicago, Frankfort and Budapest.
“My father will pick me up in Budapest,” he said. “From there we will go fishing for three days.”
Kornek will also head to Wichita, Chicago and Frankfort, but then head for Hanover, Germany.
“The experience I had here in America made me much more mature,” Nae said. “I take things a lot more serious than I did before.
“I think America is the best country in the world,” he added. “It has everything you could ever want. I would definitely recommend others in Romania take the opportunity to come to the United States if they have the chance.”
“I would like to thank everyone for the kindness they showed me,” Kornek said. “I have enjoyed my time here very much.
“I will really miss the people of Hillsboro,” she said. “I have formed a very, very close bond with the people here.”
As they say their final farewells and pack their 10-month accumulation of keepsakes, both students took the opportunity to say their good-byes in their home language.
Said Nae: “Sper sa ne vedem sanatosi si va multumesc pentru tot!” (I hope I’ll see you healthy, and thank you for everything.)
Said Kornek: “Ich bedanke mich senr jur die tole zeit, die ich hier hatte, und ich hoffe, dass ich euch alle wieder sehen serde.” (Thank you so much for all the great times I had here and I hope I will see you all again some day.)
No doubt, their many Hillsboro friends hope to see them soon, too.