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4,500 miles from home; Foreign exchange student to spend a year in Perham

Marie Nitke/FOCUS Manon Charlier (center) will be staying with the Huebsch family in Perham for the next year as a foreign exchange student from France. Pictured with her are Mark and Sue Huebsch.

Manon Charlier has only been stateside for two weeks, but she's already made some interesting observations on American life.

"Everything is big here," she said in an interview Monday, her French accent distinct. "The roads, the cars, the malls."

Even the little things, like milk, are sold in much bigger portions than she's used to. And, she says, it's all a lot cheaper to buy.

Manon (roughly pronounced Ma-NEW) is in Perham from France as a foreign exchange student, and she's used to things being much smaller and more expensive than they are here.

Even the home she's staying at - the home of the Huebsch family - is larger than she imagined, with a bigger yard.

She's also been happily surprised by how good the food is here - and she's already enjoying some good company to go with it.

The Huebsch's, of course, are included in that. Sue and Doug Huebsch have welcomed Manon into their home, as have their two college-aged daughters, Abby and Becca, and their son, Mark, a Perham High School senior.

Mark has been particularly helpful on the social scene, introducing Manon to his friends - her future classmates - and helping to show her around the high school. She's also joined the volleyball team, and thinks she may participate in track, as well.

It didn't take Manon long to embrace Lakes Area living. Her first day in Perham, she went with Mark and about 30 other students on a tubing trip at a local lake. She had never done anything like it before.

"I loved it," she said with a smile.

A native Belgian, Manon has also lived in Italy for a number of years and speaks four languages. She wanted to come to America to perfect her English and learn about American culture.

At 16 years old, most of Manon's classes at Perham High School will be senior-level; France is ahead of America in terms of course difficulty. 

Manon will spend a full year in Perham, and will then have one year of school left to finish in France after she returns. She's not exactly sure yet what she'd like to do after that, career-wise.

For now, she's just looking forward to the next year.

"I'm excited to be here," she said. "Before coming here, I didn't know anything about America; only what my sister and teachers had told me."

The youngest of three children, Manon has a sister, Aurore, who has also studied abroad in America, and a brother, Thomas, who's an engineer. Her father, Christophe, is also an engineer. He heads up the family with her mother, Sylviane.

Manon said she'll miss her family, but technology and social media make it easy to keep in touch.

Manon is in Perham thanks to the Rotary's Youth Exchange program, which hosts 'inbound' foreign students like Manon while sending some 'outbound' students to study abroad and act as ambassadors for their home communities. While Manon is here in America, her family in France is hosting another student from Ecuador.

"I think it's really nice that Rotary does the exchange program," said Sue Huebsch. "They plan a lot of activities for all the exchange students in the district."

Manon is the fifth student the Huebsch family has hosted in the last six years; three of those were Rotary exchange students, while two others - brothers from Germany - came through other programs.

Mark ended up becoming close friends with those brothers, and has since traveled to Germany to visit and ski with them. The family still keeps in contact with all of their former exchange students.

"It's really cool to learn from them how it's different here," said Mark. "And to watch how they change throughout the year to adapt and be more 'American.'"

"It's been an enriching experience for our family," added Sue. "That's why we enjoy doing it. We get to meet interesting people from all over the world."