Vanya Popov, at left, and Valentina Brotto are spending this school year as exchange students in Lanesboro. Popov is from Serbia and Brotto is from Italy.
Vanya Popov, at left, and Valentina Brotto are spending this school year as exchange students in Lanesboro. Popov is from Serbia and Brotto is from Italy.
Two foreign exchange students are calling Lanesboro home for the school year.

Seventeen-year-old Valentina Brotto of Cittadella, Italy, and 16-year-old Vanya Popov, of Kostolac, Serbia, may come from two different parts of the world, but they both have similar goals. Both hope to broaden their view of the world through their stay in the U.S.

Valentina Brotto

Brotto is staying with Burt and Brenda Hongerholt and their three children, Kaia, Kayla and Christopher of rural Lanesboro.

She said living in the country is a big change for her after coming from a city of 20,000 people.

"In Italy, they say everything is bigger in America," Brotto said. "That hasn't been the case here."

Brotto traveled to New York City two years ago with her family and she thought this might be the only chance she would have to return to the U.S. for several years.

"Once we go to university, we won't be allowed to study outside of Europe," she said.

So far, she thinks students in the U.S. seem to enjoy school more.

"School in Italy is a bit depressing," Brotto said. "I wanted to learn about people outside of Europe and see other lifestyles."

In addition to her parents, Gabriele and Claudia, Brotto also has two brothers, Alessandro and Leonardo.

She has enjoyed spending time in Lanesboro.

"It's a nice city," Brotto said. "You can feel the warmth of the people. Everyone knows each other and everyone is friendly. That's something you don't get in a bigger city."

She said Americans in general are friendly and helpful. She has enjoyed eating American foods, but admits it's "probably not that healthy." She said Americans eat much bigger portions.

To stay in shape, she has joined the volleyball team. She also attends FCCLA meetings.

Her school in Italy doesn't have seasonal sports. Instead, they can choose to play one sport all year. She played basketball. "(Athletics) aren't as competitive in Italy as they are here."

She said learning the language has been the most difficult part of her stay so far.

When she goes back to Italy, she hopes to be more open-minded.

"I will probably see things in a different way than most people in Italy," Brotto said. "I think the world will seem a lot bigger."

Vanja Popov

Sixteen-year-old Vanja Popov became a foreign exchange student because she enjoys traveling and meeting new people.

Her parents are Alessander and Jasminka and she has an older brother, Igor.

She chose the U.S. over other countries because it "differs so much from Europe."

She is from Serbia, formerly Yugoslavia, a small country in the Balkan Peninsula located near Greece and Hungary.

Her host parents are Mark and Pat Hanson of Lanesboro. She is the same age as their daughter, Chelsea.

"I was expecting to come to a small town, but not one this small," Popov said. Now that she's been in Lanesboro for a while, she sees the benefits of life in a small town.

"I like that everyone knows one another," Popov said. "It really feels like you're part of a big family. People ask questions about your country with real interest."

She started her stay off with some bad luck. The day before school started, she fell down some stairs while carrying laundry and broke her ankle.

She spent the first weeks of school on crutches, but that forced her to get to know the other students better. Many students volunteered to carry her books.

Popov has enjoyed her classes and was excited to visit Mayo Clinic during a biology class field trip.

"I like the way they teach here," Popov said. "They give us a lot of practical, hands-on work."

She said school is harder in Serbia, but students still have time for themselves when the day is done.

"In Serbia, people take more time to enjoy themselves and have fun," Popov said. "Americans work all day. It's going to take me a while to get use to this lifestyle."

She had been playing volleyball before she was injured. She has played piano most of her life, so she decided to join the choir. She also plays percussion in the band. She has enjoyed watching American football and she hopes her ankle will be well enough to go out for basketball this winter.

"Even after just two months here, I feel so much more independent and grown up," Popov said.

She hopes to return to the U.S. for college. She is trying to decide between studying information technology or genetic research.

"I've gained many friendships, so I will be a little sad to leave at the end of the year," Popov said.