Far from home

German exchange student Clara Nottbrock has lived in Webster City for seven months, but still finds herself adapting to a culture that she has enjoyed during her stay.

The 17-year-old Nottbrock hails from Lemgo, a town of about 42,000 people in western Germany. She lives with her parents and two younger siblings. She said she misses her family back home, but jumped at the chance to visit America.

This trip is not the first time Nottbrock has visited America. She stayed in Auburn, Ga. with her family for a year and a half when she was five years old. Her father was sent there for his job.

“That was a really nice time for me, and in my memory, I experienced that as a really great time. So, ever since we came back to Germany, I’ve wanted to go back to America because it’s such a great country,” Nottbrock said.

While she hoped to visit America again one day, Nottbrock figured she wouldn’t have the chance to do so until after she finished her schooling. Then one day, her english teacher gave her a flyer on a scholarship for a student exchange program. She didn’t get that first scholarship she applied for, but she applied to other organizations and found one that accepted her into an exchange program. For Nottbrock, the chance to experience the culture of America was a big reason she decided to come back.

“I saw it as a really great life experience and a way to broaden my view on the world and make me more independent, more flexible. I just wanted that experience because I knew it would be valuable for me,” Nottbrock said.

She arrived in America on Aug. 8, 2012. Nottbrock is living with Lynn and Sherry Leksell in Webster City until she leaves in June this year. She said her host family has been great to her, but it has been challenging at time to adapt to her host family and their rules of life. Nottbrock has found herself bumping up against the unspoken rules of her host family, Webster City High School and American society at times.

One of those rules is how criticism is doled out. In Germany, Nottbrock said that people are more open with critiquing her work at school. Here, she said people often won’t tell her she did something badly to her face. She said that’s nice at times, because she takes criticism badly, but she’s used to being told right away if something she did was good or bad.

That’s not to say that her experience with people here has been negative. Nottbrock said that people here seem a lot friendlier and more open-hearted than in Germany, where people tend to be more reserved.

“Here people I barely know will walk up and hug me. In Germany, that’s something you only do with close friends, but I like that about people here. I like the openness and friendliness of of the people as opposed to strictness and orderliness,” Nottbrock said.

At Wesbter City High School, Nottbrock is a junior. The German school system is a bit different. As Nottbrock explained, there are several different school forms depending on how easy it is for someone to learn and how much extra attention a person needs. Nottbrock is grouped with the highest performing students back home. However, her time spent here won’t go toward her progression through school back home so she will have to repeat this year in school.

Despite that lost time, Nottbrock is making the most of her time at Webster City High School. She said school here is more easy-going than in Germany, where she said knowledge is pounded into her head one thing after another. In contrast, she said school here is more hands-on and a bit slower, which helps her retain what she learns longer. She has also had great experiences with teachers at the high school.

“Here, I really feel like the teachers are your friends and you can trust them. I really like that.”

In addition to her regular schooling, Nottbrock has taken part in many activities. She has been a part of many bands, incluidng marching, concert, jazz, honor and pep bands andsings with the jazz vocal and purple and gold singers. She has also been involved with drama at the high school and the community theater, and went to state in speech. She was also involved with the high school volleyball team and is currently running in track.

In addition to participating in those activities, Nottbrock said she will have plenty of other stories to share when she returns home. She will be visiting Memphis, St. Louis and New Orleans with her host family over spring break. However, one of her trips in state was the most memorable.

“One of the first things and the most impressive things I visited was the state fair. We don’t have anything like that in Germany, so that was pretty overwhelming,” Nottbrock said.

Through the homesickness, the difficulty of adapting to a foreign culture and all the other challenges that Nottbrock has faced during her stay in America, Nottbrock said it has all been worth it.

“Even having been here seven months, I’m really thankful and happy that I can have this experience and that it worked out so well with my host family and everything,” Nottbrock said. “Sometimes, everything seems totally natural to me here with the language and the people. Then, sometimes I wake up and I’m like, ‘Whoa, everyone around me is speaking english.’ This is awesome and this is exciting and even though I’ve been here so long, I feel it’s very cool that I’m able to do this.”