WEAVER — Nearly three months into the year they’ll spend in America, Patrik Bolander and Johannes Leber are mostly accustomed to life with adopted families in this small Alabama city.
The two attend Weaver High School, where native teens are “very friendly, and happy for no reason,” Bolander said. They’ve hiked Mount Cheaha, gone swimming at Weiss Lake, seen a Braves baseball game in Atlanta.
There are a few things, though, Bolander has trouble accepting.
First of all, it’s still “football,” not soccer, a fact that ought to be self-evident — “you use your feet,” he said recently.
Adding mayonnaise to a cold meat or pasta a salad does not make, Bolander is sure.
“Salad must have vegetables,” the 16-year-old said — another of those obvious truths.
Bolander, from Sweden, and Leber, of Germany, are two of three international students living with Weaver families this year as part of an exchange program overseen by a nonprofit based in Boston. This week was a fall break for Calhoun County School System students, and the third international student, from Thailand, was on vacation with his host family.
So far, Leber says, the stay has been “very American.” There’s not much that has surprised either teenager, both said.
Classes in the county school have been far easier than either expected, they say. Both will have to repeat a year of school back home.
In Sweden, Bolander was enrolled in classes that might best be compared to college courses here, studying a kind of political science.
Aside from a technical class both are taking in automotive repair, his favorite time of the school day is dismissal, Bolander said.
“They’ve learned all of this,” said Courtney Hicks, one of Leber’s host parents.
The education both of the students and their hosts is less academic than it is cultural, the temporary families agreed. Hicks learned more about German food, she said, when Leber made wiener schnitzel, flattened and fried pork cutlets served with a cranberry jam and potatoes.
Leber’s learned some, himself — like the fact that most restaurants in America, especially fast food joints, offer free refills to dine-in customers.
“That was crazy,” the 15-year-old said. (He and Bolander both have fallen in love with Jack’s biscuits for breakfast. It was love at first bite, they said.)
They’ll stay through June of next year, finishing a junior year of high school in Weaver. The teens will both celebrate birthdays with their host families in the next few weeks. They’ll spend Christmas with them, too.
Bolander’s family will visit in January. He’s talked with his parents, sent his brother some American candy purchased from the consumer cathedral that is Sam’s Club.
On shopping: Both teens love spending time in area malls and in Walmart, where the variety of deodorant alone was enough to stun.
“They both love Walmart, and I spend eight hours of my day there,” joked Shane Adrian, one of Bolander’s hosts and a manager at one of the local chain stores.
Leber, meanwhile, has spoken with his family twice, he said. That’s by choice; his parents are busy, he knows — his father, a biotechnologist with the European Patent Office, and his mother the head of an architectural firm.
“The more I speak, the more I’d miss them,” Leber said. “Now that I’m in a new family ... it shouldn’t be two families at a time. I think that’s difficult.”