Traveling alone to a different country to spend a year learning their culture and language as a teenager requires one to be brave, smart, adventurous and ambitious, traits possessed by all four foreign exchange students currently attending Shelby High School.
Andrea Vatn, from Norway, Maja Slavik, from Germany, Enrico Gandini, from Italy, and Anton Morgen, from Denmark, have been here for the 2022-23 school year, attending school,
participating in sports, spending time making memories with their host families and making new friends, an opportunity of a lifetime. All four shared they have truly enjoyed their time in Shelby and are making the best of the few months they have left.
Deciding to be an exchange student was a life-changing decision for these four, leaving home and embarking on a new adventure in a foreign country where they knew no one. But Andrea, Maja, Enrico and Anton seized the opportunity and ran with it. All had different reasons for why they chose to be an exchange student, but the common factor was their curiosity on what living in America would be like.
“I was wondering how it was to live in another country and it sounded like a fun experience,” said Andrea. “I have enjoyed being able to have new experiences that I would never get at home.”
“I wanted to travel and experience American high school with new friends and other exchange students,” shared Maja. “I really enjoyed the sports seasons, volleyball and basketball really helped me make new friends and get a feel for American high school life.”
Enrico explained that he has a couple of older friends back home in Italy who had been part of the foreign exchange program and really enjoyed the experience, giving him a little additional encouragement to try something he had already been considering.
“I talked to some older friends who have been on exchange before and they talked about it as a really nice experience,” said Enrico. “I’ve also always wanted to go to the USA and attend an American high school.”
Anton received first-hand knowledge of being an exchange student from his older brother, who made his way from Denmark to Kentucky a few years ago as an exchange student.
“My brother was an exchange student in America for a year in the state of Kentucky, so I got really interested in doing it myself,” said Anton. “I ended up doing it four years later.”
All four shared there are many differences between school and day-to-day life in the States, but one of the biggest differences between school here and school back home is moving from class to class throughout the day. The school spirit and the classes offered also gave a new perspective.
“The biggest difference between school here and in Germany is probably the sports and the spirit overall,” said Maja. “In Germany school is mostly sitting in class and doing work, but here you have so many fun classes, sports and clubs too.”
“A lot of things are different,” said Andrea. “The school system is very different, the food, the climate, yeah, basically everything.”
New experiences, friends and food will be memories that last long after the students have returned home. All are grateful for their experience and encourage others to take the opportunity to be an exchange student if they can, that it is definitely worth it and a great opportunity. While all four have said if given the opportunity again they would do it, all agreed that instead of a full year they would prefer a six month stay as they miss their homes, families and friends.
“I enjoyed basketball and football the most,” said Anton. “Do sports if you can, it’s definitely worth it! I would probably do this again, not for a year, but maybe like six months.”
Enrico also shared some sound advice for future exchange students. “Having tough moments is normal and every experience is different, so live your year as best as you can. I’d definitely like to do this again, maybe for a shorter time.”
“My advice is to try to be very outgoing and not shy in the beginning, meet new people and try new things because even if you think you know it, it might be very different to do it here,” said Maja. “I probably would do something similar again, but for one semester instead of an entire year.”
Andrea advises to “take every day as it comes and try to enjoy everything. It can be hard at times, but it’s an amazing experience that I will forever remember.”
As the days and seasons have ticked by the students have created a montage of memories, but they have also been missing their homes, their families, their friends, and pets. While excited to return home and share all their experiences in the United States, they will also miss the friends and bonds they have formed during their time here.
“I will miss a lot of things,” said Andrea. “It’s going to be weird not seeing some people every day and not talking in English.”
“I will miss all the spirit for the school and sports, but mostly the people,” shared Maja.
“I’ll miss my host family, my Danish brother, Anton, all my friends here and sports,” said Enrico.
Anton echoed Enrico’s sentiments, stating, “I’m gonna miss my friends, family and sports the most.”
The experience, memories and sharing of cultures has not only influenced the exchange students’ lives, but those of their new friends, families and classmates as well. As the time draws near for all four to return home and back to their lives it is already known that the missing will go both ways- not only will Anton, Enrico, Andrea and Maja miss Shelby and the people they have gotten to know here, but those who have had the privilege of getting to know them and be a part of their experience will miss them, too.
If anyone is interested in the EF Exchange program and becoming a host family, they are encouraged to look into the program as there are already four EF fall students in need of a host family from August through December.
For more information contact Heather Wangseng via private message on Facebook or at fexchangeyear.org/iec/heather-wangseng.
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