BELLEVILLE, IL—Students and faculty at Summit Prairie High School expressed frustration and disappointment Monday, after realizing that they got the short end of the stick in a recent trade with the Max Planck Gymnasium in Freiburg, Germany. In a deal overseen by AFS Intercultural Programs, Summit Prairie traded sophomore Molly Knutson, 16, for 17-year-old Uwe Bohm.
Knutson (left) delights her new German friends while Bohm shuffles down a SPHS hallway.
"The point of a student exchange is to give people on both sides an opportunity to gain an understanding of a different culture and make international friends," Summit Prairie principal Fred Seward said. "Judging from the way he sits alone at lunch every day, I regret to say that Uwe has not inspired the students to do either."
Seward characterized Knutson, the student SPHS sent to Germany, as one of the school's "smartest and most outgoing students."
"Molly is a top-notch kid—enthusiastic, studious, real prom-court material," Seward said. "Any school would be lucky to have her. Meanwhile, Uwe is more or less a dud. He couldn't even be elected student-council treasurer—not if his life depended on it. He never raises his hand in class, he turns in grease-stained worksheets, and he spends most periods taking his watch apart and putting it back together."
"Well, no use complaining, I guess," Seward added. "We're stuck with him. I checked."
Although his English skills have improved significantly since his arrival in September, Bohm remains withdrawn. Bohm's teachers report that he routinely declines the invitation to share amusing anecdotes about his home country, and moreover, barely talks at all.
"Didn't the Max Planck people read the AFS literature?" Seward said. "You're supposed to trade your best and brightest students. I mean, Uwe is a nice enough kid, but he looks nothing like the strapping blond, blue-eyed German boy in the brochure. I don't think he plays guitar, either."
Sophomore Tracy List, who has classes with Bohm, criticized him for his "depressing" appearance.
"I swear, [Uwe] never smiles," List said. "He's gross. He's skinny and pimply, and his skin's yellow in places. He's wears the same maroon, button-up shirt every day and it totally smells like B.O. I don't know how his host family deals. I would puke."
According to freshman entomology enthusiast Ty Crandall, Bohm knows very little about his homeland.
"I was stuck being Uwe's lab partner once, so I said, 'You must know a lot about bark beetles,'" Crandall said. "He said, 'Nein, I do not know about bark beetles.' I was like, 'What? Bark beetles are a huge problem in the Bavarian Forest!' God, where did they get this guy?"
According to Bohm's host father Dick Marshall, Bohm is no more popular when the school day's over.
"Last fall, Uwe spent hours searching German-language websites for World Cup soccer news while the family watched NFL games on the big-screen TV in the living room," said Marshall, who will be hosting Bohm for three more months. "We were very eager to take Uwe in, but his total lack of interest in American culture is unfathomable. We tried to teach him about the Chicago Bears, but he couldn't care less. [Marshall's sons] Brian and Patrick have nothing to talk about with him."
Seward said he is looking forward to returning Bohm in July.
"In the future, I'll insist that AFS scrutinize prospective foreign-exchange candidates more closely," Seward said. "If they won't do that, I won't do business with them. It's that simple."
Seward added: "Summit Prairie may be a public school, but that doesn't mean we should take just anyone."Knutson's reception in Germany could not be more different from Bohm's. Although her command of German is shaky, her life is a whirlwind of parties, shopping, and recreational retreats