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'I could really see the benefit of coming to the United States to study'

Lexi VanSickle and Michaela Ramke, classmates at Goodrich High School, laugh over lunch. Photo by Patrick McAbee. (click for larger version)
March 26, 2014 - At 17-years-old—Michaela Ramke has traveled a lot further than many of her classmates to be part of Goodrich High School.

Since August when Michaela first arrived in the United States to live with her Atlas Township host parents, Terri and Mark Schall, the Oldenburg, Germany native has not only acclimated to the academic rigors of an American high school, but also adjusting to a much different home environment.

Since the age of 8, Michaela has resided at EV. Stiftung Arnsburg in the city of Lich, Germany.

"It's a big foster home," said Michaela. "Mom did not want to take care of me anymore. So I ended up at EV. Stiftung Arnsburg. I don't recall a lot of my life when I was younger, but it was pretty rough. I now live with 56 other youth. There are many special needs kids that live in there. Many come from the rough areas and very danergous environments. If they take a child out of a home that's where they put them. But I have it very good there—it's home, with many friends and my own room. A good social life, too, for that matter. I saw how my mother struggled with life and I don't want to turn out that way. It would be easy to forget working so hard and take the easy way, but I thought different. I had better work and make something of myself. "

Michaela's diligence toward academics, mixed with a moving forward attitude, landed her in the United States.

The new journey began a few years ago when a teacher at the middle school where Michaela was attending offered an application for a scholarship through the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange.

"He (the teacher) did not think anyone would ever get the chance for a scholarship. But I was thrilled to get a chance to attend school some place else," she said. "I could really see the benefit of coming to the United States to study. There was a long application process and an essay to my exchange family, too."

Michaela had attended Liebigschule-Giessen High School for one year before coming to the United States. While she'll participate in commencement with the Goodrich High School Class of 2014, she'll still have two years of school before graduating.

"About two-thirds of high school students in Germany meet the requirements at about tenth grade, drop-out and then go to work," she said.

"The United States is really not what I had expected or what my friends thought it would be like. I really thought the only place Americans ate was McDonald's and everyone was obese here, but it's not true," she laughed. "I was right about drinking a lot of pop here. Still, you really can decide what you want to eat or drink, except the cost of my favorite German chocolate, 'Milka' is really high priced here. You have to make good choices regarding what to eat—just like at home. There's also a lot of similarities in the social life of teens—we all have more in common than you think."

"The first day of classes at Goodrich everyone was just so nice to me," she smiled. "I thought my new classmates would think I'm weird—you know some strange kid from Germany, but everyone helped me find my classes and my way around. I really felt welcomed—like one of them. It made it very easy to be here—the teachers, too, were very supportive of me."

Michaela started learning English in third grade. She also speaks French and some Spanish in addition to her native German.

"The back yards are very big here," she laughed. "The winters are awful, however—I sent photos back home with all the snow and they could not believe how deep the snow was."

Michaela was homesick just once.

"It was sad to be away at Christmas," she said. "But I got over it. The area here is really beautiful, I just love all the old farms and buildings."

"I'd like to return and attend the University of Michigan-Flint," she said. "I'll take the ACT and apply if I can. Maybe, too, college in Great Britain or Frankfort, wherever I can make it. I really love science and math—maybe the medical field when I finally graduate from college."

Terri Schall is an area representative for ASSE (American Scandinavian Student Exchange).

"Students like Michaela won't be able to capitalize on scholarship they won if we don't have families that are willing to host them," said Schall.

For more information, call 810-869-6347.

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