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From Denmark and Norway to Brandon

by Susan Bromley

May 11, 2011

From left: Laura Bennedsen of Denmark, and Katrine Fossberg of Norway, BHS foreign exchange students. Photo by Susan Bromley.
Brandon Twp.- Katrine Fossberg had to adjust to a few differences between America and her home country of Norway when she arrived here in late August.

One of the first things she learned is that unlike in Norway, students here don't call teachers by their first name.

"We call all adults in Norway by their first names, not 'mister' and 'missus.' Mr. Duncan— I revealed his first name in front of the class," said Fossberg of Brandon High School sociology and history teacher Todd Duncan. "He gave me a look. I called him 'mister' after that."

Fossberg, 18, and Laura Bennedsen, 17, of Denmark have been foreign exchange students at BHS this year.

Fossberg has visited the United States five times previously, but never for more than a few weeks. This was Bennedsen's first visit. Both girls agreed the school system here is very different from their home countries. In both Denmark and Norway, students are brought up with the same class of about 30 kids for several years— in Norway, they are together from first through seventh grade, while in Denmark, classmates remain the same through ninth grade.

"I have more friends here, but I don't know them as well," said Bennedsen, who wanted to be an exchange student because she enjoys learning about other cultures and countries.

She is taking more electives here, such as art and physical education, as this year doesn't count for her academically. She also has taken English and history classes.

"This year is more for fun, to get to know myself, other cultures, and to mature," Bennedsen said. "I have a different view of more important stuff and I learned about my own country because I see a difference."

Classes here aren't as difficult as back home, she said. In Denmark, they don't have multiple choice tests; instead, the students have to make more deductions on their own.

At home, she plays soccer and team handball. At BHS, she played volleyball in the fall, basketball in the winter, and now she plays soccer. Sports are more competitive and time-consuming here, said Bennedsen, whose host parents are Gwen and Dwain Kluesner.

Because the Kluesners are retired, they were able to spend more time with their exchange student, and Bennedsen was able to travel the country extensively during her year in the U.S., visiting Chicago, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Madison, Wis. and California, where she went to Hollywood, San Francisco, and Disneyland. She called her trips "fun" and said she saw things she had only previously seen on television.

Fossberg has relatives that live in Washington, D.C., and she visited them on spring break. Even though she had visited the U.S. several times, and she was considering Canada or Australia, she chose to come here as a foreign exchange student because she thought it would be awesome.

"It's been different," she smiles. "I've grown up a lot. I'm more independent."

Her mother was worried about her American host family prior to Fossberg's arrival, but she was only concerned about making friends. She found her host parents, Brenda and Jos Timmermans, as well as their daughter, Journey, 8, were "great people, and they're European, so they share the same sense of humor."

Still, Fossberg cried her first few weekends in the U.S., because she missed "partying" in Norway, as well as her brother and sister. But she made a lot of new friends and both she and Bennedsen note that Americans are more open and friendly than the people in their own homelands.

"They say 'Hi' to everyone here, there's more smiling," said Fossberg. "In Norway, if you are a ray of sunshine everyday, they think you're weird or mentally disabled. I like it better here, it's OK to talk to whoever, you're more free this way. You're not weird for talking to someone who's not from the same social group."

Bennedsen and Fossberg also noticed something that isn't such a plus for the U.S.— the lack of easy access to public places.

"I'm used to riding a bike at home or taking the public bus," said Bennedsen. "Here, I have to get rides. It's more challenging, because you have to plan more here, and put in more effort than at home."

Fossberg said she walked everywhere at home, but it's not common here. She does, however, want Americans to know they have cars in Norway.

"Kids were asking me if we had cars and I told someone we just ride moose," laughs Fossberg. "She believed me."

Both girls are grateful for their school year here.

"I'm so glad I did it," said Fossberg, who returns home June 27. "I wouldn't change anything, it's been extraordinary. I am coming back here, I know I am. I'll send my friends here Norwegian chocolate and talk to them on Facebook."

Bennedsen said when she returns to Denmark June 21, she will tell them she had a good year, playing sports she wouldn't have otherwise played, and doing cool things.

"I had a very good family and made some really good friends," said Bennedsen, who will bring her parents and younger sister on a return trip to the U.S. this summer.