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Exchanging lives: Three European students spend school year in Worthington

Exchange students (from left) Emilie Nordbo, Dario Bartelmess and Flora Csete pose for a photo at Worthington High School. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- Parting from one's comfortable, familiar life and family for the better part of a year isn't something every teenager is willing to do.

But Flora Csete, Dario Bartelmess and Emilie Nordbo made that bold choice, opting to let their adventurous sides take over while they temporarily left their native countries of Hungary, Germany and Norway, respectively, to experience a taste of the United States.

Each student will ultimately live in Minnesota for about 10 months, having begun their cultural journeys here last August and planning to return to their homelands in June. In between they are busy acquainting themselves with new families, schools, foods and activities not previously known to them.

Get to know a little more about these open-minded teens who are using Worthington and Worthington High School (WHS) as their cultural gateway to the United States.

Flora Csete

Hometown: Budapest, Hungary

Csete's warm brown eyes and ready smile are among the first features one notices about her. Having turned 18 last June 30, Csete's curiosity about the United States prompted her to explore various study-abroad opportunities; she settled on Nacel Open Door, an exchange program that has sent students to various countries since 1964.

"I wanted to come because I love the English language, and for some reason, I fell in love with the United States," said the well-spoken Csete. "Most of my favorite stars are American, and I love the show 'Glee.'"

Csete is the oldest of four; she has three younger brothers, including 15-year-old Adam, 5-year-old Marci and 4-year-old Andor.

"My dad was not fond of the idea of me leaving home, but I really, really wanted to go," she said. "I searched lots of programs and at first thought maybe I'd just go for three months over the summer, but then my parents said if I was going to go, I should probably go longer."

The best-laid plans can go awry, and Csete's initial entry to the U.S. would have been enough to turn back someone with less internal fortitude. She had never flown before by herself, but made the flight from Hungary to Chicago's O'Hare Airport without incident.

But once in Chicago, it took her over two hours to get through customs and security--long enough to cause her to miss her connecting flight to Sioux Falls, S.D., and put her on an unexpected odyssey.

"There wasn't going to be another flight to Sioux Falls for two days, so I tried to rebook to Minneapolis, but the people who were to meet me couldn't get there," Csete recounted. "I ended up spending two nights in a hotel in Chicago, and I didn't have my luggage with me so I wore the same outfit for three days."

Csete quickly recovered, and once here, began finding her way around WHS. She played the role of the mother in the WHS fall play "The Case of the Missing Gobbler," and began swimming with the YMCA Stingrays Swim Team by late October.

"I swam in Hungary for two years," she said. "My favorite and best stroke is the breaststroke," and indeed, Csete has qualified for the Feb. 17 YMCA state swim meet in that event, as well as in a pair of relays.

Csete has been living with Kerry Johnson, the WHS choral director, and her home near the high school has proven to be an ideal jumping-off point for Csete.

"It's really, really good," beamed Csete, who admits to loving pizza and Mexican food even though she is somewhat lactose intolerant and tries to avoid milk and cheese. "People have been very nice."

Two foods she misses from her native Hungary are goulash and beef stew, which she says are prepared very differently there than here.

While typically cheerful and positive, Csete acknowledges she was a little homesick around Christmastime, missing her brothers and her parents--father Ferenc, a technology specialist at a university in Budapest, and mother Katalin, an accountant.

Csete sings in the WHS Trojan Choir, under the direction of her host mother, and is now participating in speech, competing in the humorous category. This Saturday, along with many other WHS juniors and seniors, she will spend several hours taking the ACT exam.

Like most foreign exchange students, Csete is multilingual, having studied German since first grade and English for about four years. She says she may study Spanish upon returning to Hungary, too.

Johnson says of her young Hungarian charge, "It's been a lot of fun having Flora with me."

Said Csete, ""I'm trying to be in as many things as I can, and meet lots of new people -- that's why I'm here."

Dario Bartelmess

Hometown: Waldtann, Germany (near Crailsheim)

Bartelmess's path to Worthington was laid when one of his three older siblings -- Milena, 23 -- spent a year living with the John and Kristie Nordell family here about six years ago.

"Milena was a friend of the Crailsheim exchange student (Katrin Hanselmann) that year, and she loved it here," said Bartelmess, a brown-haired and slender 17-year-old. "My parents were happy I had the chance to come here, but my mom was a little sad when I was leaving."

His parents --Friedrich and Elke Bartelmess -- work together at a manufacturing company they own near Crailsheim.

Bartelmess is here under the auspices of Education First, another well-reputed study abroad program that dates to 1965.

"They can put you anywhere, but I didn't want to go to a really small town, and we already had relationships with Worthington people, so I thought it would be cool to make that work and expand on that," said Bartelmess, who is spending the year with the family of Dave and Karen Skog.

An English learner since fifth grade, Bartelmess has been studying Spanish at WHS.

"The Spanish is easy," shrugged the youth. "I learn it in English." He has also enjoyed two classes with Kris Besel, he reported -- Film Studies and Debate.

"Debate was really good for my language growth," he said.

