Dutch foreign exchange student Bram van Lent has been experiencing cultural differences and similarities alike throughout his first two and a half months at Fillmore Central High School.   ANTON ADAMEK/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS
Dutch foreign exchange student Bram van Lent has been experiencing cultural differences and similarities alike throughout his first two and a half months at Fillmore Central High School. ANTON ADAMEK/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS

Bram Van Lent had already seen most of Europe when he traveled to Indonesia two years ago. However, his desire to see more of the world and experience new cultures eventually led him to become a foreign exchange student to America through the Education First exchange organization. Hosted by Dave and Cynthia Hokenson of Preston, their 23rd foreign exchange student in 30 years, Bram, 16, has been taking in the new cultural experiences with deep interest.

Bram is Dutch and lives in the cities of Gaanderen and Terborg in the Netherlands. The cities are roughly 15 miles from the eastern border with Germany. The country of the Netherlands is three and a half times smaller than Minnesota, yet 18 million people live there.

Bram said the country is mostly full of small cities like his own that are only a few miles apart. He noted how the distance between towns in Fillmore County is much bigger than in his home country because there are more fields here.

There are still farms in the Netherlands and some fit the stereotype the world has of the Dutch people. In the western provinces of the Netherlands, the famous Dutch windmills still stand. They serve as monuments and tourist destinations today whereas in years past they had a crucial role in water control.

In the fields surrounding them, Bram said one will still find herds of cows. The herds consist of the same species, except with one cow of another species thrown in for good luck.

"I don't know what happens if you don't have the different cow," Bram said, poking fun at some of the superstitions his countrymen have.

While in America, Bram has been able to note how certain aspects of life differ from what he is accustomed to.

Bram is in the senior class at Fillmore Central, but when he returns home he will just be entering his senior year. Classes are scheduled differently from the every-class, every-single-day format in the States. Bram has classes scheduled throughout the week and may not finish school at the same time every day.

The school sizes are also much larger where he lives, with enrollment sizes of 1,500 for his high school. There were also more language offerings at his school, which Bram took advantage of, learning English, French, German, Latin and a little Spanish.

Also, there are no extra-curricular activities; Bram instead joined clubs. He is particularly involved in soccer, which he has had to give up since coming overseas.

Bram noticed almost immediately that the people in Minnesota and Preston were very nice. "Dutch people aren't as easy to connect with. It was nice in the beginning that people start talking to you. American people are really friendly even if they don't know you," he shared.

According to Bram, parts of the Dutch culture are heavily influenced by the United States. Most of the music and movies Bram listens to and watches are produced in America.

However, there are differences in food. A mashed vegetable with potato dish called stamp pot is a very popular winter food in the Netherlands. Bram said the people also like to put chocolate sprinkles on a slice of bread for breakfast and lunch. They have the Western foods as well, but quite a bit of Turkish and Indonesian cuisine has also become popular with the Dutch.

Bram isn't big on politics, but explained the Netherlands has a constitutional monarchy. This means that a king and queen have ceremonial roles over the country, but the lawmaking power resides with the prime minister, parliament and court system. He noted there are many different political parties in his country with none of them controlling a majority of the government. "They find ways to work together," he said.

Traveling abroad had been something Bram talked about with his parents early on, even when he was 10 years old. Two years ago, he had talked with a girl who had been on an exchange to America through the Education First organization. She had told him about the host family part of the experience and Bram thought it sounded cool.

His dad told him, "If you want to do it and have the ability, do it."

With financial assistance from his parents, Bram went about the application and interview process and was notified he would be going to Minnesota halfway through his junior year. While very eager to go to America, Bram knew he needed to focus on school while still in the Netherlands.

The Hokensons got to know Bram over the months and even visited him and his family while on a trip to Europe during the summer. Bram recalled the first visit being a bit awkward since he was nervous. By now, however, he is used to the Hokensons being his second set of parents.

He speaks with his family in the Netherlands over Skype once every couple of weeks. "I'd like to think that they are missing me more than I miss them," he said smiling, "I think they are handling it well."

Being away from home has given Bram the opportunity to become more independent. "Sometimes, on your own, you have to figure it out for yourself. That's a big step when you are 16," he explained adding, "I think that's really good for you."

While Bram is here, he is looking forward to visiting Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City on the senior class trip. He noted those cities are what most people think of when they think of America. He will also be traveling with the Hokensons to Hawaii sometime this winter. He is also looking forward to the high school graduation ceremony, which he said isn't made to be a big deal in Europe.

A sports enthusiast, Bram will be participating in basketball and track and field. Though he won't be playing soccer, Bram will gladly talk with anyone about the Netherlands national team, which advanced to the World Cup final in 2010. He will also be following his country during the Winter Olympics in Sochi this winter.

Upon his return to the Netherlands, Bram is interested in starting his own business and going to college. Until then, he is soaking America in.

"I've met a lot of people already. I like to learn about new things," he said.