Harms family hosts two foreign exchange students in Wells
Two is better than one. That is especially true for Brynn and Tanya Harms, of Wells, who are hosting not one, but two United South Central High School foreign exchange students this year.
Peter Pham is from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Michael Yeung is from Hong Kong, China.
Pham’s actual name is Minh, but in his English class back home, his teacher had all of the classmates pick English names out of a hat, and that is when Minh took on the name Peter.
For Michael Yeung, whose real name is Tak Jan, his mother chose his English name.
When Pham and Yeung came in the late summer, the Harms were ready to host Pham, and after a week or so, wanted to host Yeung as well.
“We have hosted five students in our past,” says Brynn Harms who is the pastor at the Assembly of God Church in Wells. “Three of our past exchange students we hosted were from Vietnam and we still keep in touch with them.”
The Harms are fairly new to Wells, also, having moved there just two years ago. They are originally from the Milaca area and have been married for 26 years and have two children of their own; Kayla, 25, and David, 24.
“I had a bit of empty nest syndrome for about two years,” shares Tanya Harms. “But having foreign exchange students, like Michael and Peter, really keep us busy, which is nice.”
The Harms also have two dogs, Tiki and Abby. Not only do Yeung and Pham enjoy goofing around with the dogs, but Tiki and Abby have mutual feelings for their new family members.
Pham and Yeung are very active in after school activities. While Yeung is playing basketball for the United South Central Rebels, Pham is hard at work in the USC play called “Brigadoon.”
“We all have very busy schedules,” says Brynn Harms. “So, not only are we getting used to the boys staying late at school some nights, but they are getting used to us working late some nights.”
“It’s kind of our culture back home to stay at school longer. You do your work at school, then you get to go home and play and relax,” says Pham.
Despite the difference in schedules, the Harms family is happy to work around schedules.
“We get a bigger family and we are getting to be a part of their new experience here in the United States, so we really can’t complain about late play rehearsals or basketball practices,” says Tanya Harms.
Pham is used to living in Ho Chi Minh City with his parents and one older sister who recently moved to Australia with her new husband.
Ho Chi Minh City has a population of almost eight million people, and Pham says he has truly enjoyed the smaller things in Wells.
“I can breathe fresh air here,” he says, recalling the heavily polluted air back home in Vietnam. “And I can see the stars at night.”
He also says he is enjoying a specific new freedom that he does not see in his Vietnamese culture back home.
“We can say how we feel here in the United States. We can’t really do that back in my culture,” he explains. “At home, people try to keep their feelings to themselves, or they just talk in whispers behind each other. They never say ‘this is how I feel’ or ‘you shouldn’t do this or that’ but here in the U.S. you can say how you feel or tell someone your opinion.”
Pham expresses that he is very happy being able to express himself. Not only on and off the stage, but he has also enjoyed expressing himself in the classroom.
“I really like speech class. You get nervous when you stand in front of your friends, but it will be a great skill to have later on in life,” says Pham.
He has also been moved up to college algebra math because the class he was placed in was too easy for him.
“I also like being able to move from class to class. Back home, we would just sit in the same class all day. This teaches me to be more independent, finding classes and being on time,” he says.
For Yeung, living in Wells has also had its differences from living in Hong Kong with his mother, father, and two brothers. Yeung is the middle child of the three boys. His older brother is two years older than him, and his younger brother is one year younger than him.
Yeung says he especially enjoys his freedom to run in the morning.
“I can get up and run outside and not run into people all the time, I have more space to run,” says Yeung.
He is also enjoying the fact that being on a basketball team includes competing against other teams.
“We just play for fun back home. We don’t have teams or clubs for basketball,” he says. Yeung recently went to a Minnesota Timberwolves game and thoroughly enjoyed his experience there, even when the Timberwolves lost.
He is also happy to be in a small town because of the connections he has made with his fellow classmates.
“It’s much easier to make friends here, and if we need a ride somewhere, it is easy to find transportation,” says Yeung.
At home, Yeung is used to playing his video games, but in the U.S., he’s taking advantage of what is beyond his TV and computer monitors.
“I can play video games at home. I am only in the United States for a short period of time,” he laughs.
There are other differences in the American culture that Yeung and Pham have been adapting to.
“It’s cold here,” says Yeung, who has yet to experience a Minnesota winter.
“And it’s very quiet,” Pham adds. “At home in the city, it is very noisy. When there is a full moon, it is a religious culture in Vietnam to sing and dance all night. It’s nice to be able to hear nothing at night,” says Pham.
When the Harms’ schedules do not clash with Pham and Yeung’s, they relish in their family time together by playing with the dogs, playing cards, or being involved in church activities.
Even though this foreign exchange family is busy day-in and day-out, they still find time for what is important for all families time together.