August 29, 2022 at 3:30 p.m.
The 24-year-old from Wörnitz, Germany, is participating in IFYE – established in 1948 as the International Farm Youth Exchange – spending three months this summer with four families from across Minnesota. Kolb’s first three-week stay was with Mark and Natalie Schmitt on their dairy farm near Rice.
“I got involved with IFYE to gain more insights on agriculture in other countries and experience their cultures firsthand,” Kolb said. “I want to take the things I learn home and adapt them.”
Mark and Natalie Schmitt farm with their son, Austin, in Benton County near Rice. They milk 85 registered Holsteins and crop 400 acres of land.
Upon her arrival in Minnesota, Kolb immersed herself in the day-to-day happenings of the Schmitts as if she were one of the family – a unique aspect of the exchange program.
“Part of the program is to become one of the family,” Natalie Schmitt said. “In this family, we are dairy farmers, and Julia gets to help with chores.”
Kolb did not grow up on a farm but was enthusiastic about learning the operations of the dairy. She helped with daily chores in the barn and around the household. Her main duty was to help Schmitt feed the calves.
“I have learned so much already, and I have only been here two weeks,” Kolb said in an interview July 8. “It is so cool to see how other people live.”
During her stay with the Schmitts, Kolb traveled to Schmitt’s family reunion in Illinois and to the National Holstein Convention in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She also attended various local festivals and Fourth of July celebrations with the family.
“I am open to trying anything,” Kolb said. “I have no expectations, so then it opens for me to do more. The host families always know best, and everything I get to do is a great experience.”
“When we ask if she up for something, she just says, ‘I am open to anything,’ and then we go do it,” she said.
Kolb enjoys Minnesota because of the scenery and lakes. Her love for water and nature makes her placing in the Land of 10,000 Lakes a good fit.
“I love nature,” Kolb said. “Minnesota reminds me of home.”
Kolb and Schmitt bonded over the similarities between their cultures, trading recipes and family traditions with each other.
“We are often surprised how similar the things we do are,” Kolb said.
Kolb is the first exchangee the Schmitt family has hosted through the IFYE program. Schmitt has followed the program for years and eagerly applied to become a host family when she found out one was coming to Minnesota. It was Minnesota’s first exchangee in recent years.
“I wanted to do IFYE when I was in college, but it never worked out,” Schmitt said. “When I saw the post on Facebook looking for hosts, I figured it was meant to be. I could now be a part of the program.”
The program was founded after World War II to promote peace through understanding, also the tagline of the program. The organization sends young adults from across the world to other countries with a goal of immersing them in the culture of a new place.
The agriculture-based exchange places its participants with host families within the country they are visiting. They are to act as a family member in order to experience what rural life is like from that country.
“Our goal is to have the (exchangee) live through the eyes of their host family,” said Caitlyn Krueger, state coordinator for Minnesota IFYE. “It allows them to truly learn what it is like to be from that country because with host families they get to do so much more than an average tourist.”
Kolb arrived in Washington, D.C., June 17 for the IFYE orientation weekend. Upon arrival, she prepared for her stay with the other U.S inbounds from Germany, South Korea, Switzerland and Austria, and the U.S. outbounds who were beginning their stay.
After orientation, Kolb traveled to Minnesota and began her international experience with the Schmitt family where she stayed until July 11. The remainder of her time will be spent with host families in Pelican Rapids, Belgrade and a third location.
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