Shawnee isn’t much like Oldenburg, Germany.
“Shawnee is much smaller,” foreign exchange student Lars van Freeden said. Oldenburg is in the northwest part of Germany near Bremen. Oldenburg has about five times as many people as Shawnee, but the Bremen metropolitan area is home to about 2.3 million people.
But that doesn’t mean van Freeden isn’t enjoying his time in small-town America.
“I love it here,” he said. “I have met so many great people here. Everyone is great.”
He is enjoying Shawnee so much he is already trying to find a way to return to the United States to go to college.
“I have to go back” he said. “I don’t want to but I have to. But I am already planning to come back for college. I don’t want to leave and not see all these people and my friends anymore.”
Coach Jason Merrell said van Freeden has good skills and is helping the Wolves playing center back this season.
“He does a good job,” said Merrell, who lost several senior defenders last year. “He helps us back there and seems to be figuring out the different styles of play.”
Van Freeden said American soccer is faster than he is used to playing in Germany youth programs.
“We are more patient,” he said. “We play the ball back more.”
Van Freeden said he plays the same position in Shawnee as he did in his hometown, but he touched the ball a lot more there because the offenses in America seem to push the ball forward more.
Even though he has fallen in love with Shawnee, America wasn’t his first choice when he signed up for the exchange program.
“I wanted to go to Canada,” he said. “But we couldn’t find the right situation there so I came here.”
Lars said it had to be an English speaking country because that is the only other language he knows.
“We start taking English in third grade,” van Freeden said. “I wasn’t good at it. You can ask the football team. I was talking slow. I had to think for always to come up with the word. Sometimes still I need help finding a word.”
He said he had to work really hard to get his English grade up to be accepted into the exchange student program. He is much better at English after several months here.
“Living here has helped a lot,” van Freeden said. “I am much better now.”
Van Freeden lives with Theresa Yu in Shawnee and said he couldn’t have been placed in a better situation. Yu - a foreign exchange student coordinator - has hosted foreign exchange students for about a decade. She has four children of her own and is also a legal guardian. The single mother has a full house, to say the least.
“I really got lucky with my host family,” he said. Yu said van Freeden acclimated to his new home faster than any students she ever hosted.
“He is a great kid and just made himself at home,” she said. “He has so many friends.”
In addition to the soccer team, Lars also played American football for
Shawnee. He said he didn’t get much playing time but he liked the game.
“I played, but not much,” van Freeden said. “I got some JV kicking and a little bit of receiver.”
Lars said he will be in Shawnee through June before he has to return home.
“I love this town,” Lars said. “Hopefully, I get to come back quickly.”