Austrian student gets used to small town life


Staff Writer

HAMILTON LAKES – Life in rural Dickinson County moves at a slower pace than what Austrian exchange student Mimi Hladik is used to, but she has grown to appreciate the friendly, small-town atmosphere of the area.

Mimi, who is on a half-year exchange program, has been living with the Sarah and Lee Opolka family of Hamilton Lakes and attending Norway High School since January.

Coming to the area at the beginning of a bitterly cold, snowy winter was something of a shock for Mimi. Her hometown of Graz is located in the southeastern part of Austria, a region that enjoys a much milder winter.

Sarah said that she had prepared plenty of outdoor winter activities, such as ice skating, ice fishing, skiing, and sledding, for Mimi to do once she arrived in the Upper Peninsula.

However, colder than normal temperatures put a damper on many of those plans. As a result, Mimi said that she had to spend more time indoors this winter than she would have liked.

In Graz, which is a city of about 350,000 people, Mimi stays busy in her free time with friends, either going out to lunch between classes or going to clubs on the weekends. She is also a seasoned world traveler, having seen most of Europe as well as parts of southeast Asia and Africa.

Here, classes and activities at Norway High School have kept Mimi occupied. She was especially excited to learn about the school’s iPad initiative.

“I like that every kid has an iPad,” she said. “I was glad to get one too.”

Mimi also likes that the teachers at Norway are more approachable and easier to reach by e-mail than her teachers back in Austria.

“The teachers here are so nice, like friends,” she said.

Now that the weather is getting warmer, Mimi is looking forward to another part of the American high school experience – playing on a school sports team.

Mimi has decided to give softball a try, even though she has never played the game before.

“I can do tennis, golf, or track back home,” she explained. “I want something different here.”

Back in Austria, Mimi participated in gymnastics, but it was organized through a club instead of her high school.

Besides the weather and school, Mimi has also noted differences between Austrian and American cuisine. She was surprised by the popularity of both fast food and packaged food in America.

However, one packaged food in particular has become Mimi’s new obsession. She said that she now loves Pop Tarts.

When Mimi returns to Austria, she will have one more year of high school to complete before she graduates. After graduation, she would like to study in Zurich, Switzerland toward a degree in publicity and communication media science.

Mimi hopes to one day host a talk show or do publicity for her own clothing line. She has already made a hobby of designing and sewing women’s clothing, and currently has a website where she sells her garments.

Overall Mimi’s exchange student experience has been a positive one.

“It has been my dream forever to go to America and live there awhile,” said Mimi. “I’m really glad that I did it because I have so many new experiences that I couldn’t have back home.’

Nikki Younk’s e-mail address is