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What Does an Exchange Year at Blackfoot High School Look Like?

A look into a previous foreign exchange student’s year and her story.
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What is it like to be a High School Foreign Exchange Student at Blackfoot High School?

For most foreign high school students who are coming to Blackfoot, they don’t know what to expect. Exchange years can be described as the best and the worst months of your life. Finding a second home in a new country with a new family and a new school with new friends is an amazing experience that can’t be replicated. For most people, their year away is “like a dream come true.” Or that’s at least how Victoria Berthelsen would describe it. A previous Blackfoot High School foreign exchange student had completed her exchange back in June of 2023. Originally from Denmark, she came to America, and she has now gone back to her home country to live her life with her original family. There is still a lot to reflect on though now that her year is over.

No exchange year is complete without challenges and setbacks. From the moment you step off the plane and have jet lag, to the moment you have to get on that airplane to say goodbye, there are hardships that each student has to face. For Victoria, the junior had a lot happen that she had not expected to have to face. She feels that a lot of events that happened over her year could have been avoided had she been prepared to expect that, but it was never a thought that came to mind until those events happened. The purpose of this paper is to help upcoming or new foreign exchange students in America, and more specifically, Blackfoot Idaho.

Even though Victoria had her best year ever, there were still personal lows that she hit. One of which was communication with other students. Berthelsen notes that she was fluent in English, and hardly had a hard time with pronunciation, but there was still a language barrier between her and Americans. It was hard not being blunt and direct with people without coming off as rude, and it was also hard to express her feelings and have someone understand how she felt. This frustrating occurrence left her feeling alone in some way, and it made her miss speaking her original language.

Another hardship was getting used to a new family. Recalling her stay, Victoria Berthelsen said “I called my parents every single day since coming to America until March! I missed them so much, and it was really hard being apart from them and seeing them do everything without me. I missed Christmas and my birthday, and that’s when I wanted to see my parents the most.” Staying with a different family is always a gamble because a student doesn’t know how nice, safe, or strict their family will be. It’s one of the risks that you can experience moving in with anyone new, but for Victoria, it was the feeling of not feeling at home that was the worst.

Growing into a new home with a new family took several months, and even after not feeling comfortable, she moved in with a new family. It’s normal to not fit in with your family. An awkwardness can exist with your family, and that’s okay!

Culture shock is given with exchange year, especially in America, since there is no country quite like ours. We’re patriotic, with lots of fast food options, and in some way, Americans mostly meet the stereotypes that other people across the world have of us. From Victoria’s story, she said that the culture shock was bigger than she was expecting. She came to the United States expecting a city but was sad to discover a small town. What she had prepared herself to face was not enough to stop the immediate culture shock she faced, however, her location in the end did not influence her overall enjoyment that year. It just took some getting used to it all.

From the start of the school year, Victoria put herself in a position to make friends. Cliques are common in American culture, and it can be hard to find friends when everyone is so closed off. Sports were a really easy way for Victoria to make friends, and so she decided to play on our girl’s varsity soccer team. The team was hard, but it was something to do, and it was very rewarding. Victoria went to Homecoming with her new friends, and Sadies’ as well, but she still struggled to meet a group of people that would want to spend time with her every day.

Berthelsen points out that it would likely take a lot of years to become good friends with people in America, and no one here was committed to knowing her deeply. “It was tough.” Lunch was spent alone for a little bit, though she was still living the “American Dream.”

By December, a new Trimester had started, and it felt like another new start. From the get-go, Berthelsen had a lot more classes with the people she liked. Taking Spanish and team sports were two of her favorite classes of her whole year, and it seemed like she was finally around people who were committed to her.

Her exchange year, which had so far only been enjoyable in aspects of school, was now really starting to take shape and make it all worth it. Berthelsen recalls nights ice-skating, driving with friends and the radio at full blast, going on small ski trips and making cookies with her new friends. She got to see places more in-depth than before because she had people spending time with her to take her there, and it was amazing.

However, once Christmas came, Victoria felt another surge of homesickness. Her usual holiday traditions were not considered, and without her family there, it was not the same. Sharing a Christmas with a different family felt wrong. And coming from a city, Copenhagen, where Christmas is decorated very seriously, her sadness was validated. Victoria recalls “Celebrating Christmas on the 25th was so weird, and my birthday was right after.” So on top of not getting to spend Christmas with her family, her Birthday which was usually two days after was also spent unusually.

In January, she got to see her parents for the first time in months. They came to America to support their daughter since Victoria had been having a very hard time without them, and what a breather that was for her. It felt unreal, and Victoria was super excited to get to show them a part of her life that no one else in her family had seen. January was also the halfway point for Victoria, and she started to realize that her experience was not going to last forever. Before, she had wanted it to pass as fast as possible, but now that she was starting to belong, the thought of leaving made her sad too.

The following months were spent much of the same. Go to school, hang out with friends after school, and repeat. As said before, since Victoria’s previous family was not a complete match for her, she switched families the last four months she had in America. Unlike before when she was moving in with strangers, she knew the family since it was her close friend’s household.

