Henrik Sieh, Germany
Henrik Sieh, who lives in a small town in Germany, wants to learn how to play American football.
He watched the Kansas City Chiefs play in the Super Bowl in February, although the time difference made it impossible for him to watch the entire game. It started at 2 a.m., so he watched part of it and found out the result later.
In fact, all the American football games he’s ever watched were Chiefs games.
“Before I came to Kansas, I was a Chiefs fan,” he said.
That was, perhaps, the first sign that he ended up in the right place.
Since he arrived at the home of Jonathan Adams and Dr. Dawny Barnhart in Iola, Henrik has watched a few of Iola High School’s football practices. He’s never played before and doesn’t know what kind of position would be a good fit, but he’s eager to join the team.
He also wants to join the wrestling team later this year. That’s the closest sport to kickboxing, which he enjoys.
He also enjoys playing soccer.
“I just like physical sports,” he said. “Soccer is big in Europe. I want to try American football to understand why Americans are so engaged by it.”
Henrik’s quarantine has ended, and he started classes at Iola High School late last week.
It’s been a very unusual experience, he said.
“It’s way different,” he said. “In Germany, every teacher comes to your room. And you don’t have mixed classes, like different grades.”
IHS students were very welcoming, he said. He speaks English very well, which has made for a smooth transition.
“I’m very glad I’m able to do a conversation and understand everything,” he said. “One of my biggest goals is to improve my English. I want to get a lifetime experience.”
In fact, Henrik is quite charming, engaging and easy to talk to. He’s intelligent but humble, with a quick sense of humor. He already has very specific goals; after he returns to Germany, he plans to join the Army just like his father, then he plans to finish his education, and join his uncle’s financial business. He’ll take over the company when his uncle retires.
“I’m very interested in financial topics,” he said.
He doesn’t use social media, which is unusual even back home.
“I don’t have Facebook and I’m proud of it,” he said.
He’s very active, and not content to be lazy.
That has impressed Jonathan the most, and was another sign that perhaps Henrik is in the right place.
“He’s a good fit for our family,” Jonathan said.
Henrik said the biggest difference he’s noticed so far is the emphasis Americans place on religion. His family and most of those he knows attend church just twice a year, at Christmas and Easter.
But the Adams family attends church more frequently, at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. Henrik is open to attending with them.
“I think it’s a good opportunity for me to learn,” he said.
DAWNY’S own experience with travel and studying abroad led to the decision to welcome Henrik.
Dawny studied in Russia in 1997, not long after the end of the Soviet Union. She enjoyed the experience so much, she returned to Russia for a time.
She’s also traveled to Germany, and “my experiences there were wonderful.”
A third sign that Henrik ended up in the right place: He and Dawny share the same birthday.
Jonathan said he agreed to serve as a host family because “I like young people and I like showing people around and showing them interesting things.”
They are planning a camping trip to Colorado and want to give Henrick a variety of experiences.
HENRIK’S MOST charming quality, though, is his appreciation for his family.
He has a twin sister, Annabelle (spelled “like the scary doll,” he joked).
“We have a very deep connection, a twin connection,” he said.
This is the first time they have been separated for any length of time or distance.
Two years ago, they applied to be foreign exchange students, but only if they could stay together. That didn’t happen.
Henrik wanted to try again, but Annabelle stayed behind to finish her final school exams.
They keep in touch, but it’s difficult with the time difference.
“I’m the protective brother and I think a lot about her and what she’s doing and if she’s alright. I think she’s worried about me,” he said.
“I have so many people I miss. It’s hard to miss just one. I miss my sister and my parents. My family. My friends. My dogs.
“But everybody at home is just missing me.”