The McGee family decided to host a foreign exchange student this year through Nacel Open Door and welcomed Tomas Babik into their home on Aug. 17, just before the start of school.

The McGee family decided to host a foreign exchange student this year through Nacel Open Door and welcomed Tomas Babik into their home on Aug. 17, just before the start of school.

Tomas, 19, is a senior at Sleepy Eye High School. He got active in school activities right away, joining the Indians football team. This winter he is playing on the New Ulm Eagles hockey team.

Tomas traveled 4,855 miles from Nitra, Slovakia to Sleepy Eye. Nitra is the fifth largest city in Slovakia, with a population of 80,524, a significant difference from Sleepy Eye, to say the least. Tomas said that difference was the first thing he noticed when he arrived. “There are more nice people here,” Tomas said, as he joked about people being a bit more aggressive in his home town. “Not me personally,” he quipped. Everything Tomas does seems to come with his big smile and unique sense of humor.

His Sleepy Eye mom, Darcy McGee, said she has been given many opportunities to host exchange students since their last guest in 2011, but she hadn’t chosen to take one on until she read the profile Nacel sent her about Tomas. “When I read his profile, I instantly felt like he would be a really good fit with our family,” said McGee. “I enjoy learning about other countries and like to expose my children to other cultures.”

At a young age, Tomas wanted to travel to America. He wanted to go out and see what the rest of the world was like. “I wanted to see something new,” he said about signing up to be an exchange student. Like every young man, he wanted his life to be an adventure. When the plane landed in the United States, he was very excited, telling himself, “I’m finally here!”

Tomas has greatly enjoyed the American culture he is being introduced to. He confessed that turkey is his new favorite thing to eat. “I think I’ve had turkey before, but it was not that good,” Tomas said. “Thanksgiving lunch was the best lunch I ever ate.”

Tomas has had a chance to explore some more of Minnesota, already this year. “I love the Twin Cities. I have been to the Mall of America four times already,” he said. On the topic of shopping and fashion, Tomas, who loves to shop, mentioned that the biggest difference in fashion that he picked up on is women wearing boots in America, rather than nicer shoes or sneakers.

Tomas talked about the significant difference in education between the two countries. “It’s easier here; over there we have to memorize many pages of things every day,” he said. “If English wasn’t as big a problem for me, it would be a piece of cake.” Readjusting to the curriculum back home is a challenge he’s not really looking forward to.

Tomas had heard a lot about football before coming to Sleepy Eye, but it is not a widely played sport in Slovakia. He was very excited to play on the Sleepy Eye Indians team this year, saying, “It’s the all-American sport.” Coach Cory Haala commented that Tomas really found his groove halfway through the season and made some great contributions to the team’s defensive line.

Hockey, on the other hand, is something Tomas played back home. He is easily the tallest and most imposing player on the Eagles team this year. “I love hockey; it is my all time favorite sport,” he said. “I enjoy full-contact sports.”

Tomas will return home on June 16. He has expressed a great interest in returning to America again after his schooling is done. “I will miss my family and the friends I’ve made here.” His overall dream is to someday live in the United States—in a state like California. “I would love to visit Sleepy Eye again, but I don’t know if I would be able to work around here.”