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German-born pupil spends Christmas in Stockbridge

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Sixteen-year-old Hendrik Frenken said he is excited to be away from home -- Baesweiler, Germany -- because spending Christmas in Stockbridge promises to be different.

Frenken, a German-born foreign exchange student, will spend Christmas with the Henry County family of Shawn and Tracy McDorr.

"I'm actually pretty happy to do it," said Frenken. "I like it more than in Germany, because of all the lights everywhere on Christmas."

He and the McDorr family are taking part in the Center for Cultural Interchange's (CCI) Foreign Exchange Student Program. It is designed to connect students with families in different countries, and from different cultures around the world.

"The holidays are an especially great time during a foreign exchange student's stay, where they can reflect on some truly American traditions, and what it means to them to celebrate this very special and meaningful time of year -- especially given the fact that there is still so much strife going on in the world," said CCI Spokeswoman Staci Dolgin-Rubinstein.

Frenken is a one-semester exchange student, who spent the fall of his high school junior year at Dutchtown High School in Hampton. He arrived in August and plans to leave in January. He said he already has plans to return for a visit next fall.

The teenager said many misconceptions he had about America were quashed during his stay. Other beliefs were proven to be true. He learned that many Americans eat fast food, as he envisioned, and the country is just as patriotic as he thought.

"Teachers have American flags everywhere in the class," Frenken said. "In Germany, teachers don't even have their own class [room] to customize. I wish more Germans will do the same thing."

Frenken said that, initially, he was afraid he would have to deal with known German stereotypes related to the Nazis, and World War II. He learned, however, that the relations between the two countries are better than he first thought.

He said he has been able to make several friendships since coming to the area. He has also developed some American habits. He said he watches movies on a weekly basis, and is hoping for a new skateboard this Christmas. He only started learning to skateboard once he arrived here.

Frenken said skateboarding is a different activity than he is used to in Germany. At home, he took classical piano lessons and, occasionally, went mountain biking in his free time. Likewise, he said he has met a much greater diversity of people than he knew in Germany.

"Here, they wear more colorful clothes," he said. "It's more diversity. And what I've learned, here, is the American people are friendlier."

Frenken and Caleb McDorr, his 17-year-old foster brother in the CCI program, spend much of their time weight-training and playing with the family dogs. Play Station 3, according to Caleb McDorr, is also a popular past-time for the two.

"It's been a good experience," said McDorr. "It's been cool to learn from his culture, [but] I would say we're mostly alike. We like mostly the same things, so I guess he's a normal teenager like me."

Parents Shawn and Tracy McDorr said they are excited to have Frenken for the holidays. "He's our eighth foreign exchange student over the years, including six summer exchange students," said Tracy McDorr.

Shawn McDorr said foreign exchange students often have a few misconceptions about the United States, as a result of popular images shown around the world, which fascinate other cultures.

"Because Hollywood has such images of the United States, and the whole world is so fascinated, sometimes, the perception of what America is, and the reality of what America is, are not one in the same," added Tracy. "I'd say that it's an adventure. You learn that people are pretty much the same everywhere; culture just gives different life perspectives. It helps you see the world through another culture's eyes, and it helps you look at your own culture through another culture's eyes."