Former exchange student returns to Mifflin County

McVEYTOWN – In 1998, Alex Uhlmann, of Hamburg, Germany, came to McVeytown for the first time as foreign exchange student, and spent a year with the family of Jim Swigart.

Uhlmann admits he didn’t chose the family he was placed with, and was at first a little disappointed to be placed in such a small town in the United States.

“I was 16 years old, and some of my friends went to big cities and I wanted to as well. The first time I came (to McVeytown) I wasn’t that excited. But, after a couple of weeks I got more excited and realized this was much better than any city experience I could’ve had,” he said.

Uhlmann was the seventh exchange student the Swigart family hosted, and Swigart said his wife was the one who got them into the program.

“My wife was interested in it and we had four girls that age, so it was good for the girls to have (an exchange student), he said.

Uhlmann said the experience was different from what he expected, mainly because he never lived in the country before.

“I never lived in a farm before. It was very new to me. I was shell shocked,” he said.

Uhlmann eventually got into the swing of things, even taking part in the butchering of a pig. During his year in the U.S. he visited New York City, Washington D.C., Niagara Falls, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Gettysburg. He only wishes he had been able to go to Disney World.

“We were supposed to go there on a church trip but it got canceled. I also really wanted to go to the Baltimore Aquarium,” he said.

He came to love the people of McVeytown, despite its small size, and found it hard to leave in 1999.

“The people are more real here, more than the few people that live in downtown Manhattan,” he said.

Swigart copies his sentiment, saying he was very happy with their experience.

“My daughters and son liked it, and everyone got along. It was interesting to learn certain things about Germany that you didn’t already know,” he said.

After leaving McVeytown, Uhlmann lived in the United Kingdom for a number of years working as a software programmer. His job had him travel to China, which is where he met his wife, Angela Wang. The couple married this past June, and currently live in Hong Kong. This visit was the first time Uhlmann has visited McVeytown since 2009, and the first time his wife has met the family who hosted him 14 years ago.

Uhlman said the experience was one of the best he’s ever had, and even all these years later, the time he spent in McVeytown stays with him.

“The exchange year was the most influential year of my life. It encouraged me to go abroad and see more of the world,” he said.