Junior Miss embraces U.S., Kenya differences

Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald
Members of the Miss Strassenfest court including Amia Kempf, left, Kathryn McCoy, Junior Miss Strassenfest Michelle Ondiek and Mallory Krapf, all of Jasper and 13 years old, joked around with each other before the start of the 40th Strassenfest on Thursday evening. For more photos from the fest, click here.


JASPER — Junior Miss Strassenfest Michelle Ondiek, 13, knew she was going to be exhausted by the end of the weekend, but she didn’t let that get her spirits down.

Ondiek led her court — first runner-up Kathryn McCoy, second runner-up Mallory Krapf and Miss Congeniality Amia Kempf — through the weekend with a smile on her face and a good sense of humor.

“She’s so funny,” Krapf said. “She makes me smile when it feels like a million degrees outside.”

Hot weather is nothing new to Ondiek, who grew up in Kabula, Kenya, a town about Jasper’s size in the western part of the country that is located on Africa’s east coast. She moved to the U.S. two years ago to live with her parents, Jason and Haley.

Michelle pretended to hold a hot air ballon during the balloon race on Friday. (Photo provided)

Haley is a Dubois County native and met Jason when she was student teaching in Kenya. The two married and live in Jasper with their four children, Michelle being the oldest. 

“I was excited,” Michelle said of moving to the U.S.

She hadn’t seen her father in about three years when she moved. While Jason and Haley set up a home in Jasper and filed the necessary immigration paperwork to bring Michelle to Jasper, Michelle lived with her grandparents and cousins in Kenya.

When she moved to the U.S., Michelle said, the biggest adjustment was the food. A Kenyan diet consists of mostly garden vegetables people grow themselves, rice and chapati, a type of flat bread. Meat is added to a meal once a week or so.

School was another adjustment. In Kenya, the school day runs from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., and students wear uniforms. The school subjects are also slightly different. In Kenya, there is no music, art or gym class. They do, however, have a Christian education class. Kenyan students are also bilingual, Michelle said, speaking Swahili at home and English at school.

Also, Kenyan students start school at age 3 and everyone attends through eighth grade. To continue on to high school, however, Kenyan students must go through a process similar to what U.S. students go through for college.

“You have to have good grades (to continue),” Michelle said.

Your family also has to be able to afford tuition, as most high schools are private. The better elementary schools are private as well, and most students attend private school their entire student career.

Perhaps the biggest difference between Michelle’s life in Kenya and her life in the U.S. is access to utilities. Her home in Kenya had only just gotten running water and electricity when she left two years ago. Before that, her family had to retrieve water from a well in the backyard — which is not something every family had — and use oil lamps for light.

Internet isn’t widespread in Kenya, either, making it difficult for Michelle to talk to her family still living in Kabula.

Although Michelle admits that life in the U.S. is better, thanks to readily available running water, electricity and internet, there are things she misses about Kenya.

“I miss the food and the people — friends and family,” she said.

In the two years since moving to the U.S., Michelle has embraced the differences between the two countries and settled into life in the U.S. Now, she says, it’s really not that different.

“She is very resilient,” Haley said.

Even though she’d only attended one Strassenfest before this year, Michelle decided to join the Junior Miss pageant at the request of her friend, Hannah Seifert. She never expected to win any titles, let alone become the first black person to be crowned in a Strassenfest pageant, but she ended up taking home two titles: Miss Photogenic and the Junior Miss crown.

“When I won (Miss) Photogenic, I thought, ‘OK, I’m done,’” Michelle recalled. “Then I got called again.”

Not bad for a young lady who’s only on her second Strassenfest.

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