Each day, millions of Americans pull up to a fast food restaurant intercom, place their order and moments later, their food and drinks are handed to them and they are off and back on the road again.
It is a scene which is repeated, ad nauseam, throughout the country.
For Ruben Hoppner, however, such occurrences were all new to him as he tried to get acclimated to his temporary home in the United States.
Hoppner, a German foreign exchange student has lived with the family of Mike and Kim DuRant, the vice-chairman of the Kershaw County School Board Trustees, and their two daughters in the Boonetown area of Kershaw County for the past school year. He will return to Germany on June 22.
In between, the rising junior has had a full academic year which included his being named as the Region 3-AA tennis player of the year after having led North Central to the conference championship. He followed that by finishing with a 2-2 record in the South Carolina High School League AA-A state individual tennis championships, losing in the quarterfinals of the event while earning All-State honors in the process.
For all his experiences during his stay, the one which puzzled and, possibly, surprised Hoppner the most was American’s love of fast food and getting in and out of a restaurant parking lot as soon as possible.
“You are definitely used to the fast food a lot more than we are,” Hoppner said with a smile after a ceremony honoring North Central’s trio of Region 3-AA players of the year. “In Germany, I never went to a drive-thru with my family. In Germany, we have drive-thrus but it’s not typical for a German family to use it. That’s definitely a huge difference.”
The acclimation process, Hoppner said, took about two or three months before he had fully settled into being away from home and finding new American friends. Another change was his temporary location in the rural northern portion of Kershaw County.
Coming from a small town in Germany located near the larger city of Dortmund, it took Hoppner a bit of time to get used to living in the country where a neighbor was not a few steps away from his house. But, he said, he enjoyed being away from the hustle and bustle of living in a more urban region.
“I wanted to be an exchange student and all I said was that I wanted to go to the U.S. so, it was very randomly that I ended up here at North Central,” he said of how he came to the school and the area.
“I really didn’t know just what to expect; I didn’t expect it to be this much woods and not really a lot of neighborhoods. But the North Central area is very special. It’s out in the country, which I’m not used to. At first, I was questioning if I would like it being out in the country. Now, I realized that it is really a lot of fun.”
Once enrolled in school, Hoppner took the regular course load of a North Central sophomore. Having taken English in elementary school in Germany, the language barrier was never a concern. “We have to start taking English in elementary school so, I started learning English in the third grade,” he explained of being fluent in the language. “You have to take English in school; it’s comparable to taking Spanish at North Central.”
As opposed to schools in his homeland, high schools in America are separate from elementary and middle schools. They also go through the 12th grade which, too, is different from the school system in Germany.
“First of all,” he said, “the school system is very different. We don’t have high school. We have different schools with how high the education level is.
“If you want to go to college, then you have to go to a higher education school. If you want to go to work after school, you can go to school for 10 years and then, start working. I went to a school where, pretty much, everybody wanted to go to college so you go for 12 years.”
Another major difference between NCHS and the school which Hoppner will return to in Germany is the athletic angle. In Germany, he said, schools do not sponsor or offer athletic teams. Meanwhile, North Central offers 12 varsity sports, including a fourth-year tennis program which he was quick to join.
Hoppner started playing tennis when he was about nine years old, joining a tennis club in Germany. For a young program such as the Knights, getting a polished player with Hoppner’s skill level was a gift from the tennis gods. The lone adjustment he had to make to his game was playing solely on a hard court surface.
“We play on clay courts in Germany and here, you play on hard courts,” he said. “I, first, had to get used to that. I really enjoy playing on the hard court because it’s a lot of fun.”
Hoppner was a quick study in adjusting his game to the harder playing surface. Playing first singles for the Knights, he breezed through each of his conference matches in leading the team to a second consecutive 3-AA title and a first round state playoff match.
Thanks to his being the top player in the conference, Hoppner earned a berth in the AA-A state individual championship in Columbia on May 19-20.
The tall, slender Hoppner could have easily been excused of having a case of nerves playing minus his teammates in an unfamiliar setting. He lost his first round pairing to David Reed of St. Joseph’s High School in Greenville, 6-2, 6-1. Dropped to the consolation bracket after his first round setback, Hoppner stormed back to defeated Barnwell’s Ben Gardner, 8-4, to stay alive in the double-elimination tourney. He returned to the court on May 20 and made it two wins in a row as he took down Hunter Legerton of Academic Magnet, 8-6, earning the Knight sophomore All-State laurels.
Hoppner’s run came to an end when he ran out of steam in a loss to eventual consolation bracket winner Wes Quattlebaum of Christ Church.
“When I first found out that North Central had a tennis team, that’s what I planned on doing,” he said when asked what team he wished to join at North Central. And as to his success in earning All-State and Region 3-AA player of the year honors? Well, Hoppner said he could not have imagined the journey his one year of playing high school tennis would take him on.
“I had no idea,” he said. “No … I did not expect this.”
With only a handful of days left before he returns home, Ruben Hoppner smiled when he was asked about his stay in this country and what he will miss most. He did say that, should things work out the way he wants, he would like to return to this side of the Atlantic in about two years.
“It’s all different. It’s hard to compare the whole country with the U.S. and Germany,” he said of his stay in Boonetown and North Central. “I can’t pick just one thing that I’m going to miss. I’m going to miss everything.
“I want to keep going to school in Germany, so I will be a junior at my German school. I hope that I can come back here for college. If I would have the chance, I would love to come back.”