Hannah Gillmann with the Oelke family of Rush City. Photo by Amy Doeun

Hannah Gillmann is from a small town in northwest Germany, Salzgitter, and has been in Rush City only a few weeks in preparation for her school year at Rush City High School. She is part of the foreign exchange program through AYUSA.

“I would not call it a city,” Gillmann said. “But it is bigger than Rush City.”

Mark and Cherilynn Oelke have hosted three students. They hosted another student from Germany, and last year a student from Brazil. Cherilynn said that they originally became interested in being a host family after seeing an advertisement for the program.

“We talked about it. His parents were good at taking people in. We just did it and the kids enjoy it,” Cherilynn said.

The Oelke’s have two children, Abby and Payton. Abby especially enjoys having a “big sister” around. Cherilynn said that the children were always asking when she was going to get here.

“I think Abby talked for three hours the night we picked her [Hannah] up,” Cherilynn said.

Gillmann said her older sister came to the U.S. through an exchange program three years ago. She went to Texas. Gillmann also said she had been interested in it, but didn’t make the final decision to join the program until last summer.

She said the process is a lot of papers to write and applications to fill out. Then it is waiting to be picked by a host family.

Since coming to Rush City, Gillmann has been to Two Harbors, Gooseberry Falls, and a Twins baseball game. She will travel to Iowa for Thanksgiving.

She said she really likes the school system in Rush City.

“I got to meet so many people on just the first day,” Gillmann said. “In Germany, you are with the same group of students all the time.”

Her first week in the U.S. was in New York City.

“It was very impressive,” she said. “I kept thinking it is just like the movies with the Statue of Liberty.”

For Gillmann and the Oelkes, it is the everyday interactions that make the experience most interesting. Cherilynn shared that Hannah had commented how pretty the flowers in the back are.

“I told her that is goldenrod and it’s a weed. She replied, ‘Weed, like drugs?’”

Then Cherilynn had more explaining to do.

Hannah also said she wasn’t familiar with gardens and growing your own vegetables.

“They grow it in the garden. This is new to me,” Gillmann said.

For the Oelkes, German chocolate is a perk of having Hannah staying with them.

If you are interested in hosting a foreign exchange student, AYUSA is taking applications for the fall. Contact Eric Langworthy, a local representative of AYUSA, at to view some student profiles.

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