Exchange Student Welcomed In St. Marys

ST. MARYS — When Ingrid Hagby Johnsen came to the United States in August, she carried one suitcase, but had packed a list of worries that could have filled two more.

“The day before I left I was freaking out — ‘what do I need to pack?” Johnsen said. “What is my host family going to be, will I get any friends at school, where will I sit at lunch,’ all those questions that really don’t matter that much. But it’s scary.”

Most of her ideas about what American high schools were like came from movies. Johnsen is an exchange student who attends Memorial High School.

“You see all these movies about people going to American high schools,” Johnsen said.” Like ‘Mean Girls.’ You see high school, and think, ‘I wonder what that’s really like.’”

At first, everything was different from home. The landscape, the people and the food.

“Everything here was flat,” she said.

In Norway, there are mountains, rivers and oceans. Fast food restaurants are more common in the United States than in Norway, even in the larger cities

Even as she misses Norwegian chocolate and soda, she said there are a few aspects of American cuisine she enjoys.

“I love steak, and hamburgers,” Johnsen said.

Occasionally she would miss dressing up for the weekends or for school. In Norway, she said, everyone dresses up for school. The boys especially dress in sweaters.

“It’s not T-shirts and shorts all the time,” Johnsen said.

Almost immediately, however, she started to have experiences that showed her the side of the United States she would want to share with family and friends back home. She spent a week at the outset of the trip in New Jersey, and when school started, joined soccer, and now is on the softball team. She went to Florida with her host family.

At home, the popular sports are soccer, handball and skiing, and schools aren’t the supporters of sports, those are all pursued through clubs.

At school in the United States, there was a lot more freedom to choose a schedule, and many more electives are offered, although in Norwegian students choose what school they attend, although it needs to be one in their region. The teaching style is also different.

Instead of students changing classrooms, the teachers change.

“The teachers here do more for you,” Johnsen said.

Johnsein said she enjoys going to Friday night sporting events. Because the school is much smaller, she said everyone knows one another much more than in her schools at home. The people are also very friendly, she said.

“People here are really open, nice and welcoming,” Johnsen said.

Johnsen’s family will arrive today, and she said she’s excited to show them everything about the life she’s lived away from home for eight months. She wants them to meet her host family, her friends and come to her softball scrimmage Monday.

What may be more noticeable to them, however, will be how much she’s changed since she left home.

“I think I’m more independent,” Johnsen said. “Because you’re on your own the first time. You have to build completely new friendships. I take contact with people easier now. My year has been really good. Every day is awesome.”