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Lina's Terporten's big adventure

German exchange student shares her thoughts on her year at Medical Lake High


Last updated 5/23/2019 at 8:44am

Lee Hughes

One of the things that surprised the 15 year old exchange student from Brüggen, Germany, was school sports and the spirit that goes along with it. Terporten played volleyball, basketball and tennis this year.


Staff Reporter

In the fall of 2017, one of Lina Terporten's teachers asked her if she would be interested in applying for a scholarship to be an exchange student. He didn't ask her in English, however, but in Terporten's native German.

That conversation set in motion months of preparation, testing, and interviews - in English and German - that eventually led to Terporten being awarded the scholarship from the German Bundestag, or Congress, in January of 2018.

She had her doubts at first.

"My life in Germany is nice," she recalled thinking, and how much she might miss her life there.

But once she was awarded the scholarship she began counting the days to her departure.

"I was super excited," she said. "I was always more excited than nervous about it."

She arrived in the United States from her hometown of Brüggen, Germany, situated near the border of Belgium and the Netherlands about 50 miles northwest of the city of Cologne, on Aug. 22, 2018.

Although she knew she was going to a small town, she anticipated a wetter climate more like Seattle, not the rolling, semi-arid farmland of Eastern Washington.

Terporten's observations of life in the U.S. compared to Germany are many. Her initial impression was, in a word, big.

"Everything was bigger," she said, like bigger cars and streets, trucks, the grocery store "and everything in the grocery store."

She was also surprised by American attitudes.

"Everyone's so friendly here," she said. "I feel like the American culture is a lot more friendly than the culture I came from."

She was quick to note that German culture is friendly too, "but it's a lot more here."

In terms of cultural and social contrasts, she noted that guns are illegal in Germany, trucks and SUVs are not allowed inside cities, there is no air conditioning for ecological reasons, "and a lot less plastic," Terporten said.

Recycling is another difference. In Germany, she said, they separate their recycling into five different bins, noting there are "a lot of rules on that."

"I was really surprised that people didn't do that," she said of the U.S.

A soccer player back home, Terporten played volleyball, basketball and tennis as a Cardinal during the school year. Sports, she said, are not part of the German high school program.

"I was very positively surprised by the high school spirit," she said, and the idea of playing three high school sports per year.

Terporten said she appreciated the way she was welcomed and integrated into the school and its sporting spirit "that I didn't know about before."

Asked what she will take home with her, the first thing she mentioned was the strong connections she's made with friends and her host family.

"I'm super thankful for all the things (her host parents) made possible for me and how they were there for me, and how they cared for me like I'm their real daughter," Terporten said.

She included her host siblings, ages 11 and 13 as well.

"I'm really glad I have them around," she said. "I'd be real bored if they weren't there."

She also mentioned gaining knowledge and an understanding of another culture, her improved English skills - and learning about herself while being on her own without her family.

"I learned to speak up for myself," she said. "To present myself in a certain way, to talk to other people and present myself as I am."

The exchange program is experiential. She and her fellow German exchange students traveled to Washington D.C. where they spoke with American politicians, including aides for Cathy McMorris Rodgers and others.

Terporten's host family also took her on several trips, including to Disneyland and the American Southwest, a cruise off the Northwest coast, and trip to Portland to take in a Trailblazers game.

"I just love basketball," she said.

The opportunity wasn't without sacrifice, however. Her classes at Medical Lake don't count toward her graduation requirements back in Germany, so with the help of her family, friends and teachers - and a tutor - in Germany, Terporten plans to cram over the summer for a test she must take before her next school year.

"If I fail the test I will have to repeat my sophomore year in Germany," she said.

She's torn between staying in Medical Lake and going back home, mainly due to the many close friends she's made and strong relationship she's developed with her host family.

"I barely notice that I haven't lived here my entire life," she said.

But she wants to go home to her own family and old friends too.

Whatever happens, she expressed no regrets.

"It was definitely worth it," Terporten, now 15 years old, said in nearly perfect English. "I wouldn't trade anything for this experience."

Started in 1983, the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange, was created to maintain and strengthen ties between the two countries, according to the program website.

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