This is the next article in our series this year, ‘Opening our homes and minds: West Hartford’s AFS foreign exchange students and their host families.’
Interviewed and edited by Ruby Michtom, AFS volunteer, future AFS exchange student, and current Hall High School student
Meet Bertine Hansen from Karmøy, Norway. She is one of seven foreign exchange students living in West Hartford this school year.
Hi, Bertine! Tell us about yourself.
I’m 17, from Karmøy which is a small island off the southwest coast of Norway. I’m currently a senior at Hall High School, my host parents are Katelyn and Cole. I love being with animals and friends, traveling, being in nature, and stepping out of my comfort zone. I like doing things that might make me a little nervous, that throw me into the unknown. I’ve figured out that it pretty much always turns out okay, and I feel pretty good about myself after doing it.
Why did you want to be an AFS exchange student?
I decided to be an exchange student because I feel satisfied when I’m experiencing new cultures and new things. Like I said, I enjoy stepping out of my comfort zone because I believe that’s when you develop yourself as a human being. And it’s a year where you will challenge yourself and get to know yourself on another level, so I thought, “Why not?” I did not know anyone else who had done an exchange other than online, so it was exciting and nerve wracking, but that’s what I like.
What are the biggest cultural differences between Norway and here?
The people in general. Americans in general are very outgoing, extroverted, and unafraid to talk to strangers. People tell you in the hallway that your hair looks good, and hope you have a nice day. However, it can be harder to get to know people on a deeper level. Us Norwegians are usually more shy as compared to Americans, however, just as not all Americans are outgoing, not all Norwegians are shy either. Also there are a lot of squirrels, which are really cute. In Norway I’m lucky to see a squirrel once a year, but here I see them all the time.
What have you liked about Connecticut and West Hartford?
When I first got my placement I knew nothing about Connecticut, but I think I fell in love with this place. West Hartford is, like, the perfect town, beautiful hikes, amazing restaurants, fun activities, sports games, and it’s really such a positive environment. I like that I am experiencing the gorgeous four seasons. In Norway we still have the same seasons, but there’s a lot more rain all the time. Here, your seasons are so distinct, almost extra.
What do you do outside of school here?
Currently I am in Unified Basketball, Bake Someone Happy Club, a baking club, and Cancer Kids First Club, all at Hall, and I also acted in the school’s 10 Minute Play Festival, which I would not get to do in Norway. I love that we have Unified activities here, where everyone is included. Last fall, I was in Unified Soccer and Unified Theatre, and that was really fun and I am grateful to be able to take that experience back to Norway. Outside of school related activities, I’ve been on hikes with my host family and bonding activities. We’ve been to New York City, Washington D.C., and Provincetown Massachusetts. P-Town was my favorite, I loved it so much: so accepting, so beautiful, such good food.
What would you like people reading this to know about:
Norway: Norway is a beautiful country, we are known for our idyllic nature, but we also have a lot of history like the Viking Age. Each summer we have a Viking Festival, where we dress up like Vikings. Norway has been ranked several times as the best country in the world. We have really amazing food, and really amazing chocolate which I’ve been missing while I’ve been here.
Hosting an AFS exchange student: Hosting an exchange student enables you to learn about a new culture, and create relationships with someone you would not. In order for exchange students to be a thing, there have to be host families, and you are matched with someone who shares your interests. Many exchange students form life-lasting connections with their host families. When you show an exchange student around where you live, you almost get to be a tourist in your own town, seeing more parts of it through a different lens.
Being an AFS exchange student: Becoming an exchange student was definitely the best decision I’ve made. Transitioning from childhood to adulthood can be difficult, and this is such an amazing experience that lets you get to know yourself better. Although it can sound scary to jump into something unknown, you should not let fear control your life. Living life to the fullest is important, and you only live once. So … why not?
About AFS: AFS brought me to this amazing community in West Hartford where I have connected with other exchange students. These are people I will never forget, and who I hope to stay in touch with even after going back to Norway. AFS matched me with my host family who I am so grateful to have. They make it possible to connect with people you normally wouldn’t ever get to know.
If you are interested in hosting an exchange student, or if your high-school aged student would like to participate in an AFS exchange, please contact Jamie Cohen at [email protected] or visit afsUSA.org.
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