By EVAN REID
NIAGARA, Wis. - This winter has been extreme in many ways, with plenty of snow and day after day of frigid temperatures. The weather in Niagara, Wis. has been much harsher than what 16-year-old Lisa Kannengiesser is used to.
Lisa Kannengiesser, center, with host sisters Madison, left, and Taylor Ekstrand. Lisa has been staying with the family of Florence and Keith Ekstrand of Aurora, Wis. while an exchange student at Niagara High School.
"Sometimes we have snow for about two weeks," she said of the winter in her hometown Cologne, Germany. "It's much colder here."
Cologne is the fourth-largest city in Germany after Berlin, Hamburg and Munich. The population of Cologne was over 1,024,000 as of December 2012, making it the largest city in both the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region, which has more than 11 million inhabitants.
Lisa is currently a sophomore at Niagara High School as part of the International Experience exchange student program.
Life in Cologne is different than life in northern Wisconsin. Lisa said that living in a small community, where "everybody knows everybody," is a new experience for her.
People in the area have been considerably warmer than the weather. Lisa said she found the level of openness and understanding displayed by people in the area surprising at first.
Since arriving in the United States last August, Lisa has been staying with Florence and Keith Ekstrand of Aurora, Wis. Lisa's host family also includes 14-year-old Taylor and 10-year-old Madison.
The Ekstrands are self-employed, operating Midwest Railway Services from their home.
This is the fourth time the Ekstrands have hosted an exchange student.
Last fall, Lisa and her host family made a trip to Minneapolis to visit relatives of the Ekstrands. While in Minnesota, the group also stopped at the Mall of America in Bloomington and the Minnesota State Fair in Falcon Heights.
In April, Lisa will travel to Chicago to attend a dance competition in which her host sisters are participating. Florence Ekstrand said the family is also looking forward to camping during warmer weather and maybe a trip to Florida as well.
Lisa is one of six German students attending Niagara High School this year, out of nine total exchange students.
She has adjusted well to American high school, which she finds to be generally easier than school in Germany, and enjoyed being able to choose her own classes - some of which are even fun.
"We don't have a chorus class in Germany," she said. "We don't have so many subjects for fun."
She added that her teachers at Niagara High School are more helpful than those she had back home because they give more personal attention to students.
This year, Lisa has been active in volleyball, basketball, and forensics. In Germany, her pastimes included horseback riding and playing handball.
As for plans after high school, Lisa hasn't made any final decisions but would like to travel to Africa and possibly explore humanitarian work.
"I know that I want to work with people," she said.
What Lisa misses most about Germany is her family. Her parents are Conny, a teacher, and Uwe Kannengiesser, who owns a cleaning company. She also has a 14-year-old brother named Paul.
Lisa's favorite part of being an exchange student is the chance to gain experience in English and practice using a new language.
"English was always my favorite subject," she said.
Evan Reid's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.