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Exchange student celebrates birthday in U.S.

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Sofie Daniels is shown with members of her host family. From left are: Blake Schomas, Mona Schomas, Jenna Schomas, and Daniels. (Submitted photo)2 / 5
Sofie Daniels (right) is shown at her first St. Paul Saints baseball game with host sister KC Schomas (left). Photo courtesy of Mona Schomas3 / 5
Sofie Daniels (at right with plush) is shown upon her arrival in the States with a Rotary welcoming committee. From left are: Ruth Petermann, Amy Schneider, Mona and Blake Schomas, Maddi Hanson, Cassie Rosse, Jenna Schomas, Renata Pirius, Sofie Daniels, and Rob Howard. Submitted photo. 4 / 5
Sofie Daniels, Belgian exchange student, is shown with her family in Belgium. From left are: Jasper Daniels, Katrien Scholts, Stijn Daniels, and Sofie Daniels. Submitted photo. 5 / 5

Sofie Daniels just celebrated her 18th birthday. Eighteen is a big milestone in Belgium, where Daniels is from, and her host mom Mona Schomas said Daniels has been very excited about it.

In fact, Daniels' birthday came in the middle of a group of milestone birthdays for the Schomas family.

Daniels, a Rotary exchange student, said she was matched with the North Star Rotary District, which includes Hudson, when she was deciding to take an exchange trip to the U.S.

The Schomas family is her first host family, she said.

"They're really nice," Daniels said.

Schomas said their family and Daniels get along so well, that Daniels has requested to extend her stay with them through Christmas.

Schomas said she's looking forward to having Daniels around for the holidays.

"The more the merrier, it'll feel really nice," Schomas said.

Daniels said she's done a lot of fun things with her host family such as going to the Mall of America.

"I really like it," Daniels said of MOA. "It's really big."

When Daniels got to Hudson, she was expecting to see the big roads and big cars she'd heard about. She wasn't expecting to see so many homes with American flags waving.

"We don't hang flags in my country," she said.

School is also a little different here than in Belgium. Back home, what Americans call high school and middle school is not separated. Belgian students choose an area of focus rather than specific classes. And the same groups of students take each class together.

Here of course, students have a lot more say in their class schedule and don't always have class with the same people.

Her favorite class here so far is AP Psychology.

"It's just really interesting, and we have a good teacher," she said.

Schomas said she was impressed with Daniels' decision to take AP courses, even though none of her American classes "count" when she returns to Belgium.

In fact, Daniels already has her diploma from her school in Belgium. Next year, she'll go on to university, where she said she plans to study sociology.

Schomas said Daniels was reserved at first, but has really made an effort to explore different aspects of American culture as much as possible.

She's attended Friday night football games and joined the cross country team.

Her favorite part of the trip so far, she said, has just been seeing the cultural differences between Belgium and the U.S., and learning more English.

What are some of those cultural differences?

One example, Daniels said, is how people dress.

"In Belgium, generally in Europe, people really want to dress up and look good every day," Daniels said. "And some people over here just want to be comfortable in their clothes, don't really care if it looks good. And people are willing to ... spend much more money when they're buying clothes."

She said in Belgium, families eat at stricter time, and always together. Often in the U.S., Daniels said, people just grab something when they're hungry.

Another big difference is the drinking age. In Belgium the drinking age is 16. Daniels said it's normal for 16-year-olds to go grab a few beers with their friends in Belgium.

It's not legal in the U.S.

Some of the food is different, Daniels said, though some is similar. Her favorite American food is veggie burgers. She plans to make chocolate mousse for her host family.

Though Daniels has been enthusiastic about learning American culture, Schomas said, Daniels has also shared her own culture with her host family.

"So we're learning just as much from her as she's learning from us," Schomas said, "which is a nice exchange. We're benefitting."

Schomas said having Sofie with them has been a very experience for her family, including parents Mona and Blake, and sisters KC and Jenna.

Daniels' family back home, including dad Stijn Daniels, mom Katrien Scholts and brother Jasper Daniels have built a connection with the Schomas family as well.

Mona Schomas said one of her daughters is in England for a study abroad right now, and she'll travel to visit Daniels' family for a few days later this year.

Because she's a Rotary exchange student, Daniels will move on to a new host family after the holidays. However, Schomas said Daniels will always be welcome with the Schomases.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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