Lukas Görlach, after a fashion, is on sabbatical this school year.
An exchange student from Jena, Germany, Lukas is living with the Ruth St. Clair family.
In a matter-of-fact assessment, Lukas said he found classes here relatively easy and that “most of my grades are A’s.” This semester he is studying American government, English, Spanish, art, biology, geometry, graphic design and has a class in weightlifting.
While that may not seem like a light load, when he returns to Jena, Lukas will study 14 core subjects.
“It’s a lot tougher,” he said.
Credits he earns at IHS won’t transfer to Germany, meaning he will be a junior when he returns.
He arrived in Iola Aug. 10, 10 days before his 16th birthday, and his Americanization has progressed well.
He speaks fluent English, having studied the language since elementary school. All German students are required to learn English starting in fourth grade.
“It’s the most important language in the world,” Lukas said.
He also speaks French.
“In seventh grade we have a choice of learning one of three others languages, Latin, Russian or French,” Lukas noted.
His father, Matthias Görlach, is a microbiologist and Lukas admits to being “pretty good” in the sciences, but hasn’t decided what career path he will follow.
“I think after I graduate from high school I’ll take a year off and travel around some, maybe come back here, before going to the university,” he said.
Lukas jumped into school life at IHS within days after arriving when he joined practices with the Mustang football team.
“I was a wide receiver on the junior varsity team,” he said. “I got into some games,” but the only pass directed his way fell incomplete a few feet in front of him.
It was his first time to play American football. In Germany his game is soccer.
“I’m a defender in soccer, which means I know about tackling, but not quite the same as in football,” Lukas said. Also, “the tactics (of football) are more complicated.”
He was exposed to the major college version Nov. 12 when he went to Lawrence and watched Kansas University lose by a point to Oklahoma State in overtime. Showing his emerging fan side, he questioned KU’s decision to go for two points in the game’s last seconds.
This past weekend he attended a concert with the First Christian Church youth group.
“I’ve made many friends here,” Lukas said.
His non-school activities aren’t much different than those in Jena, he added.
“I like to go out with my friends,” he said, although he does miss downhill bicycling, a sport he participated in regularly in the hills around Jena. “It’s too flat in Kansas for the sport.”
As for other teenage pursuits, there isn’t much difference between what kids enjoy in Jena as compared to Iola. Smart phones are everywhere and tastes in clothing vary little. He did note if he were home, he’d be bundled up.
“It’s colder in Jena and we already have about a foot of snow there,” he said.
Iola kids also are more mobile.
“In Germany you can’t drive until you’re 18,” Lukas said.
“I really appreciate how Lukas jumped right in and got involved with other students and school activities,” said David Grover, IHS principal.
Many exchange students, he said, are in survival mode from the day they arrive, but “Lukas is outgoing and friendly to everyone. He also has shown (Iola students) that students in other places in the world aren’t that much different.”
HIS PLACEMENT in Iola came through assignment by AFS Intercultural Programs.
Lukas has an older brother who was an AFS exchange student in Arkansas.
“I wanted to try something new” and because of his brother’s positive experience, Lukas enrolled in AFS with the United States as his destination.
“I really like Iola,” he said. “Everyone is so friendly.”
Lukas is the fourth exchange student St. Clair has hosted, two in Kodiak, Alaska, before moving to Iola and another German student, Tobi Keller, here last year.
Lukas’ comfort level, with other young Iolans and St. Clair’s children — Abigail, 16, Zach, 13, and Hannah, 10 — is evident from his comments, including often referring to his host family as “my family” and “my sisters and brother.”
“I’ve worked with several agencies and AFS is the best,” St. Clair continued. “They’ve had a hard time finding host families and if anyone is interested, they’d be welcome to call me.”
St. Clair’s cell phone number is 907-942-1281.