There are few things more challenging than diving head first into an unfamiliar culture with a new language, environment and even food. Immersing one’s self willingly into something so unknown takes guts.
But, the burgeoning drive to experience something new for a young adult can make things a little easier. So has been the case for three Lake Havasu High School exchange students Moritz Struempfel of Germany, Mayssa Fatnassi of France and Hillary Saldana of Peru.
Sports have played a big part in the new experiences the three exchange students came to Lake Havasu searching for. Struempful is one of the kickers on the football team and this season is the first time he has ever donned the helmet and pads.
“I don’t think I ever had a football in my hands before I came here,” Struempfel said. “But now it’s almost every day. When I came here I wanted to try different sports so I decided to try football.
“I like it a lot. I’ve found many friends here on the team. The games are awesome. It’s also hard because the practices are so early but it’s pretty cool. I also wanted to see the school spirit. We don’t really have school spirit in Germany.”
Like Struempfel, Fatnassi and Saldana came to Havasu with the intention to try new sports. In their case, though, it’s cheerleading.
It’s a new experience for both of them because in France and Peru cheerleading is not ingrained in sports culture as it is in the United States. While it has been a learning curve for the two as cheerleading is a very physically demanding sport, they both said they love it.
“It’s very fun but it’s also very hard,” Saldana said. “I always saw the movies and thought, ‘Oh, it’s easy,’ but no. The coaches help me like help the other cheerleaders so it’s very cool. I love the uniform and also when we dance during the game. I don’t understand anything about the game. But it so fun to cheer ‘woo, let’s go Havasu.’”
All three of the exchange students arrived in Havasu in late July. The heat, above all else, topped the culture shock list.
“It was hard at first with the heat,” Fatnassi said. “It’s very hot but it’s very friendly here. My city (in France) is very small and the school is very different. But I love my host family. They helped me out a lot.”
The host families for each exchange student have a big role in the seamless transition Struempfel, Saldana and Fatnassi described. Each said while there was a slight culture shock, it did not last very long.
The new experiences outside of sports their host families exposed to them did the trick.
Saldana and Fatnassi said they went to Sedona and hiked for the first time ever. Struempfel said going out on the lake his first time, is probably his favorite thing he has done in the short two months he has been here. He also went camping in Williams for three days.
The food is also something they all enjoy. Saldana and Fatnassi said Mexican food is something they both have come to love. For Struempfel its burgers, with his favorite being a double bacon cheeseburger.
Struempfel also said he tried the Wienersnitchel restaurant because in Germany wienersnitchel is a thin, breaded and pan-fried veal cutlet. He did admit to being disappointed when he found out it was just hot dogs. But since he also loves hot dogs, it was not much of a letdown.
Saldana, Fatnassi and Struempfel will finish out the school year as seniors in Havasu and head back to their home countries in the summer.
As for sports to come in the winter and spring seasons, Saldana and Fatnassi do not plan on trying any other sports since cheerleading in the only one that is not practiced in their countries. Even though, sports are not played in school like they are here.
Struempfel, on the other hand, said he definitely wants to play soccer in the winter and thinks he wants to be on the track team in the spring since it is his favorite sport in Germany. He did say he is thinking about trying baseball, though, because he has never played before and after all, he is here for the new experiences.
In two short months, it seems Struempfel, Saldana and Fatnassi have gotten what they asked for when they set out for new adventures in Lake Havasu.
It’s still early in their time here, but if one thing is certain after talking to them all, it’s that they have already experienced things they will remember for the rest of their lives. The best part about it all, is they still have eight months left in their stay to make even more memories.