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Crailsheim exchange students going strong

A vehicle containing both John Martin and Lars Opaczek — who are flying the flags of the U.S. and Germany, respectively — drives down 10th Street during the Sept. 14 King Turkey Day parade. ( BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE)1 / 2
John Martin (left) and Lars Opaczek are shown Monday night during the Worthington High School coronation event. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)2 / 2

WORTHINGTON — Two 17-year-old Worthington High School (WHS) seniors are craving spaetzle.

John Martin grew up near Reading while Lars Opaczek hails from Crailsheim, Germany, but both long for that distinctive German noodle.

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“My favorite food was spaetzle,” said Martin, the local student representative to Worthington’s sister city, Crailsheim, during the 2012-13 school year. “I’m missing gummi bears and chocolate, too.”

Opaczek, the latest in a line of exchange students from Crailsheim that extends back to 1956, arrived in Minnesota with Martin on Aug. 8, shortly after Worthington’s 2013-14 ambassador to Crailsheim, Jaron Sternke, flew to Europe.

“I’m missing spaetzle and schnitzel,” admitted Opaczek, an affable, athletic teen. “Those are the only foods they don’t have here.”

Opaczek is beginning his year in Worthington on the Tom and Deb Martin farm, quickly absorbing American culture, while his host brother simultaneously reacquaints himself with all things Minnesotan.

“My adjustment to Germany last year was great, and I loved it right away,” shared Martin. “My three host families were welcoming, generous and good at explaining things.

“Understanding a different language is easier than speaking it, but after the first month I understood a lot, and after about three months in, I was comfortable speaking German and understood almost everything.”

Opaczek, who has studied English since the fifth grade, already possesses excellent English skills. He has embraced his role as a wide receiver on the WHS football team, even though his only previous experience with American football was watching the 2013 Super Bowl.

“Football is really fun; it’s awesome,” said the upbeat Opaczek. “I love sports — that’s my life. I’m thinking of trying basketball.”

Opaczek played handball and also did kickboxing and weightlifting in Germany, and he takes his workouts and diet seriously.

“I always eat salad,” he said, smiling. “I love salad. And I like any kind of meat — those are the only things I need. I like sweet stuff, but it’s not really healthy, so I try not to eat so much of that.”

Opaczek was one of three applicants for the Worthington side of the exchange program last spring, and he is excited to be here.

“I like to be in other countries, and I had always wanted to go to America,” he explained. “I thought it would be awesome to be one year in America, and Sarah [Meiser, the 2011-12 Crailsheim exchange student] is a good friend of mine and said she had an awesome time here.”

Martin, in turn, spent his first months in Germany last fall with the Meiser family, and Sarah was one of his four host sisters.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect and hadn’t been out of the United States before, but besides Germany, I went to Spain, Austria, Switzerland, Turkey and France,” listed Martin. “I wouldn’t trade the year for anything, and I’m surprised how much I learned in just one year.”

Opaczek has temporarily traded his home in Crailsheim, where he lives with his father Norbert (who works for Bosch), mother Renate (a private salon owner) and 20-year-old brother, Jan, for the Martin farmstead.

“The Martins are really nice, funny people, and they are very nice to me,” said Opaczek. “They have two dogs, and I enjoy both the people and the dogs.”

With the Martins, Opaczek has already visited Valleyfair, the Clay County Fair and seen the musical “Wicked” in the Twin Cities — as well as having spent time at that favorite tourist destination, the Mall of America.

“The Mall of America is really awesome,” Opaczek said. “I didn’t expect it would be that huge, and even have roller coasters in it.”

Opaczek’s list of hopes during his Minnesota sojourn includes seeing professional football and basketball games (at least one of each) and maybe making it to Chicago, Ill.

And while Opaczek will have two years of undergraduate schooling yet to complete upon returning to Germany before embarking on a program of study for a possible career in international marketing or management, Martin is exercising the PSEO (post-secondary enrollment option) by taking most of his senior classes at Minnesota West. He hopes to attend the University of Minnesota next year, with the eventual goal of becoming a medical doctor.

“I’m also involved in student council, FFA, National Honor Society and will be on the speech team in the winter,” noted Martin. “I plan to go back to Crailsheim for a visit at the end of May.

“I was in Germany for one year and 13 days, and that was about 90 years too short,” Martin continued. “I would really like to stress how important this exchange program is to a student’s life, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to take advantage of it.”

Opaczek, whose present WHS class schedule includes chemistry, U.S. history and two physical education classes, marvels at the variety of activities the District 518 calendar allows students. He looks forward to meeting more people in Worthington over the coming months and, following Martin’s example, making the most of his time in his sister city.

“I like all the events you have in school here,” said Opaczek. “It’s really cool. I like to talk to people and listen to the stories they have, and I would like to meet as many people as I can.”