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German ‘city girl’ learns about cows, critters and all kinds of things country through PHS foreign exchange student program

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of feature stories on foreign exchange students studying at Perham High School this year. When Tihana Milosevic signed on to become an exchange student in America, she didn't know where Minnesota was, ...

Tihana
Pictured, left to right, are Jenna and Alex Wegscheid, Tihana Milosevic, and Marjorie, Hailey, Aaron and Stephen Wegscheid. Marjorie said the kids all get along well with Tihana, the foreign exchange student they’re hosting this year, and she’s teaching them bits of German and Croatian. Submitted photo

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of feature stories on foreign exchange students studying at Perham High School this year.

 When Tihana Milosevic signed on to become an exchange student in America, she didn’t know where Minnesota was, let alone the tiny town of Perham.

“When they told me, ‘You’re going to Minnesota.’ I was like, OK, where’s Minnesota?,” Tihana said with a laugh during an interview last week. “When I first Googled it, I saw that Minnesota was famous for blizzards, and I was like, ‘Oh… that’s what I was afraid of!’ I was hoping for somewhere warm. In the beginning, it was actually really a shock.”

But soon, as she was given more information about the community, the school and her host family, the shock wore off, and excitement set it.

A native of Sonthofen, Germany – a city of about 21,000 people nestled in the Bavarian Alps – 16-year-old Tihana is spending this school year with the Wegscheid family of rural Dent, and is attending Perham High School as a junior.

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There are some noticeable differences between Sonthofen and the Perham/Dent area, she said – but there are similarities, too.

Back home, Tihana’s hometown is surrounded by mountains, which keep temperatures milder and create ample opportunities for skiing. Here, she said, the weather is colder and windier, and there are rolling hills and flat lakes instead of mountains. She still plans to get some skiing in this winter, at Detroit Mountain in Detroit Lakes, and even hopes to learn how to snowboard.

 She also said she might try ice fishing – a sport she had never seen before coming to Minnesota. She only recently saw fish houses for the first time, and was surprised to learn that people actually spend time out on the frozen water, “sitting on buckets.”

“We never walk on our lakes,” she said of Sonthofen residents. “It’s not that cold; it’s not safe.”

The food is also quite different, and she’s still adjusting to that. She was warned before traveling that Americans tend to eat a lot of fast food, and was relieved to discover that, at least for her host family, that stereotype wasn’t true. But she thinks German food is more flavorful than what Americans are used to, and even our basic ingredients have a different texture and taste than what she uses back home, making it hard for her to recreate a homestyle meal here.

She has, however, developed a new affinity for peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and she loves foods that mix sweet and salty – a combination never used back home.

School here is very different from school in Germany. Academically, it’s easier in America, Tihana thinks, with fewer tests, and there’s a heavier focus on extracurricular activities. Back home, she played a lot of sports, but that was separate from school. Here, she joined the school swim team, and she’s thinking about joining the speech team.

Moving to Perham has been a bit of a ‘city mouse, country mouse’ experience for Tihana. She’s used to relatively cramped quarters at her family’s home in the city, and was struck by the open landscapes of the rural areas here.

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She also had little to no exposure to animals before, even pets, and hates “critters” such as snakes and spiders.

Living with the Wegscheids has required her to get up close and personal with all sorts of animals; not just dogs and cats but also cows, sheep, pigs and chickens. She’s also driven a payloader at a neighbor’s farm, and has seen plenty of “critters.”

“I was really scared of animals, but I’m not anymore,” she said, explaining that “even cats and dogs and chickens” used to freak her out before she spent some time with them.

Cows, though, she still finds “really scary.”

“They look so mad!,” she said.

Another animal she’s been surprised to see: “deer just standing in the middle of the road!”

Many of the “critters” she’s come across have been, thankfully, of the plastic variety – she and one of her host brothers, Aaron Wegscheid, play pranks on each other, putting plastic spiders, snakes and bats under each other’s covers or filling each other’s bedrooms with fake cobwebs.

Tihana gets along very well with her host family. There’s Marjorie (Mom), Stephen (Dad), and siblings Alex, Jenna, Aaron and Hailey. Tihana doesn’t have any biological sisters of her own, she said, so she’s been especially enjoying time with her host family ‘sisters.’ She and Jenna are close to the same age; Hailey is younger, at 14.

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Jenna, actually, was the influencing factor behind the Wegscheid’s decision to host a foreign exchange student. She approached her parents with the idea after becoming friends with past Perham High School exchange students. She wanted to see what it would be like to live with someone from another country, and she persuaded the rest of the family to get on board.

For that, the family is grateful. They all said they’ve been enjoying their time with Tihana. They play board games together, bike and spend a lot of time outdoors. The kids all say they’ve become fast friends.

“Usually when they get together there’s lots of giggling and chatting going on,” said Marjorie of her kids and Tihana. “I think (hosting a foreign exchange student) has been a fun experience.”

It has had one minor challenge, however: Tihana speaks good English, but there are still sounds that get mispronounced and misunderstandings that happen. For example, “dead” sounds an awful lot like “dad” to them, and that’s caused some silly confusion. They’ve also had to learn that “ya” doesn’t necessarily mean “yes,” it’s just what Tihana says to show she’s listening; it doesn’t mean she understands what was said.

“You realize what you say doesn’t mean the same to someone else, so we’ve had a few language barriers,” chuckled Marjorie. “But we always have fun with it.”

They’re also learning from it, with the kids picking up a few German and Croatian words and phrases from their new friend, who speaks four different languages. Tihana also teaches them about German customs and holidays, so they can get an idea of what it would be like to live in Germany.

Tihana said she misses her family back home, but she gets to Skype with them every Sunday after church. Her dad, Vilim, is a metal worker, and her mom is a children’s nurse. She also has three brothers, Tomislav, age 19, Kresimir, 18, and Domagoj, 14.

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A writer, editor and mom of four (two kids, two dogs), Marie's been in the newspaper business for over 20 years. She started at the Detroit Lakes Tribune in 2017 after working just down the road at the Perham Focus for several years. Before that, she was at the Herald-Review in Grand Rapids, Minn.
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