HOPE — In a matter of hours last August, Claire Lutsch went from living in a city of more than 600,000 people to living in a small town of barely 2,100.
To say her transition from Stuttgart, Germany, to Hope was a culture shock is more than a slight understatement.
But as the 15-year-old exchange student’s stay in the U.S. winds down, she couldn’t be happier with the friends and memories she’s made over the past nine months.
“At first, you have to get used to everything,” Lutsch said. “You have to get used to the host family and find friends and everything. But it’s the end of the year now, and it’s pretty awesome. I enjoy it. It definitely was a culture shock, but I got used to it, and I really like it.”
Helping fuel Lutsch’s fulfillment in her time in Hope have been stints on Hauser’s girls cross-country and tennis teams. She has been the No. 1 singles player on the tennis squad all spring and has led the Jets to an 8-4 record.
“I was excited before it started because I knew I really liked tennis, but I didn’t know how good the team was,” said Lutsch, who had played tennis for three years in Germany.
Lutsch is 9-3 at No. 1 singles with three matches left before the sectional.
“I’d say we got pretty lucky because we lost Haley Webster from last year, and she was strong at No. 1, so I didn’t know what was going to happen this year,” Hauser coach Elizabeth Sexton said. “I have her in class actually, so I had talked to her before about playing tennis, and she told me that she played a little bit back home and that she was excited. But I didn’t know that she was going to be so skilled.”
It helped Sexton and Lutsch that the rest of the Jets were so accepting of their new teammate.
“The girls that had already been here playing before her that were older and a little more experienced were very welcoming,” Sexton said. “Only having her for one year is kind of a bummer. She’s a really fun, silly girl, and I enjoy working with her a lot.”
An American appetite
One thing Lutsch will miss when she returns to Germany is the food she’s experienced in the U.S.
“Definitely the food is different,” Lutsch said. “I like American food a lot. It’s more fast food, and I’d never had Mexican before. I really like Taco Bell and tacos. I’m going to miss the tacos.”
But Lutsch said she likes the bread better in Germany.
“Our bread here is different,” Lutsch said. “The bread here is really small. In Germany, in every town, they have tons of bakeries, so that’s what I really miss.”
Lutsch has been staying with host parents Scott and Laura Jones just outside Hope. The Joneses have two daughters, Emily, an eighth-grader, and Addison, a sixth-grader.
Emily Jones helped her parents pick out Lutsch from a questionnaire Lutsch filled out.
“I like the school system, that you stay at school all day and have sports here,” Lutsch said. “I really like the food here, and my host family does stuff like camping and boating, and I never did stuff like that before, so I like that, too.
“I had never been in the U.S. before, so I was like ‘Oh yeah, I really want to go there,'” she said. “You see all those movies about high schools, and you’re like ‘High school is going to be awesome.’ I wanted to come here and meet new people.”
Getting around, though, has been different than in Stuttgart.
“We’re a little more independent over there because there are buses and trains,” Lutsch said. “Here in Hope, you drive everywhere.”
A sporting adjustment
Another difference Lutsch has experienced is the competition of high school sports. In Germany, there are no school sports. Athletics are played mostly through clubs.
Lutsch, who did some running in Germany, became part of a team when she ran cross-country for Hauser in the fall
“I liked it a lot because I liked the team, and I liked running,” Lutsch said. “We weren’t a really big team, so it was fun.”
But tennis remains her absolute favorite sport.
“I like that you can play singles or doubles,” Lutsch said. “You can have somebody backing you up, or you can go on your own. It’s quite a bit of running, and I like that.”
“Tennis, from what I’ve heard from her, is very different here than it is in Germany, so she’s had to get used to the things that she didn’t experience back home, like a little more aggressive playing and certain things like the different rules that we have and the etiquette of high school girls tennis,” Sexton said.
Lutsch aspires to do something economics-related after college. Her parents plan to arrive in Indiana on May 27, then visit Cedar Point, Niagara Falls and Washington, before returning to Germany on June 8.
“It’s been awesome,” Scott Jones said. “We have two daughters, and they get along with her really well. She’s super sweet, and we’ll be sad to see her go.”
Name: Claire Lutsch
Sports: Cross-country, tennis
Hometown: Stuttgart, Germany