When 17-year-old exchange student\u00a0 Marnouk Van der Laan arrived in Indiana last Sunday, she immediately noticed one thing. \u201cI saw a lot of cornfields,\u201d she said. \u201cA lot of cornfields.\u201d But even with all of the agriculture surrounding it, Van der Laan said Seymour is much larger than her hometown of Numansdorp, a small village in the Netherlands. \u201cI would say Seymour is twice as big,\u201d she said comparing the two communities. Van der Laan is a foreign exchange student living with Seymour Community School Corp. teachers Scott and Jennifer Miller and their family for the next 10 months. She is a junior at Seymour High School and began the new school year with all other Seymour students on Wednesday. \u201cIt went good,\u201d she said of her first day of classes. She may have to switch out of her Level I French class, however, because it\u2019s too easy, she said. Besides her native language of Dutch, Van der Laan speaks three other languages \u2014 German, French and English. This year at Seymour, she is taking her first Spanish class and will be a member of the girls cross-country team. \u201cI like languages, so I wanted to try a new one,\u201d she said of why she signed up to take a Level I Spanish class. It was last summer when she began to seriously look at what opportunities were available to study abroad, she said. \u201cFirst, I had to convince my parents,\u201d she said. \u201cThey were hesitant at first, but eventually, they thought it was a great opportunity, so I was allowed to go.\u201d Her love of language is one of the reasons she wanted to come to the United States. She said she is most excited about attending an American school and seeing what life here is like. \u201cI wanted to improve my English and have this new life experience,\u201d she said. Although she is fluent in English, Van der Laan said she is nervous about speaking it all of the time. \u201cSometimes, I just go back into Dutch, and no one can understand me,\u201d she said. There are some things that are similar about her high school, Willem Van Oranje, which is in Holland, compared to Seymour High School, but many things that are different, she said. \u201cWe have classes that are 45 minutes. One day, you are done at noon, and sometimes at 4 p.m.,\u201d she said. \u201cHere, you have four classes on white or purple days, and we don\u2019t have that.\u201d One big difference between going to school in Seymour versus back home is that she doesn\u2019t have to ride her bike to get there. In the Netherlands, bicycle transportation is very popular. \u201cWhen the weather is nice, I would ride a bike 45 minutes to get to school,\u201d she said. \u201cWe don\u2019t get a lot of students riding their bikes nine miles to get to school around here,\u201d Jennifer Miller said. Although she is considered a junior at Seymour, Van der Laan already has graduated from high school back home and will begin attending university when she returns home. Her placement with the Millers is perfect because she is planning to pursue a career in education. \u201cI want to be a teacher in a primary school,\u201d Van der Laan said. \u201cThat was one of the things that was good about her with our family,\u201d Jennifer Miller said. \u201cOne of the things that stood out was that she wants to be an elementary teacher.\u201d Jennifer is a geography teacher at the Seymour Sixth Grade Center, while Scott teaches social studies at Seymour High School. The Millers also have a daughter, Katy, who is a senior at the high school, and two sons, Logan, who graduated from Purdue University this year, and the other, Michael, who is in law school. Van der Laan is here through the International Student Exchange, one of several different foreign exchange programs that places exchange students with volunteer host families. Candidates in the International Student Exchange program must meet English language proficiency requirements before being placed and also must have their own medical insurance before leaving. Exchange students have the option of how long they stay, either for a five-month semester or the full 10-month school year. Jennifer Miller is the Hoosier Hills regional manager for the International Student Exchange and has been involved with the program since 2011. She helps find and coordinate families in the area to serve as hosts. There are still exchange students looking for host families this year, she said. \u201cThe biggest thing is that families should look forward to having someone who can see what a typical American family is like and that busy host families are often the best host families,\u201d she said. \u201cI don\u2019t think there are too many families that get much busier than ours.\u201d Counting Van der Laan, the Millers have served as a host family four out of the last five years. Their first student was from Germany. \u201cWe transitioned her from another family to our family, and we\u2019ve just hosted ever since,\u201d Jennifer said. \u201cWe\u2019ve made it work really well three times already and chose to do it a fourth time because it\u2019s so important to realize that there is life outside of Jackson County.\u201d When a family doesn\u2019t have the capabilities to visit another country, being a host family is a way to bring that country and culture to them, she said. \u201cThere are a lot of kids that don\u2019t get to leave Indiana or they don\u2019t travel outside of the U.S., so it really opens up their minds that there are typical kids just like them in many other countries,\u201d she said. \u201cTo be able to share our culture and learn about what life is like and for them to see what our life is like I think is really important.\u201d Scott Miller said he is amazed with the difference in language skills foreign exchange students exhibit when they arrive in Seymour compared to when they leave. \u201cThe difference in them from start to finish is phenomenal,\u201d he said. He was skeptical of being a host family at first, he said. \u201cWhat I found out quickly and what surprised me the most was instead of adding to your daily activities or your weekly expectations, you\u2019re actually adding a family member, which is really neat because you get real attached to them,\u201d he said. \u201cThey\u2019re just part of your family, and that\u2019s awesome.\u201d But it also makes it very difficult at the end of five or 10 months when they leave. \u201cThat\u2019s the hardest part,\u201d Jennifer said. With social media, however, it\u2019s really easy to stay in contact with students after they go back to their home countries, she said. \u201cYou don\u2019t lose that connection because you can talk very easily,\u201d she said. All three of the students the Millers have hosted have come back to visit since returning home, some more than once. And the Millers have traveled to Europe to visit with them and their families. \u201cThe benefits of having exchange students far outweigh any hectic changes of having an additional kid in the house,\u201d Jennifer said. Van der Laan is not a stranger to the United States. She vacationed with her family on the West Coast, visiting San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and before arriving in Indiana, she spent some time in New York City. \u201cIt wasn\u2019t a huge culture shock,\u201d she said. \u201cHaving been here (the U.S.) once before, she was already familiar with restaurants, shopping and having to deal with our money system,\u201d Jennifer said. \u201cBut there is no question that the exchange students who come here have to be incredibly brave and independent and trusting that these complete strangers that they are going to be living with are going to provide a good home environment for them to live in.\u201d To get ready for her move, Van der Laan said she spent a lot of time with her family and friends before coming, including a vacation to Italy with her parents. \u201cGoodbye was hard, but I\u2019m back in 10 months,\u201d she said. Via\u00a0The Tribune\u00a0|\u00a0Author:\u00a0January Rutherford We invite you to read more about hosting a foreign exchange student. If you have specific questions about hosting, check out our host family FAQ page. You can also read testimonials from our past and current host families. When you feel ready, complete our host family interest form and our area representative will get in touch with you. You can also get involved by joining our team of Area Representatives! Help match host families and exchange students and bring the world closer together, while making a supplemental income.