Attending high school in America is an experience that most students take for granted, but for one Louisa County High School student, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Lea Knuepper, a 15-year-old exchange student from Germany, is attending LCHS as a sophomore for the 2018-19 school year through Youth For Understanding (YFU), one of the world’s oldest and largest intercultural exchange programs.
“I’ve always wanted to be an exchange student, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it,” she said.
Knuepper has been living with Amy and Brent Meadows and their daughters, Delaney and Sydney, since early August. Amy is a teacher at the high school.
“The girls get to see a positive role model, someone who is adventurous in coming to another country, who is kind, who is interested in our culture, who is open to all kinds of experiences,” Amy said. “It’s great. We love it.”
This is the Meadows‘ second time hosting an exchange student. In January, a French exchange student named Julie was looking to change host families and the Meadows volunteered to take her in.
“We were more interested in helping Julie than in YFU or hosting,” she said. “We just wanted to give her a good experience.”
The Meadows met with a representative from YFU in June and decided that they would like to continue being a host family.
“It wasn’t something we planned,” Amy said. “We never sat down and said, ‘We want to host exchange students.’ It just kind of happened. But we love it.”
Knuepper hails from the city of Duisburg, in western Germany. Coming from a large city with a population of approximately 490,000 people to a rural area like Louisa County was a big change for Knuepper, but she said she’s enjoying the experience.
“It’s very cool, and very different,” she said. “The people are different here. They’re more open and kind.”
Knuepper secured a scholarship through the US Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange program, which offers scholarships to students in both America and Germany, and is funded by both countrys’ governments, to allow young people to participate in exchange programs like YFU.
“I have three sisters, and it’s very expensive to do an exchange,” Knuepper said. “It wouldn’t be fair to pay that for me and not for others.”
Her first day of school in Louisa was particularly memorable for Knuepper, in part because it was her first time riding a school bus.
“I was very excited to see it,” she said. “I’ve always seen the yellow buses in movies, and I got to ride in it. It was very cool.”
Knuepper said that students at LCHS are just as eager to learn about where she is from as she is to learn about America.
“As soon as they know I’m from Germany, they ask about everything,” she said. “The best question is if we have deer in Germany. We do.”
Knuepper has joined the school’s Photography Club and International Club, and is enjoying both of them. One of the biggest differences between her school in Germany and LCHS, she said, is the fact that trying to join a sport in Louisa is a more competitive process. While she is not currently playing any sports, Knuepper said she is considering trying out for the girls’ soccer team in the spring.
When she is not attending school, Knuepper is experiencing American culture with her host family. She attends church with them every Sunday, and has taken other trips with them, including going to Courtland High School to watch the first Louisa Lions’ football game of the season. She is also enjoying life on Lake Anna, having gone out on the lake several times.
Knuepper will be in Louisa for the school year and for part of next summer. She has a list of places she’d like to visit while she’s here. Locally, she’d like to see more of Richmond and visit Charlottesville and Virginia Beach.
“If I could visit Washington D.C. or New York, that would be cool,” she said.