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On exchange in Central Kitsap — Belgium student adapts to life in Western Washington

Louise Göbbels is a on student exchange program through the Silverdale Rotary through the end of the school year. She is from Belgium and is attending Central Kitsap High School.  - Kristin Okinaka/staff photo
Louise Göbbels is a on student exchange program through the Silverdale Rotary through the end of the school year. She is from Belgium and is attending Central Kitsap High School.
— image credit: Kristin Okinaka/staff photo

Louise Göbbels has adapted to many things as a Belgium exchange student attending Central Kitsap High School — even her lunch routine is different.

“We drink a beer and go back to school. Here, no,” said 17-year-old Göbbels, who was hesitant to say what she and her friends did back home. But, the drinking age in her home country is age 16, she added.

Göbbels arrived in Central Kitsap at the end of August from Theux, Belgium through the Silverdale Rotary’s student exchange program. Theux is a city about a one hour train ride away from the country’s capitol, Brussels, she said. Göbbels will spend the school year at Central Kitsap as a senior, though she has already graduated from secondary school in Belgium, and is staying with Ronald and Peggy Templeton, a Rotary couple. Before the end of her stay at the beginning of the summer, she will also stay with two other Rotary host families.

The senior said her first visit to the United States was with her family when they went on a one-month vacation to California two years ago. She wanted to be part of a foreign student exchange program because of her family’s influence — both her mother and older brother studied abroad as students.

“[They said] it was the best year of their life. So, I said, ‘Why not?’” Göbbels said about her decision to apply and proceed with the program.

The first days of being away from home were difficult, Göbbels said, adding that not only did she have to overcome feelings of homesickness, but she also had to get used to asking people to speak slower in order to understand everything they said and not kiss others as a form of greeting as people do in Belgium.

“She looked at me weird,” Göbbels said of the moment when her first instinct was to give the school counselor a kiss on the cheek as a greeting but the counselor gave her a hug instead.

Not only is Göbbels learning a new culture, but so is her host family.

“I learn something new every day,” said Peggy Templeton.

The Templetons were both exchange students — Peggy in Japan and Ronald in Germany — when they were in high school, and Peggy Templeton said hosting students is a way for them to “give back.” Göbbels is their fourth exchange student and they enjoy keeping in touch with past students that have stayed with them.

Ronald Templeton added that it’s interesting to get another country’s perspective of the U.S. through their exchange students. And, for them to gain knowledge as well.

“It dispels a lot of myths we have of different cultures and countries,” Ronald Templeton said.

There are 33,000 Rotary clubs in more than 200 countries, said Ronald Templeton.

The Central Kitsap School District has from eight to 10 students in its secondary schools from other countries through exchange programs, said David Beil, district spokesman.

Göbbels could not pinpoint what she thinks “American culture” is, but has already experienced many things she would not be able to in Belgium — like football.

As University of Washington graduates, the Templetons took Göbbels to a Husky football game — including tailgating before the game — and with no football in Belgium, it was a completely new setting.

“It was crazy. They cry all the time,” Göbbels said of the game and loud fans. She added that Ronald Templeton had to explain the game to her because she had never seen American football before.

After her school year in Central Kitsap, Göbbels plans on attending college in Belgium. She doesn’t know what she will study but said “everyone” goes to college back home because it is cheaper than higher education in the U.S.

For now, Göbbels said she looks forward to skiing in the winter and playing tennis in the spring for the school’s team — she was an avid tennis player back home. She’s already had fun hosting a group of girls from school for homecoming and is also thinking about trying out for the school’s basketball team even though she has never played before.

Göbbels just takes the advice that her mother gave her before she left home in the summer.

“Be yourself and you will see what happens,” she said.

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