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 Richard Bratton, AFS volunteer and study abroad student in Denmark.
Meet Emma Gudjonsdottir from Hellerup, Denmark. She is one of three foreign exchange students living in West Hartford and attending Conard High School this school year. She is also just one of seven in Connecticut, out of approximately only 50 students who were able to come to the U.S. this year.
Emma is also featured in Conard’s musical, “Little Women,” which opened April 11 and is available for streaming through May 31.
Hi, Emma! Tell us about yourself.
Hej! I am an AFS study abroad student from Hellerup, Denmark. Currently, I am a junior at Conard High School. I also live with Maria from Portugal. I have taken numerous fun classes over the year, focusing mostly on the arts and theatre. I find it awesome that I am the only Dane AFS student this year in the whole United States and have the opportunity to share my culture.
Why did you want to be an AFS exchange student?
I have wanted to be an AFS exchange student for some years now. A few of my family members are AFS alumni, so I wanted to have the same great experience that they had. In addition, the cultural exchange makes you have a different view on things. My favorite quote is that this experience has been a year in my life, but a life in one year.
What are the biggest cultural differences between Denmark and here?
I think that the biggest cultural differences can be broken down into three categories: the food, the clothing people wear, and how people interact with each other. The diversity of food choices has been amazing. Also, people tend to dress more casually here than in Denmark, and they seem to be more open and polite.
What have you liked about Connecticut and West Hartford?
Due to COVID it has been more difficult to venture out and do things, but that just makes the experiences I do have more valuable. I like how the weather is similar to Denmark, and there is a sense of hygge, or coziness, in the town. I also liked relaxing around a fire this winter, apple picking during the fall, ice skating, and hiking.
What do you do outside of school here?
Outside of school it has been great meeting my host families’ friends and family. I like to hang out with my friend group from theater, an activity which took up most of my time.
What would you like people reading this to know about Denmark:
For a country of only around 8 million people there is a lot of rich history and culture. One thing people may not know is that some famous fairy tales such as the Little Mermaid were written by Hans Christian Anderson from Denmark. Also, Lego is from Denmark and roughly translates to “play well.”
Hosting an AFS exchange student:
I think that almost everyone could develop the skills necessary to host an AFS student if they are open to it. The most important part is being welcoming and understanding that the student will not instantly adapt to the new culture overnight. One example I have was with the difference between being able to leave the house whenever I wanted in Denmark, compared to here, where there isn’t public transportation and it’s not so easy to just go out.
Being an AFS exchange student:
If you are on the fence about being an AFS exchange student … just do it! Everyone has doubts, not every day is going to be perfect, but in the end, it is so worth it. A new family, friends and perspective await!
AFS-USA, a non-profit organization, has been a leader in international student exchange for more than 70 years. Its mission is to enhance the global competency of U.S. citizens by providing intercultural learning experiences for individuals, families, communities and schools through a global volunteer partnership. Each year, AFS-USA awards more than $3 million in scholarships and financial aid to U.S. students applying to study abroad, and it maintains a network of more than 4,000 U.S. volunteers who support participating educators, students and families nationwide.
If you are interested in hosting an exchange student next year, or if your high-school aged student would like to participate in an AFS exchange visit afsUSA.org. To learn more about AFS in West Hartford visit: https://weha-afs.org/
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