While his host brother, Tim Skog, is a WHS senior active in fine arts and academic pursuits, Bartelmess loves "soccer, soccer and soccer," attested Karen Skog. "But even though the boys have quite different interests, they hare been good friends and brothers, regardless."

One activity they've enjoyed together is swimming, as Bartelmess joined longtime YMCA Stingray swimmer Tim Skog on the team and also qualified last weekend to participate in the Feb. 17 YMCA state swim meet at the University of Minnesota Aquatics Center.

"I was totally not a swimmer in Germany, and I just wanted to learn the freestyle," admitted Bartelmess. "I don't like the swimming as much, but I have a lot of friends in there, so I like it for that reason."

He's delighted that his state swim meet weekend will include a stop at the Mall of America, a place his sister Milena advised him not to miss.

Bartelmess also made plenty of new friends in the fall as a member of the WHS boys' soccer team.

"They really accepted me there, and it was a good way to begin knowing a lot of people," professed Bartelmess of his soccer in-volvement. "I played a lot of soccer in Germany, since I was 6 or 7 years old."

More recently, Bartelmess joined the fun with the WHS musical "Hairspray" as part of the show's technical crew; along with WHS student Stephen Dorschner, he ran the soundboard.

"It was pretty amazing," said Bartelmess of his technical stint. "In Germany, they don't connect sports and activities to school, and here everyone was working together on this from school."

While Bartelmess says he misses German bread and chocolate, a few of his mom's dishes and Maultaschen, a Crailsheim culinary specialty, his eyes light up at the thought of Karen Skog's tater tot hot dish ("I really like that," he smiles) and her S'more and chocolate chip bars.

"The Skogs are like a second family," assured Bartelmess. "They just accept me like I am, and living with them is really not so much different from home."

In turn, the Skogs enjoy having Bartelmess. An experienced host family, Bartelmess is their fourth exchange student, and one in a long line of German guests they have welcomed.

Besides Hanselmann, the Skogs hosted Yannick Elens, David Etzel and several other German visitors for shorter periods of time. They traveled with the "Amazing" Worthington City Band to Crailsheim in July 2011 and "were treated to wonderful food, conversation and laughter," said Karen Skog. "We would highly recommend becoming a host family for an exchange student, because we have loved it.

"A teenager is a teenager, whether from Germany or Minnesota," she continued. "They all love friendships and social gatherings, good food, sleeping late and creating laundry. It's great!"

As for Bartelmess, he couldn't be happier he made the jump across the Atlantic.

"I'm really glad I came," he professed. "It's one of the most amazing things I've done."

Emilie Nordbo

Hometown: Bergen, Norway

English is old hat for Emilie Nordbo -- after all, she's studied it since first grade.

Nordbo, whose hometown has a population of 250,000, celebrated her 18th birthday this past Wednesday at the home of Jason and Genny Turner in Worthington.

"I wanted to get to know new people and see the culture," said Nordbo. "Worthington is very diverse, and that's interesting."

The Minnesota winter has not been much different, she says, from the Norwegian winters she grew up with, so she might like to follow in the footsteps of her two older siblings who have both spent time in Australia.

"There are so many Scandinavians here," Nordbo said of Minnesota. "I want to go to Australia as well; my siblings think it's cool and it's a nice country."

Nordbo also found her way to Minnesota via Education First and began her time here in Storden, attending Red Rock Central High School. She has been at WHS since classes resumed in January.

"I applied for the United States and was matched to Minnesota," she explained. "I played volleyball at RRC, and I always played soccer and handball in Norway.

"I might do track this spring, and I like watching all sports--handball, football, soccer, volleyball--anything with balls, especially."

Nordbo says she has started getting to know more classmates at WHS. Like Csete, she is in Trojan Choir, and she is enjoying her digital photography class with Gail Holinka, which she calls "fun and relaxed."

Fluent in English, Nordbo also has studied Spanish for three years.

A trip to Los Angeles, Calif., over the long President's Day weekend with an exchange student friend is highly anticipated, and Nordbo is also excited about going to Florida during the school's spring break with some members of the Turner family.

"It's been really great having Emilie with us, because she's so easy to get along with," said Genny Turner. "She's very low-maintenance, and in many ways, she's easier than our own kids, to be honest.

"Our life is so busy, and I was worried about that, but with her personality, it's a fine balance, and she likes going to basketball games and tournaments with us. She fits in well with our family."

Nordbo, whose mother, Astrid, is a preschool teacher and father, Per Erik, is a computer engineer, admits to missing brown cheese and European chocolate.

"There's not much food I haven't liked, but there's a lot more junk food here and people don't eat as many fruits, vegetables and fish as we do in Norway," said Nordbo. "I know many exchange students gain a lot of weight in the U.S., and I've probably gained a few pounds, too."

Not that it shows on the statuesque blonde, who likes to occasionally Skype with her family in Norway even while having a good time with her three younger host siblings in Worthington.

"Her parents may come for graduation," said Genny Turner. "She wants to see New York, and there isn't much she doesn't like or isn't willing to try. She's very involved with what we have going on."