The Times Journal & Russell County News
Wednesday, Apr. 23, 2014 — RUSSELL SPRINGS & JAMESTOWN, KENTUCKY —
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Exchange student experiencing American life in Russell County

By Derek Aaron

Russell County News Editor

Most 16 year olds like to stay within their comfort zone, but there are rare exceptions, and Felix Mueller is one of those exceptions.

Felix, a junior, is one of several foreign exchange students at Russell County High School this school year, but he says the change from small-town Germany to small-town Kentucky wasn’t that difficult.

“It is great here,” he said. “I love it.”

He is originally from Niddatal, a town of a little more than 9,000 in the Wetteraukreis district in Hesse, Germany, located on the Nidda River. When Elvis Presley was a GI in Germany he lived around eight miles from where Felix grew up.

His Russell Springs host family is Benny and Mary Susan Judd and, according to Felix, a perfect fit for him because both he and the Judd’s share a love for music.

He plays the drums while Benny plays in a band and performs with two gospel groups. Mary Susan has taught music for years at the Russell County Middle School.

But he didn’t know he would be so lucky at first.

“I got an e-mail two days before my flight (to the United States) telling me where I was going and I didn’t know (the Judd’s) and I hadn’t seen them before,” he said. But he said he was excited when he first learned that they were musicians as well.

“He fits right in,” Mary Susan said. “He suits our lifestyle much better than what I ever expected.”

She said Felix was extremely easy to get along with and seemed happy to be here.

“He’s quiet, conservative and so neat,” she said. “And he also has the gift of music.”

She said it was Felix that was supposed to be the one learning but that they were learning just as much from him.

She said at first she didn’t think they had enough to offer Felix with their busy lifestyles, as she teaches and works much of the time on productions at the Star Theater, and he works both in construction and as a musician.

But everything has worked out and she now fears that her and Benny will get too attached to Felix before he has to head back to Germany next May.

“If I had a son, I would want him to be just like Felix,” she said.

Felix was placed at RCHS through Education First, an exchange organization, which conducts extensive, thorough background checks on potential families.

Although he said Niddatal has about 3,500 more inhabitants than Russell County, it is much smaller than Russell County in many ways.

“We don’t have anything,” he said.” I believe you have everything here, you have every burger restaurant, you know,” he said with a laugh. “We don’t have anything, a gas station, or anything like that.”

Though he did say his life in Germany isn’t that much different that what American teens experience growing up.

“I meet friends, play music and stuff like that,” he said. He said he didn’t have a cultural shock going from one country to another.

“Those two countries (Germany and the U.S.) aren’t really different, they’re very similar,” he said.

One difference, though, in his new school, RCHS, and his school in Germany, Geschwister Scholl Schule, was the opportunity to play the drums in a marching band.

He said when he was choosing his classes this fall at the high school his interest in music led him to sign up for the band. At his school in Germany, he said administrators pick the classes for the students. He said students in Germany have to take English classes after they enter the 5th grade.

“We don’t have exotic classes over there, like working on cars or psychology,” he said.

But the band has given him a new opportunity.

“I’ve never played in a marching band before, never played marching music,” he said. Felix usually plays rock music but says learning to play otherwise wasn’t difficult since he has played the drums since he was 3 years old. He learned by watching and listening to his older brother play.

Joining the Laker band has afforded him the opportunity to make many new friends and meet new people.

Back home he said he practices his music for one or two hours a day, so the lengthy Laker band practices are a breeze to him.

When asked about the people of Russell County, Felix had nothing but nice things to say.

“Everyone has been so friendly and easy to get along with,” he said.

He said, although he does miss his family and friends back home, he is not homesick. Felix said he hasn’t been introduced to any new foods since being here because he is from a very Americanized portion of Germany.

He said people here most generally ask him about the food he eats, the weather in Germany and what certain words mean in German and he is obliged to tell them what he can about his native home.

One major difference between Russell County and where he is from is at age 16, one can buy alcohol in Germany but they have to wait until age 18 to get a driver’s license, much different that a dry county like Russell.

He said although Germany has the four seasons it tends to be cooler over there than here. He said October highs range around the 60 degree mark.  

Felix has two older siblings, twins, a brother and a sister that are 27 years old. His parents, who both work in Germany’s pharmaceutical industry, stay in contact with him through e-mail, an inexpensive alternative to long-distance telephone calls.

He said he was lucky his family paid the 9,000 Euros to allow him to come to the United States to learn in an American school for a year.

He said his placement in Russell County was the perfect fit for him.

He has come to love the soft drink Ski, an item he can’t get in Germany, and said he would like to take a trip to Nashville, as it is known for its musical history.

The Judd’s have also taken him to see Mammoth Cave and Cumberland Falls and are wanting to take him to see the Smokey Mountains.

Sights, sounds and experiences Felix will never forget, and will treasure for a lifetime. 

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