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Exchange student to bring new 'sister' home

File Photo: Nicole Janssen (center), who will spend the 2009-2010 school year in Crailsheim, Germany, poses beneath the sister city sign in Worthington's Chautauqua Park with her family: parents Mel and Jane Janssen (back), sister Sarah (left) and brother Kyle.1 / 2
Elsa and Gerhard Wieser (front), and their children (back, from left), Kevin, Svenja, Lea and Jessica, pose for a portrait in Chautauqua Park.2 / 2

WORTHINGTON -- Svenja Wieser, the exchange student from Crailsheim, Germany, who has spent the past year in Worthington, had plenty to celebrate over the Memorial Day weekend.

Along with the rest of Worthington High School Class of 2009, she received her diploma on Friday night, then was feted at an open house following the ceremony. Her parents and three siblings made the trip from Germany for the occasion, and she will be joining them to see the sights of New York City and Washington, D.C., in the days to come.

But there was one more cause for celebration: When Svenja returns to Crailsheim in July, she will take a new "sister" along to join her family. Nicole Janssen, daughter of Mel and Jane Janssen of Worthington, will serve as Worthington's representative to Crailsheim for the 2009-2010 school year, and the Wiesers will be her first host family.

The student ambassador is usually announced in March, but no committed candidate had previously come forward.

"I've been thinking about it since probably April," explained Nicole, who will turn 16 in July. "When I found out no one had decided to go, that they didn't have a candidate, I got interested. I know it's a good program."

Actually, one of Nicole's good friends was considering the opportunity, so Nicole waited until that friend had declined before she indicated her own interest. Nicole and Svenja were already acquainted through the Worthington swim team, which helped to sway Nicole's decision.

"I've told her about Germany," said Svenja. "We would practice three times a week, so I'd tell her about it. I really wanted to take somebody back."

Although she's understandably nervous about spending a year away from her family -- she has a younger sister Sarah, 12, and brother Kyle, 9 -- in a foreign country, Nicole is focusing on what she can gain from the experience.

"Seeing what their school is like, meeting new people, learning more about the German culture," she listed about the things she looked forward to in Crailsheim.

Nicole's parents are also excited about the opportunities that await their daughter on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

"We're excited for her, and Svenja is a great girl, so that helps" to ease any qualms about Nicole going away for a year, said Jane Janssen. "(After this) sending her to college will be a walk in the park."

The student exchange program is a key component of the partnership between Worthington and Crailsheim, which is in its 62nd year, according to John Nordell, chairman of Worthington-Crailsheim International Inc.

"We realize it's hard for any teenager to commit themselves for a year-long exchange, but really the rewards and the benefits they reap will be just incredible. I'm just very thankful to Nicole for being willing to take the opportunity, I'm very happy for the exchange program and grateful for what the continuation of this exchange program will mean to the longstanding partnership."

With the end of her year in Worthington in sight, Svenja bubbles with enthusiasm for the exchange program.

"I really don't want to leave," she lamented. "I love it."

Svenja has been involved in a number of activities, including soccer, swimming, cheerleading and track. In Germany, those are not school-sponsored events; instead, students must belong to clubs to participate. She also enjoyed trips with her host families, including going to Colorado, the Mall of America and to see an NBA basketball game. And her language skills have improved to the point where she now dreams in English.

Even though she returns to Germany with an American diploma, Svenja has two more years of schooling to complete in Germany. She then hopes to further her education and utilize her language skills.

"I want to do something teaching with English and German," she said. "I've always known I wanted to be a teacher, but now I think I can use the English and German."

School will still be in session for a few days when Svenja and Nicole arrive in Germany, and Svenja looks forward to guiding Nicole through the beginning of her exchange experience.

"I'm anxious to have her meet all the family and friends," Svenja said. "People have been so nice to me here. I want to take somebody back and do the same."

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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