KRONENWETTER – Emil and Diane Wasniewski might as well have been hosting a family reunion Tuesday night but the international meal on the table in their garage hinted at their guests’ many nationalities.
When everyone had set out their dishes, Diane Wasniewski climbed up on a blue and red stool to say a few words before the meal commenced.
“This is an international dinner,” she said of the meal she has been hosting for about 20 years. “All the young people have made something from their countries to try.”
Soon, the exchange students and their host families lined up into the driveway, eager to taste flavors from across the world. Among the dishes were duck pate with bread from France, onigiri from Japan and chilaquiles from Mexico.
The students came to the U.S. for a few weeks this summer from such places as Mongolia, Slovenia, Tahiti and Mexico through the Lions International Youth Exchange Program. Diane Wasniewski is the youth exchange chairperson for the Lions Club’s five-county district and the state organization, she said.
Like most of the students, this summer marked the first time Delgermaa Dagvadorj, 17, of Mongolia had traveled to the U.S. She said before she arrived after 20 hours of travel, she imagined that the country was full of tall buildings.
“It was different from my imagination but I love it,” she said of the greenery in the Wausau area.
Her month in Wisconsin, she said, opened her eyes to new cultures and people and made her want to visit the many countries where her new-found friends live. She is planning to take advantage of a program at the Mongolian university she is attending in the fall that lets students spend two years in Mongolia and two years in England. From England, she said, she plans to travel to other European countries for visits.
“We will meet again,” she said on her last night in the U.S.
Darryl Ackermann, 17, of Switzerland said he was surprised when his host family in Merrill told him to just help himself to anything in the refrigerator — something he said would be less likely to happen at home.
Before he came, he could picture cowboys in Texas and the sunny states of California and Florida but he had no idea what to expect in Wisconsin. He said he was surprised to find that the U.S. really is the melting pot it’s reputed to be.
And, he said, the week at camp with the other students taught him a lot, too. It is at Camp Vista in Dundee, with its many activities — and minimal technology — where students said they bonded the most.
“Friendships developed in such a short time,” he said.
The exchange benefits the students, but it also helps Wisconsinites learn about the rest of the world.
Dwight Ruffi of Wausau and his family have hosted 17 exchange students from such countries as Brazil, India, Russia, Germany and Iraq. He said his kids are learning about the many different perspectives and cultures from around the world.
“It was like bringing National Geographic into our living room,” he said of the first students the family hosted.
More than anything, though, the experience has shown them that there are more similarities than differences between people, despite different lifestyles and values. The family makes a point of keeping in contact with most of their students online and checking in on them from time to time.
More than 100 foreign exchange students from countries like Japan, Poland, Belgium and Mexico have called the Wasniewskis’ Kronenwetter house home — at least temporarily — during the past three decades. And as many of the students at Tuesday’s gathering leave in the coming weeks, the couple will welcome another student from Japan on Monday.
Alison Dirr can be reached at 715-845-0658. Find her on Twitter as @AlisonDirr