Karoline Andersen, a 17-year-old from Norway, was one of several foreign exchange students this year at Leavenworth High School. In this Q&A, she talks about her year attending Leavenworth High School and living with a local military host family.
Have you enjoyed your exchange year?
I have absolutely enjoyed my year as an exchange student. A year overseas is surely exciting. I have experienced so much I would not have in my own country.
What activities were you involved in while at Leavenworth High?
After school activities and sports were one of the things I was most excited about when I moved here. The school offers a lot of variation in sports, clubs and activities. In Norway, this is not the case. We don’t have activities and sports in school, so everything is based on local clubs. I think the fact that schools offer sports make more teenagers more active in an activity or willing to try something new. I have tried to be as active in after school activities as possible. For the fall season, I joined the JROTC Raider program, which I had never done anything similar to, but I totally fell in love with the team. This was the first place I made friends in school. For winter sports, I did wrestling for a little period. This didn’t go that well for me. I dislocated my elbow halfway during the season, so wasn’t able to finish the season with the team. I have also loved all the coaches I have had during the year, they have really impacted me and taught me a lot.
What has surprised you about Leavenworth High and Kansas?
I think one thing that surprised me the most in the beginning was how friendly people are here. In my culture, it’s not normal to say hi to strangers or do small talk. It was very strange for me in the beginning when people said hi to me in town or asked me how my day was going.
Have there been any language barriers?
I was super scared to move to a place where I have to speak and use English all the time. Luckily, the shift from Norwegian to English went surprisingly well. It was hard in the beginning and the subject concepts were challenging. I remember school work and homework took a long time to do because I had to process everything I read. But everyone was super understanding and helped me out when I was struggling. English for me now comes really natural and feels normal.
Have you made a lot of new friends?
I will say I have made a lot of friendly relations. I always have someone to talk to at school and hang out with during practices. I also have friends that I spend time with after school. I consider all of these as friends, but I don’t have a lot of really close friendships like I do in Norway. I think I will keep contact with most of them on social media when I move back, but it is just a few I think I will reconnect with in person later. It was definitely easier to get to know other international students than born Americans.
What will you remember about Leavenworth when you return home?
The lifestyle here as a teenager is really different from my home. I am used to a more connected town when it comes to distance between places and public transportation to get around. Norway has a really good bus network, even in the small towns, which my friends and I used to get around. Norwegian parents are also less strict and it is normal to stay out way later than here. I am also used to not needing to come home after school or inform my parents where I am or who I am with. To not have a car in the U.S. limits a lot of opportunities to get out, since I live pretty far away from places and most of my friends. The school system is also very different. Norwegian schools don’t have any school spirit, we don’t have any teams, mascots, etc. Everything in the states is also bigger – the buildings, the cars, the shopping areas, the people.
Would you like to return to Leavenworth for a visit someday?
Leavenworth has affected me a lot. I will remember all the people here – my friends, my host family, my teachers, coaches and the other people I have met here. I will surely miss the after school activities, the drives with friends blasting music, the cheap food, the big movie theaters and the friendly culture. I think I have learned to be more awake to my surroundings and have adapted the daily habit of smiling and saying hi to people, which I never did before. I will definitely visit Leavenworth again. I want to reconnect with some people here and show my family the place I lived for a year.
What are the best things about being an international student?
I think the best thing about being an international student is everything you learn from pushing yourself. I have grown so much during this year, and will move back with new motivation for the future, less fear and better values and understanding of other people. An exchange year isn’t just easy. It is hard to live without your most important rocks in your life like family and friends. It is hard to adjust to another family’s habits and lifestyle. This year has given the opportunity to meet so many beautiful people that have touched my heart and soul.
Would you recommend students to get involved in the exchange program?
I will surely recommend going to another country through an exchange year. The smallest differences are the greatest experiences when traveling. I have seen how life is over here, and I really think Europe where I am from will be an amazing experience for teenagers here. I think other places in the world can teach teenagers so much, and just the fact by doing something alone when you are the only person you can rely on is a huge opportunity to grow and be more confident growing up.