LT bids auf wiedersehen to exchange student


Wimmer stands center holding a rubber duck amongst fellow varsity teammates

Grace Dekoker , Freelance writer

Nina Wimmer ‘18 held her suitcase in a white-knuckled grip as she walked up the unfamiliar driveway of her new house. A long day of travel left her exhausted, and she wanted nothing more than to collapse in her bed; yet the largest trial was yet to come. She still had to meet the people she’d call family for the next six months. When she opened the door, their cheers nearly blew her back, and it took her a moment to register the sight that greeted her.

“They all held signs, finished and unfinished, saying ‘welcome to our family’,” Wimmer said. “It was like I was home.”

Home had meant a small village in Cologne, Germany for 15 years of Wimmer’s life. On Aug. 20, 2016, that had changed; Wimmer arrived in America two days before the start of high school, where she would attend Lyons Township for at least one full semester.

Wimmer’s father, who travelled to the Midwest frequently for work, knew a family who would be open to hosting to an exchange student. The Hoekstra family of LaGrange has four children, ranging from a Cossitt-attending 11-year-old to a baby 1-year-old.

Still, when Wimmer heard about the opportunity, she wasn’t immediately on board.

“No, no way am I doing that,” she said.

However, a friend who had just returned from her own exchange was able to twist Wimmer’s arm, she said.

The Education First Program (EFP) sparked Wimmer’s interest as they sent hundreds of students per year to predominantly English-speaking nations. She was ecstatic to hear her application was accepted, and had no doubts from that point on.

“It would be so new, but I knew I would regret it if I didn’t go,” Wimmer said.

Her exchange ended Jan. 30, 2017, but while she was here, she was a varsity member of the LT girl’s swim team.

“I was eager for the opportunity,” swim head coach Kurt Johns said. “We’d been in contact since July, she had sent me her times, and [her participation] was a good chance to learn, for both us and her.”

In the early days of the season, Wimmer met Leah Molenda ‘19, a fellow swimmer, and they immediately became close friends.

“Everyone on the team loved her, and had she not swam, it would’ve been a much harder transition,” Molenda said. “It was just really good to have her.”

Molenda, one of the few LT students taking German as a foreign language, initially was unaware Wimmer was an exchange student. Once the distinction was made, Molenda said the connection definitely strengthened their friendship.

“Once I knew what she came from,” Molenda said. “It just made it easier to help her fit in here.”

Molenda and her twin sister Jane will begin their own foray into foreign culture on June 7 this summer, as they are travelling to stay with Wimmer in Germany for two weeks.

“I love learning about other cultures,” Molenda said. “I’m so excited, I feel like it’s just going to be one of those life changing experiences.”

When Wimmer left, she took with her not only an arsenal of Cubs gear and Chicago-themed gifts, but a host of memories and friendships she’ll always cherish, she said.

“I had to enjoy every moment, because it was limited,” Wimmer said. “I can’t even find the words to say what this meant to me- it was incredible. I’ll always have this.”