Walking around downtown Seymour this week during Oktoberfest, two German exchange students said they felt at home when they saw bratwurst and their home country’s flag and heard German music.
But Maren Wrenger, 15, and Jonas Halbrügge, 16, haven’t found roller coasters, a target-shooting competition or auto scooters, which are among the offerings at Schützenfest events in northern Germany.
That festival in Maren’s hometown of Hannover is a two-week event, while Jonas has attended a similar three-day festival in a village about a half-hour from Hannover, where he used to live.
“I want to try all of the food. I can eat a lot,” Maren said of the Seymour Oktoberfest.
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The Trinity Lutheran High School sophomore also said she planned to visit the festival with friends and go to today’s parade with her host parents, Craig and Stephanie Flinn. She also worked at the firefighters food booth because Craig Flinn works for the Seymour Fire Department.
Jonas, a junior at Seymour High School, was excited about trying food at Oktoberfest, too.
“I want to try bratwurst and the pretzels and see how they are and if they are different. I hope they are good,” he said.
He said it has been neat to see familiar German words and products in America.
“I want to see my friends here from high school and just walk around with them and tell them how different it is,” he said of Oktoberfest. “This seems really Americanized, like the food and everything. But sometimes, you see German words, and it’s kind of cool to see German words and different things here.”
Maren said Schützenfest is about 10 minutes from the downtown and has a lot more booths and takes up more space than the Seymour Oktoberfest. That’s mainly because it includes roller coasters.
“It’s expensive, but it’s fun,” she said of the roller coasters, which cost $4.40 for one ride. “One time, there was something with loops, but this one is rather small.”
While Schützenfest has bratwurst and auflauf, an oven-baked potato dish, Maren said her favorite food there is corn. That’s something she has seen plenty of in Indiana.
“Here, it’s better,” she said.
Stephanie Flinn said it has been exciting learning about the difference in foods. That’s especially true with the hot German potato salad found at Oktoberfest because Wrenger said what is considered potato salad in Germany is cold rather than hot.
“I’ve been talking about how much I love German potato salad, and when I explain it to her, she says, ‘We don’t eat that,'” Flinn said. “I just laugh.”
Jonas said his favorite food at the festival in Germany is schmalzkuchen, which is a fried sweet treat with sugar on top. That festival also has candies, caramel apples, currywursts, waffles and pretzels.
As far as activities at that festival, he said his favorite is auto scooters, which is similar to bumper cars in America.
Maren arrived in Seymour on Aug. 3, a week before classes started at Trinity. She said she was an exchange student for a week in Spain once, and one of the boys of that family later came to Germany and stayed a week with her family.
This is the first time the Flinns have hosted an exchange student. Craig Flinn said they decided to do it because their sons, Zach and Mitchell, have graduated from high school. A friend and neighbor, Cindy Lawyer with Global Insights, encouraged them to give it a try.
“We are really enjoying the experience with Maren,” Craig Flinn said. “She is a fun girl with a great attitude and is adapting well. She’s spent some time this harvest season in the fields with our family and asked a lot of good questions. She came to learn and experience our culture, and we are enjoying being the teachers.”
It wasn’t until Maren arrived that she learned about Seymour’s German heritage and annual Oktoberfest.
“I got to know that many people have German relatives,” she said. “It’s cool because everybody can say something in German.”
Even though she has taken English classes in school since first grade, Maren said she had to get used to the language here.
“It’s different when you hear it every time and have to understand it every time,” she said.
A couple of weeks before he came to Seymour, Jonas said, his family moved to Oldendorf, which is about an hour-and-a-half away from where he grew up.
His host parents are Gregg and Janis Surenkamp. Since 2009, they have hosted five German exchange students and one from Spain. Their family has German heritage.
“A lady was telling us about it, and we thought it would be kind of interesting, and they keep coming,” Janis Surenkamp said. “They are really good kids, and you learn about their country. They become your own kids. You hate to see them leave.”
Maran and Jonas said school has been an adjustment.
At Trinity, Maren said, she has every subject every day. But in Germany, she has subjects twice a week.
“Because of that, I don’t have history homework every day, so I think I could say that I have more homework here,” she said. “But it’s much easier than in Germany because our tests in Germany, we have to write texts, and we don’t have multiple-choice questions. We have to think about the questions.”
Jonas said he has taken English classes in Germany since third grade. At his school, he said, students say in one classroom, and teachers come there to teach their subjects.
“The school participation, how much you say in the class, counts way more in Germany, I think like 60 percent. Here, it counts like 5 or 10 percent,” he said.
Both students have joined sports teams at their American schools. In Germany, schools have club sports instead of team sports, and they both play handball.
At Trinity, Maren is on the volleyball team, and she plans to play basketball in the winter. She is familiar with both sports, having played them in physical education class in Germany.
“Playing volleyball, I think it was really good for my beginning here, too, because I met very many girls and friends,” she said. “I’ve learned very much here.”
At Seymour, Jonas is on the tennis team now and wants to try track and field in the spring. Tennis is new to him.
“At the beginning, it was really hard because it’s such a hard sport to learn,” he said. “I played handball, which they don’t have here, so tennis is completely different from handball.”
But with good teammates and a good coach, Jonas said, tennis has been fun. In one match, the opposing school had a German exchange student, and Jonas got to play against him.
“We talked German the whole time,” he said. “That was fun.”
The host families said they have learned a lot about German culture and lifestyle.
“There are many differences in their shopping habits, like buying groceries as needed, public transportation available 24/7 and line-drying all clothing,” Stephanie Flinn said.
“In some ways, I’m afraid we’re spoiling (Maren), and in other ways, I’m envious of her German lifestyle,” she said. “She’s trying to teach us some German, and we seem to be slow learners. In fact, so slow that my grandmother and Maren have side conversations, in German of course, about us.”
Aside from attending Maren’s sporting events, the Flinns plan to take her to Florida in December for vacation and Chicago in the spring for her 16th birthday.
“Otherwise, we hope to plan short trips around the Midwest showing her some of our favorite things to make the most of her 10 months with our family,” Craig Flinn said.
The Surenkamps said they plan to take Jonas some places, too, and they added they are hoping to go to Germany next summer.