Crailsheim ambassador settles into life in Worthington

WORTHINGTON -- When Nicole Janssen got off the plane on Aug. 8, she wasn't the same girl who departed for Germany a year earlier. She was more confident, independent -- and spoke with a German accent.

Crailsheim-Worthington exchange students
David Etzel, 17 (left), is spending this school year in Worthington, representing Crailsheim, Germany, in the sister city exchange program, while Nicole Janssen, also 17, has just returned from her exchange year in Crailsheim. (Beth Rickers/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- When Nicole Janssen got off the plane on Aug. 8, she wasn't the same girl who departed for Germany a year earlier. She was more confident, independent -- and spoke with a German accent.

Janssen, Worthington's 2009-2010 exchange student to sister city Crailsheim, Germany, also didn't come home alone. She was accompanied by David Etzel, Crailsheim's ambassador to Worthington for the 2010-2011 school year, who is currently living with her family until he moves on to his next host home.

Etzel, 17, comes from a small village, Sattelldorf, located about 2½ miles north of Crailsheim. His father is a nurse, and his mother works at a church. He has two brothers, 10 and 15.

Janssen didn't meet her new exchange "brother" until the meeting at which he was elected to represent his city; she was part of the selection committee.

"I wanted to be an exchange student to learn more about the school system here, the history and the language," said Etzel, who has studied English since 2003.


Before he was even aware of the Crailsheim-Worthington opportunity, Etzel had decided he wanted to live and study in the United States.

"I am on the football team in Crailsheim," he said, clarifying that he referred to the American game, not soccer. "So I wanted to come here to play football."

In Crailsheim, the ambassador selection rotates among the German city's school, and this year it was Etzel's school's -- an economics school -- turn. Initially, nine students applied for the opportunity; the field was narrowed to four before the selection.

Since his arrival in Worthington at the beginning of August, Etzel has become more comfortable with the language, joined the Worthington High School football team, attended a Minnesota Vikings game and traveled to Omaha, Neb. He hasn't experienced any homesickness.

That wasn't the case when Janssen first arrived in Germany a year ago. She admits to more than a pang of longing for home.

"The first two weeks, I was really homesick," she recalled. "We were always on the phone or Skype. It was still summer over there, they were still on break, so my host family took me to Italy for a week, then school started. Then I got involved in stuff."

That involvement took her mind off missing her family. During her year in Crailsheim, Janssen participated in volleyball, swimming and gymnastics; sports clubs are separate from the school, she noted, and aren't seasonal. The language was initially the toughest part of the exchange experience, but eventually Janssen found herself thinking and dreaming in German.

"When I got back here, it was hard to switch back," she said with a smile.


Janssen traveled throughout most of Germany and into Italy, France and Austria during her exchange year. But the best part of the experience, she said, was the people of Crailsheim.

"It was just all the people I met, Everybody was just so outgoing and friendly and easy to get along with," she reflected, adding, "And all the food, the fresh food."

Besides becoming fluent in the German language, Janssen realizes she returned home with a more confident attitude.

"I'm definitely more independent, which will make it much easier to go to college," she said.

The Crailsheim adventure hasn't changed Janssen's goal for a future career, although it may have altered it a bit.

"I still want to be a teacher," she said. "I'm just not sure on my major now. I'm deciding between math and German. And I'm taking Spanish this year; I really like the language thing."

Etzel, who will remain in Worthington until next summer when he returns to Crailsheim with Worthington's new representative, doesn't have concrete aspirations for his future yet. At the moment, he doesn't want to look beyond his exchange year.

"I want to stay here," he said about his future goals.

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