Laura Suchan

LAURA SUCHAN, an exchange student from Germany, waves goodbye after having her time cut short in the United States because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She is shown here with her host parents, Jerald and Suzie Wachter of rural Pierce, before leaving to fly from Omaha on Tuesday.

If Laura Suchan and her family had a choice, she would continue going to school at Pierce High School through May.

The high school exchange student arrived last July and hurried Tuesday to catch a plane out of Omaha to begin her trip back to Germany. She was expected to be home within 24 hours, eventually landing in Hamburg, then getting picked up to drive home.

“I’m sad I have to leave now,” she said Tuesday morning. “It was a great time. I was hoping I would have two more months.”

Suchan came to the U.S. with Education First, a foreign exchange service that was recommending students return. Once the students are not in school, their visas are out.

Suchan, 17, was born and grew up in Bremerhaven, which is in the northern part of Germany. It has about 270,000 people and is located near the North Sea.

She goes to school in Bremerhaven, which is where her father, Paul, lives. He is a medical doctor.

Her mother, Camilla, works as a physical therapist in Bremerhaven but travels into the city to work. Suchan also has a sister, Carolin, who is two years younger. Her parents divorced when Suchan was 8.

Suchan said she loved living on a farm west of Pierce with Jerald and Suzie Wachter. She received her driver’s license in February. She had a learner’s permit before that.

“They (Jerald and Suzie) trusted me enough to let me drive everything,” Suchan said with a laugh. That includes a tractor and combine.

She remembers the first time she got to drive — on a gravel road about a half-mile from the house.

By getting her license in the United States, it will save her a lot of money. In Germany, people can get their license when they are 17, but they have to take a lot of lessons, classes and tests.

Each test costs about $200, and if a person fails the test, he or she must wait and study again. Altogether, it costs about $2,500 to get the license for the first time, Suchan said.

Her license in the United States will carry over to Germany. So with all that preparation, are people in Germany better drivers?

“No, they are just stricter,” Suchan said.

Another thing Suchan got to do was fire a shotgun.

Jerald Wachter said they went blue rock shooting earlier. Blue rocks are a clay target that hunters shoot to practice shooting at birds.

“After her first shot was a miss, she hit everything,” he said. “She was a deadeye.”

“It was fun,” Suchan said. “I loved it.”

“Her mom and dad still don’t know she did it,” Suzie Wachter said with a laugh.

After the COVID-19 scare is over, Suchan said she hopes to return to the United States to visit.

She found many similarities between the U.S. and Germany. At Pierce, she sometimes went bowling or to the movies with friends.

“Other times we would go to a friend’s house and kind of like have a dance party,” she said.

That’s not exactly what she would have done in Germany.

“When they turn 16, they want to party,” she said. Lots of students in her city like to drink alcohol.

Many Germans go to school until the ninth grade and then enter the workforce.

“You can then work at McDonald’s or something,” she said. “The majority don’t want to go to school that long. We had 12 years before, and so now we have 13 years, but we can go home earlier during the day, but we have one additional year.”

In Germany, school ends about 1:30 p.m.

Suchan said she would be able to skip her 11th grade because she studied in the United States and will be in 12th grade when she returns. In both the U.S. and Germany, she mostly received A and B grades.

She plans to finish her high school in Germany and become a police officer. That will require three more years of schooling after she graduates.

Suchan said she became interested in being a police officer through one of her mother’s friends, who works in crime scenes.

“I kind of like that,” she said. “My dad had a girlfriend, and she was a police officer. I liked that. Every day was different.”

Before arriving, Suchan said she studied about the United States. Her school also discusses it when the U.S. makes the news.

“I remember studying about the Rocky Mountains and the Grand Canyon,” she said, “and about the people — like they go to church more and that kind of stuff.”

People do seem to go to church more, she said, and she got to see the Rocky Mountains, which are similar to the mountains around Austria.

“I had a great year. It was a lot of fun. I have a lot of great memories. I will never forget it,” Suchan said.

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