Katarina Jug has been able to realize her dreams of playing saxophone and visiting the United States as she is a foreign exchange student at Fillmore Central High School this year.
Katarina Jug has been able to realize her dreams of playing saxophone and visiting the United States as she is a foreign exchange student at Fillmore Central High School this year.
"I would have always wondered what would have been," expressed Katarina Jug (pronounced "yoog") on her decision to become a foreign exchange student in the United States. Katarina may have never discovered her love of Nutella, or played saxophone, or had the experience of a lifetime she is now having if she had not come to America.

While her last name means "south," Katarina, 17, hails from a small Serbian village near the northern city of Sombor. She commented on how similar it is to the town of Harmony, where she lives with the Dana and Amber Coaty family.

"It reminds me a lot of Serbia," she explained. However, there are plenty of differences Katarina has had the privilege of experiencing.

Among those differences is the language. Katarina is no stranger to the English language. Her mother had placed her in classes at age 5 because "she wanted something more for me." Katarina loved it and as she got older she heard more about foreign exchange student opportunities.

She knew it would be difficult to go on an exchange since one of her friends had applied and had not been accepted. "I had my doubts to do it, but decided to go with it," she explained.

Katarina ended up earning a scholarship from the Serbian government and her exchange went through the American Serbia and Montenegro Youth Leadership Exchange (A-SMYLE). She was then placed in the United States through the Program of Academic Exchange (PAX) and learned she would be heading to Minnesota.

The Coaty family, Katarina's host family, was new to hosting an exchange student. The year before, Amber Coaty recalled declining to host a student because she would have had only one week to prepare for the student's arrival. She told PAX their family would probably be interested in doing it the following year, this year. With plenty of time to make a decision, the Coatys set up an interview with a PAX representative to ensure they would qualify to be a host family. After the interview, Amber said the interviewer had pulled out a student profile folder with Katarina's picture and information on it.

"We said OK right away!" she said, describing how quickly the decision was made to host Katarina.

Since it was three months prior to Katarina's arrival, the host family and future member of the family were able to communicate back and forth several times. In the initial application for the exchange program, Katarina had to write a letter to a future host family. In it, she described her love of nature and desire to play the saxophone. When she arrived in Harmony, she found there was plenty of nature around and both Coaty parents played the saxophone. "I think it's a perfect family for me," she said.

It's also a perfect learning opportunity for Dana and Amber since they have three children who will become teenagers in the near future.

"This is practice," Amber laughed noting Katarina was "probably the easiest teenager in the world. I hope my kids are this good."

Katarina is an only child and has enjoyed having siblings. "One day I have none and suddenly I have three. It's never boring," she said, smiling.

Katarina has also been adjusting to the differences in culture. She explained school is different in America because a lot of the learning is done in the classroom through projects. In Serbia, she would find herself going home from school and studying all night.

"Everyone says that school here is easier. It is kind of easier, but it's just a different way of studying and preparing for a job," Katarina explained.

She also noted there are a greater variety of topics to study in America. She explained her predicament in trying to figure out which electives to take out of the options she had.

"She wanted to take them all," said Amber.

Self-described as "art-oriented," Katarina has been taking the art classes offered at Fillmore Central and loves it. She also loves literature, science, history and English, so basically just about everything.

Once she returns to Serbia in June, Katarina is thinking she will attend college to study psychology or chemistry

Katarina has enjoyed being able to improve her English, although Amber claims she was already amazing when she arrived.

"She kills us in Bananagrams every time. It's embarrassing!" laughed Amber, explaining the word game.

Katarina credits her English teachers in Serbia as well as American movies and music with helping her pick up English and even some slang. While she succeeds in her English skills, Katarina recognizes that being immersed in a language can cause some forgetfulness of her native language.

In a recent trip to Florida, she came across some Serbians and tried to make conversation with them. "I forgot what to say," she said laughing.

Serbian schools do not have extra-curricular activities, so Katarina has been getting involved with SADD, drama, poetry contests and band. Katarina loves the saxophone and had wanted to learn how to play it even before she came to America. With the support of her host family, she began taking lessons and practicing a lot. Recently, she learned she would be able to start playing saxophone for the concert band, which was akin to a dream coming true for her.

When it comes to food, Katarina said, "I love the food here too much. It's unhealthy, but it's amazing!"

When it comes to people, she explained Serbians seem more reserved than people in the U.S. "People here are really friendly and want to know about you," she said.

If anyone gets to know Katarina they will find out she loves to spout fun facts. For example, did you know the word vampire is a Serbian word? That explains why Katarina dressed up as a sophisticated vampire for Halloween this year.

As Katarina continues her year in Harmony, she feels like her exchange will teach her how to be more responsible, a better person and more mature.

"I'll pick up some new qualities and traits and that's good," she added.

Mainly, she is looking for a new experience which she feels she has already gained. Sure, she misses her family and friends back home, but she doesn't think she is sacrificing anything for what she is gaining.

She said, "I think this is just for good. There is nothing bad about this."