Her journey to a new part of the world began on a late summer night in Casper. When Jaelle Kung’s flight landed over 5,000 miles away from home, and was greeted by her host family, all she could see was darkness. She knew the mountains were close by, but she couldn’t quite sense the amount of open space that awaited her at sunrise.
Back in Douglas the next morning, she looked out the window and marveled.
“I was like, ‘Whoa! There’s no houses!,’” Kung recalled fondly. “I thought this is what people told me the Wild West would look like.”
Kung calls Switzerland her home. She resides in Nebikon, a local municipality of an estimated 2,500 people near the city of Lucerne. She lives an hour drive from the country’s largest city, Zurich, and a two hour drive to the Swiss Alps.
One day while at school, Kung and her best friend were having a discussion with a group of exchange students. They were curious to learn about their experiences and the opportunities that joining an exchange program had given them. Kung left the interaction with just one question for her parents.
“I asked them about the program and they said no for a very long time,” Kung recalled. “For about half a year they said no, but I still kept asking them and then finally a year before I left to come here, they said yes.”
Kung signed up with her local Rotary exchange program and had the choice of which countries she wished to travel to and live in for 10 months. Her top choices were Peru, Ecuador, Canada and the United States.
She got her first pick. Lastly, she was asked which part of the country she wished to be in.
“I told them I like horses and snow,” Kung said with a laugh. “So they put me in Wyoming.”
“I just always saw it in the movies and people said it was so much different,” Kung said. “So I said, ‘Let’s give it a shot!”
LANDING IN DOUGLAS
Kung spent her first full day in America on August 13 of last year.
Through the long-term youth exchange program, students are arranged to live with two to three host families in order to gain a greater understanding of the culture. From when she first arrived in mid-August until the end of November, Kung lived with the Curtis family, consisting of Mark, Aiyanna, Emily and Levi. She enjoyed Thanksgiving with them before moving in with her second family, and she had only positive things to say about the day’s delicacies.
“Thanksgiving was definitely my favorite,” Kung said.
The next part of her stay was with the Moss family. Terry and wife, Cory, hosted three other exchange students in past years before welcoming Kung in late November, and felt her personality and excitement for life to be rather infectious.
“Sometimes language can be a barrier but we didn’t have to worry about that with Jaelle,” Terry, a local Rotarian said. “She has a very positive attitude, is a good student and was very easy to get to know.”
From the very beginning, Kung was eager to get involved and create relationships all while learning about the American culture. She went out for basketball in the winter and played for the C team. Her brothers have spent time playing soccer in Switzerland, so she decided to go out for soccer this spring.
Teammate Allie Peasley was immediately amazed by Kung’s skills on the field.
“I can honestly say that at first some of us were nervous that she was going to steal our starting spot,” Peasley said jokingly. “We were like, ‘She’s so fast, oh my god.’”
While in Wyoming, Kung has visited Yellowstone National Park with her fellow exchange students, taken a proper tour through the Black Hills of South Dakota, experienced Fort Collins and Denver, and will travel to Las Vegas and California this summer with her family when they travel here to pick her up. She also made an igloo while staying with the Moss family and went to prom earlier this month.
She meets once every week with the Rotary program in Douglas to reflect on her experiences and will give a final presentation at the end of her 10-month stay about her time spent in the country.
“It’s a really great thing that they do for these kids and for our community,” Moss said of the Rotary Exchange Program. “They do a great job and Jaelle’s really enjoyed just being in America.”
EMBRACING THE ADVENTURE
Kung admitted that she had to distance herself from her parents and friends back in Switzerland after a certain point. They were understandably curious to hear about her experiences, just as she was two years earlier at school.
It’s allowed her to fully embrace the American experience as much as possible.
“I just wanted to focus on my life here and not think about what’s going on back home,” she said.”
When you first hear Kung speak, you notice an obvious accent. She speaks French, English, Swiss Standard German and Standard German. She isn’t afraid to be herself and that more than anything, hasn’t gone unnoticed during her time in Douglas.
“She tries so hard in everything that she does and that’s really awesome to see,” Peasley said. “She’s so great and so much fun to be around.”
Peasley continued: “She’s never been nervous to just be herself around us. I think that’s what so many of us have really loved about her.”
If Kung could have it her way, she would stay in America for a longer period of time. Her parents will arrive to pick her up on July 12, and until then, she is cherishing the remainder of her time here. Her final stay is being spent with the Hayes family, consisting of Heath, Peggy and Lily.
After experiencing the Wild West and creating close relationships with people across the world, she hopes to return one day.
“The people in Douglas have been so welcoming to me,” Kung said. “I’m really going to miss the U.S. and I’m really sad that I have to leave. We’ll see what happens, but I would really love to come back one day.”