Victoria was grateful for the move, and with a new family, it came with more opportunities to travel and become connected with her new host family, in the end, she was a lot more comfortable with them. She continued to go to school dances and talk with other exchange students, and Victoria stopped calling her parents every single day. The stress was off her shoulders, unfortunately later than sooner, but a change late would have been better than no change.

Once her third trimester started, Victoria started playing tennis for the first time. She was a natural at it, and quickly moved her way up the team. She won brackets, and tournaments, and had the opportunity to play first varsity for the single girl’s division. She didn’t win every game but came close to it. Victoria was still offered the opportunity to go to state, as a helper, and from that, she got a state hoodie, gave support to her teammates, and she also got to see Idaho’s biggest city, Boise.

After this big accomplishment, Victoria’s final and most anticipated school event was just a few weeks away. The Prom theme was announced early on, and Victoria took on a student council class, meaning she was able to help plan the Prom for our school. This foreign exchange student has one of the strongest dedication to everything she does, so she very much enjoyed having the opportunity to make her school’s dream come true.

It took a few weeks, but from hanging and making posters, attending student council meetings, and sharing her thoughts and ideas to making prom possible, Berthelsen was able to help out a lot! She took it very seriously.

The weekend of her Prom was spent playing arcade games, spending time with her friends, going on hikes, and other activities. She found her dream dress, took lots of pictures, and had a delicious dinner with her friends to end the night. Her group was a mix of other foreigners and Americans, the ratio 7-3, Americans being outnumbered.

The dance was everything to her, and seeing how all the decorations looked was the cherry on top. She got to play games that night, dance, scream, and sing for hours. That is not the end of her story, but everything did start to wind down after Prom. The school was close to being complete, and in a few weeks, Berthelsen would have to go back home to her family.

She at one point had wanted to go home so badly, but once it came time, she longed to stay longer. She had visited so many places, met so many new people, and made so many connections to Idaho that it hurt to leave. Constantly counting down the days was impossible not to do, and it hurt seeing each one of her other exchange friends slowly leaving Blackfoot. Before she left, she got to see parts of Utah and do a ton of early summer activities with her host family. Staying in a vacation home, traveling through Salt Lake City, and spending her final moments in America with her family was how she kept her mind off of the inevitable fact that she was leaving.

A week before her take off flight, she invited her closest friends and teachers to her farewell party, and she spent her time hanging out with friends for the last time. The morning of her flight was sad for everyone. She had packed up her entire life into three suitcases, and a backpack, and even then she had to leave some things behind because she had gained so much. Yes, she was excited to see her family, but she was not prepared to go back to Denmark. And honestly, no one is. It was a heartbreaking experience, but she was still so happy to have had the opportunity to go on an exchange year. She cried and cried, that feeling of being heartbroken, but still happy was all she felt for months.

Life in Denmark with her family was awkward, but that is a given being away from your family for 10 months. There was so much to reflect on and so much she has learned along her journey. Eventually, life went back to normal, she spent the summer with her family and reconnected with distant family and friends. She went on a 4-week vacation back to America where she got to say one last goodbye to everyone, and that is really where Victoria’s exchange year ends.

Victoria’s advice for incoming students, after experiencing her exchange year, is to try playing sports. “Playing soccer and tennis was a way for me to meet people since I had a hard time talking to people in a classroom. If not for sports, I don’t think my name would have gotten out as much, and I’m sad thinking about the people I wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t participated in sports. Also, if you don’t have the heart to leave behind people who you would die for, then don’t go on an exchange year.”

This story will hopefully give you an idea of how chaotic an exchange year can be, but also hopefully some perspective as to how much fun it can be. Like every foreign exchange student who comes here, you will meet people who you don’t want to leave. You will have a second home that will have people who will always consider you family. In the end, a school year here at Blackfoot High School will be unique and unlike anything that you have experienced before.

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About the Contributor
River Denny, Staff Reporter
River Denny is a senior at Blackfoot High School who is excited to start the newspaper class. She has taken the newspaper class before and has rejoined it to meet new people and learn more about the foreign exchange students. With the experience of the past year of newspapers, she is easily able to take charge, help and inform the newcomers entering the newspaper class. For her final year of high school, she plans on making it to state for the golf team. She would also like to make it to varsity for the tennis team as well. Some of River’s favorite sports are skiing, tennis and golf, possibly because she likes the outdoors. She loves going on hikes and taking pictures of the vast landscapes. If she could, she would like to make a living off of being a tourist for hiking trails. She either plans on doing those tours after high school or going on a business exchange year after college. She either wants to go to University of Utah or University of Idaho for college. She would go to the U of U because it's not far from blackfoot. On the other hand, she has a lot of scholarships at U of I. River’s favorite teachers at Blackfoot high school are Bynum, Benson, Arave, and Pettinger because of their lovable personalities and how well they teach. However, one of River’s favorite subjects in school is newspaper. She hopes and thinks that her friends would describe her as smart and fun to be around. With the hopes of graduating this year, she wants to increase her talents and enjoy her hobbies and skills.

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