From France to Webster City

Solweig Milliere is used to the bustling streets of France. On an average day in her hometown of Colmar, a town of about 65,000 people that borders Germany, she wakes up to the smells and sounds of street markets and falls asleep to the sound of music emanating from the town.

Since mid-August, Milliere has woken up in the much quieter community of Webster City. A 17-year-old junior currently attending Webster City High School, Milliere grew up in Paris and always knew she wanted to be an exchange student. Through a friend who had been an exchange student in California, she learned about an exchange program through Rotary Club International.

Milliere didn’t pick the United States as her first destination. When applying for the exchange program, she listed Australia, Brazil and India as places she would like to go. She was unable to go to those countries, but found an opening right here in Iowa.

Since arriving in America, Milliere has stayed with three host families in Webster City. The second family she stayed with lived on a farm outside of town.

“It was the first time for me being on a farm,” Milliere said. “I’ve had the opportunity to see all these things I’ve never seen before.”

The relative secludedness of this small town was a big change for Milliere. Many things she was accustomed to back home were not waiting for her in America. One of those changes she had to adapt to was simple transportation. Milliere said she is used to walking everywhere, and in Webster City, she found that people drove to most of their destinations.

“We walk a lot in Europe, like all the time, and I felt not like I was in jail, but because I’m not allowed to drive here, I need to ask for rides all the time because no one wants to walk here,” Milliere said. “Even if I wanted to take my bike, it would be awkward and it’s one of those things I miss a lot.”

Adjusting to her new school presented challenges for Milliere. She said that everyone in the school was very friendly to her. However, after about a week of school, she was no longer the “new kid” and few people took the time to get to know her well. She attributed that to being in a small town where many people at the school have known their peers from a very young age. Despite that, Milliere found friends, including teachers at the high school.

“The relationships with teachers here is awesome,” Milliere said. “They help the students a lot and it’s really friendly. It’s really cool that students can be friends with their teachers and tell them everything.”

While in Webster City, Milliere has participated in soccer and cross country. She’s enjoyed her time playing sports through the school. She played a lot of sports back home as well, but sports programs aren’t offered through schools in France. She has also attended meetings of the Webster City Rotary Club. Milliere said the group does great things across the world and has enjoyed her time with the club.

“They raise tons of money for polio and they do so many cool things. At first, Rotary was just my exchange program, but since being very involved, I want to be a Rotarian later in my life,” Milliere said.

Through Rotary, Milliere will be going on a cross country bus trip with about 50 other exchange students this summer, going through the midwest, to the west coast, down across the south then coming up along the east cost and then to Chicago. Her love of traveling contributes to her ideal future career as a photojournalist who would visit dangerous places across the globe, like Syria.

When Milliere returns home, she’ll enjoy the busy streets and familiar tastes of French food. However, she’ll also return with a better sense of the people of America.

“The stereotype is that people here are fat, stupid and lazy. It’s not true. People do a lot of sports here, people like moving all the time, they’re not lazy or stupid and they’re very friendly and not cold at all. They like hugging all the time,” Milliere said.

Milliere will leave for her cross country trip in June, and will reunite with her family in France in July.