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Exchange student back home after year in Germany

submitted Photo Kayli Kuhl, wearing her Dirndl, stands with Amber Kelley (left) and Mindy Kuhl at Kayli's 18th Birthday Party in Crailsheim, Germany.

WORTHINGTON -- One year ago, Kayli Kuhl left the life she knew in Worthington for the chance of a lifetime.

As the 2011-2012 Worthington ambassador for the Worthington-Crailsheim exchange program, she packed her bags, said her goodbyes and got on a plane to spend a year in Crailsheim, Germany.

"We were happy, because it's not like you're sending your child off for war," said Kayli's mother Jolene. "You're sending your child off for the best year of their life."

Just before Kayli left for Germany, her eldest sister Kristi left for Alaska. Her older sister Mindy traveled to Peru later in the year. The eldest child, Amery, is currently in the cities.

"I thought we were happy because we finally got them out of the house." said Kayli's father, Burdell.

Jolene visited Kayli and her host families in Germany last April. Mindy and friend Amber Kelley also visited in May.

"I didn't think of it as them leaving," Jolene said. "I thought, 'Wow, I get to go travel and visit them.'"

"At first everything was brand new. Every day was completely different," Kayli said via a Facebook interview last Friday. "At first the hardest part was the language. I felt pretty much hopeless for the first 2-3 weeks because everyone was talking so fast."

Kayli had completed a year of German in school prior to her trip.

"After a few weeks I got past the language barrier and began to talk more, and once I started getting the language down, that was when I really started feeling at home," she said.

Kayli, who would've been in her senior year at Worthington High School, was in the 11th grade in Germany, where there are 13 grades.

"Once I started school I met so many people, and with these people I had some of the most fun in my life," Kayli said.

"One thing that was very different for me was getting used to riding a bike," Kayli said.

Biking is a major way of transportation in Germany, especially for teenagers, because driver's licenses' aren't available until the age of 18 and gas prices are very high, Kayli said.

"I will never forget the first time I rode my bike into Crailsheim. It is about a 2 mile ride from my first host home and on the way back I crashed into a bush," Kayli said. "Now riding my bike is something I enjoy ... I think that riding bike is the best way to see the landscape and scenery of the Hohenloher area."

The Hohenloher area is the territory Crailsheim is in, similar to how Worthington is in the Southwest Minnesota territory.

"She absolutely loves the markets," Jolene said. "They're like farmers markets, only times 100. You can buy anything ... cheese, sausage, meat, fresh vegetables, flowers, materials, just anything."

In Crailsheim they shop every day, buying what they need for the day and fixing it up later, Jolene added.

"She also loves the sidewalk cafes. After you go to the market, you go to the sidewalk cafe and have a cup of tea and a pastry," Jolene said. "When I visited it was cold, and they'd give you a blanket."

Beyond biking around the countryside, attending school and going to the market, Kayli also traveled a lot and had a few surprises as well.

"I would have to say my birthday was the highlight of my year," Kayli said. "My host families and friends in school planned a surprise 18th birthday party for me. I had no idea about the whole thing."

"Turning 18 in Germany is a huge," Jolene said.

Kayli's host family originally told her that she would be eating supper with the theme of "Bayern," a state in Germany, and she should wear her Dirndl, an authentic dress for the women.

Then they blindfolded her and led her to a room where 45 of her closest friends and host families awaited her arrival, all in Dirndls and Lederhosen (authentic pants in Germany for men).

"Kayli said the guys stuck her up on a chair and marched her around the room," Burdell said.

"It was the best feeling I have ever had, to spend the day with honestly everyone that I have met here in Germany." Kayli said.

There were three things Kayli wanted, according to Jolene. To buy a real cuckoo clock and a glockenspiel (an orchestral bell set) was near the top of the list. But to buy a Dirndl was number one.

"When Kayli and I were in Munich, we bought Kayli's Dirndl, and when we were buying it, Kayli said 'Mom, this dress is as important to me as Kristi's wedding dress is to her.'" Jolene said.

Kayli also arranged for Jolene to play the organ at Johanneskirche (St. John's Church) on Easter Sunday. The cathedral is the only one that made it through the bombings unscathed during World War II.

"She fell in love with the country and the people," Jolene said. "Her heart will forever be in Germany."

But once again, Kayli had to pack her bags and say her goodbyes to get on a plane back home.

"I am excited to see everyone, but it is also very hard," Kayli said. "Every single day I have to say another 'see you later.' Going home is going to be harder than coming here just because I have met people that mean the world to me."

Kayli plans on returning to Germany in two years.

"The only thing that makes it easier to go is knowing that I will come back," Kayli said.

Kayli left Germany yesterday and arrived back in the U.S. last night.

Sarah Meiser, who spent a year here in Worthington, flew back to Germany Thursday night, ending up in London the first day of the Olympics.

"Coming to America was awesome, probably the best year of my life," Meiser said.

Highlights of her year include going to Chicago, Miami and New York, as well as going to the Mall of America, attending Vikings and Timberwolves games, and seeing the musical "Les Miserables," in addition to making new friends.

"I'm sad to leave, but happy to go back to Germany," Meiser said. "I'm excited to see my friends at home, but sad to leave all my friends here."

But as two trips end, two more begin.

"I'm excited and anxious," John Martin said in an interview last Wednesday. "I've been packing for so long that I'm not really nervous anymore."

Martin flew out with Meiser last Thursday night, and is now staying with the Meiser family in Crailsheim.

"I'll miss everybody, but I'm coming back in a year, it isn't like I'm never coming back, and I know that my year will just fly by," Martin said. "I know it's going to be one of the best experiences of my life."

Sophia Düll, the Crailsheim ambassador for the 2012-2013 year, arrived with Kayli last night.

"She just had her graduation from the 10th grade class," Kayli said. "She is very interested in doing sport activities, and she enjoys being outside."

"We're excited to have Sophia," Jolene said. "We're very much looking forward to having her, and want to make her feel at home."

Sophia is also interested in participating in theater and choir, and is also a swimmer, gymnast, and dancer.

"She thinks very similarly to how I thought a year ago, just to jump in head first and do it all," Kayli said.

While Sophia attends Worthington Senior High School, Kayli will be going to Minnesota West to take her generals and to get involved in the EMT program.

"I want to become a Physician's Assistant," Kayli said. "After my first year at Minnesota West I will continue learning more about Germany."

Students from Worthington and Crailsheim have been taking part in the Worthington-Crailsheim exchange program since 1948.

"It is just a fabulous program and I hope that it is one that will never end," Kayli said. "It is the chance of a lifetime and I have now had that chance and I am so happy because of it."

Daily Globe Reporter Brianna Darling may be reached at 376-7321.