When Florian Judmann phones home, he has trouble speaking German - an odd problem for a 16-year-old youth who left his homeland only a year ago.
"I speak, but the structure is in English, and my family can't understand me."Anticipating similar difficulties when they return home, Youth for Understanding exchange students are trying to re-orient themselves.
On Friday, Salt Lake YFU area representatives held a "re-entry" orientation in anticipation that return to one's native country requires almost more adjustment than arriving in the host country.
Students who attended the orientation chatted excitedly as they arrived. Almost all of the students, who are from Denmark, Germany, Finland, Switzerland, and Holland, went to different schools in the Salt Lake area and hadn't seen each other in a while.
Judy van Es, from Holland, had a tip for the rest of the group. "I got a T-shirt that you just have to get before you go home. It has a picture of Garfield and says `So this is Utah! Big hairy deal!' "
As the orientation session began, each student spoke about some of his or her first impressions on arrival in Utah. Petra Hor-nama, from Finland, said that marshmallows were the strangest food. "And I think they are still bothering me," she added, patting her stomach.
Van Es told about her introduction to American food. "First I was placed with a family that had small children. They got peanut butter and jelly for lunch, so what do you think I got? Peanut butter and jelly!" That is one American food she found hard to like.
All of the students appeared to like pizza, which was served during the evening. Most ate it with knife and fork, as is traditional in Europe. Van Es shared her new understanding of pizza. "The summer before I came here, we had an American exchange student, and she always liked pizza in the morning! I thought that was really strange, but now that I've been here, I understand it better."
Van Es' observation became one of the themes of the evening: All of the students had gained a better understanding of American culture and values during their year here. They learned that you don't have to like everything here but that this is another way that people live in a different culture, and you can learn to accept that and adjust to life here.
Alison Worthington, a Salt Lake YFU representative, led a short exercise on "Discovering what we've learned about ourselves." Many of the students noted that as they learned about American culture and values, they had also begun to think more about their personal values and goals.
"I have done a lot of thinking about myself," observed Anette Westergaard, from Denmark. "Now I know much more about how I want to do things."
Soeren Moeller, a student from Denmark, had similar feelings. "Before I came I didn't really think about what I wanted to do. Since I came I have changed my opinion on a lot of things."
Judmann said he had become more independent. As he spoke, most nodded, expressing similar feelings. "In Germany we had a group of friends who did everything together, and now I can just go off and do anything by myself."
Van Es also agreed with Judmann's feeling of greater independence. "I'm so much stronger alone now. I can go anywhere now, and I've learned what it takes to make me happy."
Spending a year as a high school exchange student is an adventure. Each began to realize how much he or she had grown during the year.
Scott Stites, also a YFU representative and a former exchange student to Switzerland, led an exercise in which he asked the students to visualize their goodbyes to family and friends here. Everyone closed his eyes and imagined in silence.
When Stites finally asked them to open their eyes again, there were a few sniffles and wet eyes. This group that had been so cheery moments before was very solemn. Going home would not be easy.
Stites asked the students to list some of the people, places and things they would miss. Family, friends, neighbors and teachers were mentioned first.
Judmann said he would miss the mountains that were sometimes yellow with dryness, and Moeller said he would miss Kentucky Fried Chicken. All of the students agreed they would miss chocolate chip cookies, which seem to be a uniquely American delicacy. Another student would miss Liberty Park and another, "dragging State Street."
Carole Gordon, YFU office in Denver, ended the session by asking the students what concerns they had about the return adjustment. On a flip chart she listed language, personal changes, comparing host and native countries, and fitting in. Then she asked them to list some of the skills they learned during the year. These she listed on another chart: patience, language, self-confidence, adjustment. To their amazement, the students saw that their concerns were almost identical with their learned skills.
The year in America was an adventure. But the return will be another adventure. These students will likely remember things they've learned this year - about themselves and others - for the rest of their lives.
For further information about hosting a student or going abroad through Youth for Understanding, call 1 (800) USA-0200.