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Isabel and Brillion are the perfect fit

March 8, 2018

By David Nordby The Brillion News

BRILLION – Isabel Rye de Churruca and Brillion have been the perfect partners for each other. The Denmark foreign exchange student says that since as soon as she knew she was going to Brillion and began doing research she has liked what she has seen.

“I’ve never been happier in my entire life than I was the first month here,” she says. “There were so many new impressions and I loved everything, and I still do.”

Her stay in Brillion for this school year has brought contentment, but the location of where she would end up was a big unknown when she signed up for her school year in the United States. She is with the STS Foundation, which is a Department of State sponsored high school exchange program, and students do not know where they are headed in America when they first sign up.

“Talk about a leap of faith,” Kelly Heimke says of the foreign exchange process. “You don’t know if you’re going to end up in California, Texas, Florida or Brillion … You have no idea what kind of family you’re going to be in.”

Heimke and her husband, Brad, are Churruca’s host family. It is the third time they have hosted a foreign exchange student; their first was in 2012. Heimke is a special education teacher at Brillion Elementary School.

“I didn’t think much of it,” said Churruca. “I want to experience a new culture and know myself more, expand my horizons.”

The 17-year old says that she knew when she was 13 she wanted to come to America to get that experience. Both of her parents have been flight attendants which contributed to the lack of apprehension from Churruca.

“I think the world to them is smaller than probably most people, so they weren’t super frightened or anything that I was going across the sea,” she explained.

The STS students spent their first few days in the country in August in New York City. It was Churruca’s second time in the Big Apple.

“As my parents would say, ‘Isabel, New York is not the real America. Where you’re going is more like it,’” she recalls them saying.

Churruca has next to no accent. Danish is her first language, but she is also fluent in English. She also knows some German and Spanish and can introduce herself in a few other languages too. She says that she began learning English at a young age. Her school began teaching her in second grade, but she also found additional methods.

“I will say that the internet and social media definitely taught me the most,” she says. American entertainment and YouTube videos were also a big help as she listened to different dialects.

The biggest talent that Churruca has shared with the Brillion community is her photography and video editing talents. The videos appear to be from someone with years of professional experience and are picturesque. She shares them on her Facebook blog (URL: and they are a big hit with her classmates. She mixes in school friends, family, events and nature.

Heimke explains that the videos capture the life she and others have been living in Brillion for years without ever seeing it through the perspective Churruca puts together.

Churruca says she would like to become a photo journalist; her father was also into photography. “I just love it because you can freeze a moment and it will last forever,” Churruca said. “I know I want a job where I travel, take pictures and write about it.”

Please see the complete story in the March 8, 2018 edition of The Brillion News. 

Editor’s note: The STS exchange program is continually looking for host families nationwide. The local coordinator in the area is Penny Benzschawel in Chilton.



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