Overwhelmed by friendliness: Exchange student has impact locally

Maynard Knepp, Carol Duerksen, Eike Klapper, Sophie Rebitzer, Thansuda Chareamphan. All have had positive experiences with foreign exchange student programs.

In 1998 a German teenager named Eike Klapper arrived in Inman as a high school exchange student.

“I didn’t know much when I arrived in Kansas, but I was overwhelmed by the friendliness of the people there,” he said.

Klapper jumped fully into his American life. He settled into his host family and their small farm. He kicked extra points for the football team, played basketball, and scored a par in golf. He joined the quiz bowl team and they went to regionals. He found a life-long friend in Ben, one of the first people he met at the high school. He also formed friendships with exchange students from other countries on trips to Colorado, Florida, Washington D.C. and New York City.

Klapper went back to Germany after his exchange year in Kansas. He studied Business Administration/Economics, worked in the German parliament as chief of staff to a Member of Parliament and joined the European Commission in 2015. Every year, he and Ben and other friends played fantasy football. Ben got married, and Klapper went to his wedding in Lawrence. Klapper married an Austrian woman named Kathi, and Ben came to their wedding in Austria. The overwhelming friendliness was now a solid foundation of friendship.

In 2021, Klapper brought his young family to Washington D.C., where he had a four year assignment as a diplomat, representing the European Union and working on trade/industry policy. His job assignment was to report to the European Commission on developments in the United States on industrial policy and explain EU policy proposals to the U.S. audience.

In February 2022, Klapper flew to Kansas to help his host mom from 24 years ago celebrate her 70th birthday.

At the party, he was approached by his former exchange program coordinator, Carol Duerksen, who was still placing students with families in central Kansas. Would he be willing to host several students for a long weekend of sightseeing in Washington, D.C.?

He didn’t have to think twice.

“My exchange year in Kansas has been one of the best things I have done I my life. I guess I wanted to give back. Just like people in Kansas do,” he said.

And so, for five days in May, Klapper and his wife hosted two students with the Share organization and their coordinators, Duerksen and Maynard Knepp.

“I think it’s pretty amazing how often we notice how small the world is,” German student Sophie said. “I met a former German exchange student in Washington D.C., and found out he’s been to my hometown! I really enjoyed those five days with some amazing people in D.C. and I feel really blessed to be able to experience it.”

“We talked a lot about our experiences in the exchange year. It was fun and I had a great time,”

Thansuda from Thailand added.

When Klapper’s host family decided to host him 24 years ago, they didn’t know they were hosting a future diplomat. They just opened their hearts and their home to a 16-year-old German boy—a young maneager to learn about the U.S. and high school life in America.

“Being an American high school student is very fascinating for kids from all around the world. Typically, it’s a win/win situation. The exchange student wins an amazing year abroad, and the host family wins a new daughter or son,” Klapper said. “I am a strong believer that exchanges around the world will make the world a better place. When people learn about each other, they start to understand each other.”

For more information on hosting exchange students, call 620-386-0709.

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