Boris Kacer

Slovakian exchange student Boris Kacer looks forward to playing hockey and improving his English speaking skills during his time at Onalaska High School.

Slovakian exchange student Boris Kacer can’t wait to get into the hockey rink this fall.

The 18-year-old from Nitra has been playing hockey for half his life, but when he landed in Onalaska this fall, he never expected he’d be playing again so soon.

For Kacer, coming to the United States might not have happened; it wasn’t something he would have considered if not for his mother’s encouragement.

“It’s expensive to travel to the United States,” he said.

His mother, who had spent a year studying in England, encouraged him to look past the cost and take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad.

She impressed on him the value of widening his horizons.

Kacer jumped at the opportunity, setting his sights squarely on the U.S.

In school, he’d learned to speak English, but he knew it wasn’t that good. He said spending a year in the states would force him to become a more proficient speaker.

Soon after arriving, Kacer discovered how different the United States was from his homeland.

“The United States is totally different from Slovakia,” he said. “In Slovakia, no one asks you how your day is.”

He said the people of his homeland are cold and keep to themselves, while Americans are much friendlier.

“I really like it here,” he said adding Onalaska may be a small town, but it’s got a good community.

Kacer discovered the same was true of the schools in the states.

In Nitra, he attended a large school where it was often hard to get the help or attention he needed.

Kacer said at OHS the teachers seem to take an interest in his future. In Slovakia, good teachers are hard to find.

“Access to teachers is better,” he said.

Then there were high school sports.

“We don’t have that in Slovakia,” he said.

If kids wanted to play sports, they had to find a local club.

Athletics is a big part of Kacer’s life. As a 7-year-old he joined his regional hockey team, a small group of kids who shared his love for the rink.

He said many kids had to travel from neighboring cities to play.

He said he liked hockey because, “It’s very fast and something is always happening.”

Even hockey is different from in the United States.

“The American Style is much more physical,“ he said adding the European style is more about strategy.

Thankfully for Kacer, his host parents Rik and Wendy Franke are big hockey fans.

Rik is a broadcaster for the Coulee Region Chill hockey team, and the family has a history of taking in exchange students who love hockey.

“It’s a big part of our life,” Wendy said. “Both my kids played hockey.”

Next month, Kacer will be joining the Onalaska Hockey Team where he’ll put his skills to the test.

Wendy said when Kacer hits the ring in November, his parents back home will get a chance to watch the game live.

Outside of the rink, Kacer is an avid shoe collector, who keeps a close eye on politics.

However, he isn’t interested at all in American politics, or what President Donald Trump is up to. He said he’d rather stay out it.

“I don’t want to get involved because I don’t understand it,” he said.

Instead, Kacer is invested in the future of his home.

“Our future isn’t very bright,” he said.

One disturbing trend, Kacer has tracked over the last few years is the rise of nationalism in many European countries in response to immigration from places like Syria.

“It’s not good,” he said. “To be patriotic is totally different than being nationalistic.”

Kacer now has his heart set on returning the states for college. While he has yet to decide on a major, he doesn’t want to stick around in Slovakia for college.

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Tobias Mann is a reporter with the River Valley Media Group. He can be reached at tobias.mann@lee.net or at 608-791-8216.

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