The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High

Katie Wallace

Johanne Mortensen

Home city: Odense, Denmark

Host Family: Barbara Goldman, retired Henry Elementary counselor

Grade: 11

What inspired you to become a foreign exchange student?

“It is because of my mom. She was [also] an exchange student in the U.S., so she has told [me] many stories about her exchange student year. I thought it sounded really fun. My two cousins [have] been exchange students as well.”

Did you get any say in where you studied?

“No, I only got to know the family: who they were, their names and a little information about them. [Later on], I got a longer paper about where they lived and all of that.” 

Is there any language barrier?

“Not really, only when I speak fast. It can be hard to pronounce it right or not mess up when I speak. It is hard because I have to translate everything I say, hear and read. That is tiring for your brain when you are about to sleep.”

What has your transition been like?

“It’s been great, but now that I am getting used to living here and starting school, I have become more homesick. I talk with my parents often because I need the support from home but otherwise, it’s been great.” 

Have you ever been to America before now?

“Yes, I’ve been here six times before. We went on road trips, so we went through multiple states and cities, and I’ve been in [around] 12 states. I have been to New York three times, Florida three times, I don’t know every city, but I have been to a lot of places.”

Did you get any culture shock?

“In Denmark, we have more freedom to take our bikes and go places. Here, I have to plan what I want to do [depending on] who can drive me. My host mom has a lot of rules that I didn’t have in Denmark. I think the [lack of] freedom has been a culture shock for me.” 

What has been your best experience here so far?

“I have had a lot of [good] experiences. My first night out with friends was with a friend from tennis named [senior] Sarah [Griege]. It was really fun to experience being a teen in America. I also went to Ballwin Days with my host mom and saw the fireworks, heard music and got lemonade and stuff like that. It was really fun.”

What has been your most difficult experience here so far?

“I think it’s communication between my host mom [and I]. It is hard to confront an adult, so if there are any problems, it’s hard to take up the subject with her. I had some problems choosing my subjects because she wanted me to take some that I didn’t want to, but, in the end, I needed to talk to her, so I did, and I got the subjects I wanted.” 

How does school here compare to school in your home country?

“It’s different. In Denmark, we have one big elementary, middle and high school in one. We have an extra class called zero, so it is from zero to ninth grade, and then you graduate from that school. You can choose to take tenth grade at that school, but it depends on what you want. [After that], you have a gap year where I chose to go to the United States. Then you could go directly to the last years of high school, [which are] 11th, 12th and 13th grade. You can choose that, or you can choose to go to another school where you don’t focus on schoolwork but focus on friendships. If you have a sport, you can do that [there]. So it’s more fun. Then you live there with your friends. After this, I will go to my last years of high school in Denmark and take an education that can lead me to university.” 

Is there any specific aspect of home you miss?

“[I miss] my parents, cat, sister, grandma, grandpa — just family and friends.”

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