Princeton a culture shock for some foreign students

Joel Stottrup / Union-Eagle The five foreign students at Princeton High School are from left, Emma Tenge-Reitberg, Theresa Merierbeck, Visa Puranen, Pedro Ramos, and Somchart Rattanamunkasem.
Joel Stottrup / Union-Eagle
The five foreign students at Princeton High School are from left, Emma Tenge-Reitberg, Theresa Merierbeck, Visa Puranen, Pedro Ramos, and Somchart Rattanamunkasem.

Could coming from a big, foreign city to attend high school in a small American town with a different culture and climate be a culture shock?

The question surfaced among the five foreign students attending Princeton High School this year.

Pedro Ramos, 16, from Brazil, has already found the weather too cold — and winter has yet to come.

Visa Puranen, 17, from Finland, said he would rather be in Colorado or Utah where he can ski down big mountains. He talks about leaving here before the school year ends.

Somchart Rattanamunkasem, 16, from Bangkok, Thailand, used the word “misunderstanding,” in responding to the question of what does he not like about being a student at Princeton High School. Asked to explain, he said that first impressions are not always so good.

Meanwhile, the other two foreign students enrolled at PHS this school year – Theresa Meierbeck, 16, and Emma Tenage-Reitberg, 15, both from Germany – have had their own adjustments to make. Both said they find the cafeteria lunches at their school back home much more healthy. Tenage-Reitberg’s host parent, Lisa Fobbe, gave a glimpse into the culture shock a foreign student can feel. Fobbe gained the insight from hosting Tenage-Reitberg and talking with her.

Tenage-Reitberg was “shell-shocked” when starting the school year at PHS, even though she had an advantage over the other four foreign students, Fobbe said: Tenage-Reitberg is half American with citizenship in Germany and the United States. She grew up bilingual, speaking both German and English.

Tenage-Reitberg is a second cousin to Fobbe; Tenage-Reitberg’s mother Michelle is Fobbe’s first cousin. Tenge-Reitberg has visited the Fobbe family many summers before and has the advantage of knowing Fobbe’s son Gino, who is a senior at PHS.

But even with having vacationed in Princeton, Tenge-Reitberg learned what many others have about vacationing somewhere, Fobbe said. It is not the same as living there every day for a longer time.

Fobbe added that it has been good for both Tenge-Reitberg and Meierbeck that they are from the same country, noting that the two have spent a lot of time together talking.

Ramos is from the coastal Brazil city of Florianopolis, with a population of nearly half a million. It has a warm, humid climate, where frost can occur in the winter, but only infrequently. Compare that to Princeton’s population of under 5,000 and a climate that can be in the 20s below zero in winter.

Tenge-Reitberg’s hometown of Bielefeld, Germany, has 327,000 people and its low winter temperature is 32 degrees.

Munich, the third largest city in Germany with a population of 1.42 million, is Meierbecks’ home and not much different in climate than Bielefeld. Its low winter temperature is about 23 degrees.

Bangkok, home of Rattanamunkasem, has a population of more than 8 million and its low temperature during the year is close to 70 degrees.

Puranen’s city of Espoo, Finland, is not much different than Minnesota climate-wise, since it is not uncommon for a winter low there to be in the 20s below zero. But Espoo has a population at 259,383.

While Puranen didn’t talk about the cold, his big interest is downhill skiing, and he said he wishes he were in a location with high mountains to do downhill skiing this coming winter.

“Small town and a little boring, not much to do,” is what Puranen had to say about Princeton.

Most foreign students that come for a school year, stay the full term. But Puranen said he is trying to move to a bigger city, perhaps in one to two months.

His take on PHS is that it is “a bit boring because every day is the same.” He said the school food “doesn’t taste so good,” but that he “eats everything.” Puranen said the people at PHS are “nice.”

Puranen’s interests also include basketball, movies and sailing. He is presently taking history, baking, biology, English and math at PHS.

“I wanted something different,” Puranen said for choosing to attend high school in the U.S. “I wanted to learn English better and have fun.”

Puranen said his father is commander of the Finnish Air Force and his mother is a flight attendant. His career choice would be pilot and businessman and he said he would like to be a commander like his father.

Ramos’ father is a lawyer and his mother works in public services. He said he plans to return to Brazil this coming January. What he likes about PHS is that he gets plenty of assistance from the school staff when needed. But he doesn’t like how homework here counts toward a grade, in contrast to his school back home.

Ramos said Princeton people are “really nice,” but doesn’t care for the weather and misses living along the ocean. He said his home is on an island.

Some of Ramos’ better PHS memories so far are having played on PHS soccer and football teams. The soccer here is not as good as it is in Brazil, he added. His career goal is to become a doctor specializing in plastic surgery. He is taking math, English, chemistry, baking and history. His interests, besides hanging out with friends, include watching TV and playing sports.

Meierbeck’s father is a farmer and her mother is an office worker. Her plans after leaving Princeton are to attend a school of higher education. She calls the schooling here with its activities easier and more fun than in Germany.

Her likes about Princeton are that it is a small town and she said she likes attending the sporting events. She doesn’t like that there aren’t a lot of shops like she is used to and that she has to drive some distance for more shopping.

Since arriving in the United States, she has been to Boston and Vermont (before coming to Princeton), has attended this year’s Minnesota State Fair and has been to Mille Lacs Lake, Elk River and Cambridge. She has also seen a Halloween parade.

Meierbeck is unsure about a future career but is interested in something to do with fashion and design and plans to attend college. Meierbeck is in a Just For Kix dance group here and is taking English, U.S. history, foods, chemistry, fitness fun and baking. She plans to be in gymnastics this school year. Besides liking gymnastics and dancing, Meierbeck enjoys being with friends, shopping, traveling and movies.

Rattanamunkasem said his parents own a plastics factory and that he hopes to take over the family business and look after his family. His plans after leaving Princeton are to attend college.

He said Princeton has “nice people, good environment” and that it’s a “different life.” He said the Princeton people are generally nice.

Rattanamunkasem is taking English, history, jewelry, sculpture, math, photography and introduction to marketing entrepreneurship. He enjoys fishing, cooking, and finding a good view and “chilling out with friends or family.”

Tenage-Reitberg is interested in a career in teaching and real estate. She said she will be leaving Princeton in December and returning to her school in Germany.

Her likes about PHS include its many activities, that the “teachers are very helpful and that the students are very nice.” Activities like the “Peter Pan” musical at PHS is something not offered at her school in Germany, she said. Tenage-Reitberg plays the part of one of the Indians in the “Peter Pan” production.

She said she doesn’t like that students here can’t leave the school building for breaks during the school day like they can in Germany.

As for the town, Tenage-Reitberg said: “I like that it’s a small town and everybody knows each other. But I don’t like that you have to drive to go out to eat or to go shopping.”

Places she has visited as a guest of the Fobbe family include Concordia College, St. John’s University, Mall of America and the State Fair.

She is interested in a career involving medicine and said she would decide what part of medicine to go into while attending college.

Her spare time activities include hanging out with friends, dancing and gymnastics. While Tenage-Reitburg shares her fellow foreign students’ thoughts about the food at PHS, she admits to having taken a liking to ice cream at her host family’s home.

She said she doesn’t find anything too surprising about being a foreign student here, but did find it a “shock to be in such a big school.”

She explained that in Germany, the students are placed in different schools, so they are smaller. One is for the highest academic achievers who plan to go on to college. Another is what she called “normal high school,” and the last is for special needs students, she explained. She was in the highest bracket school. Once getting over the shock about the size of PHS, she has found her time here as a foreign student a  “good experience.”