This is the fourth article in the 2019-20 academic year series ‘Opening our homes and minds: West Hartford’s AFS foreign exchange students and their host families.’
Interviewed and edited by Jamie Cohen, AFS volunteer (now), host sister (1980s) and returnee from Japan (1984)
Meet Vebjørn Røed from Bodø, Norway. He is one of seven foreign exchange students living in West Hartford this school year.
Hi, Vebjørn! Tell us about yourself.
First of all, call me “Veb,” because no one can pronounce my name. I am 17, and a senior at Conard High. I’m from the northern part of Norway. This year “counts” for me, but we have the equivalent of five years of high school. So I have another year to finish when I go back. I used to play a lot soccer but started running cross-country with the school team here. I live with the Cohens, I have a host brother, Marcel who is a freshman at Conard, and sister, Estelle, who is also a freshman, and I have a dog in my house for the first time in my life!
Why did you want to be an AFS exchange student?
I wanted to try to challenge myself in a new way. I felt like going on an exchange year was one of the most challenging things you could do at 17. My older sister did it five years ago – and at that time I thought it sounded way too scary. But obviously that changed.
What are the biggest cultural differences between Norway and here?
The school system is really different. The school here is a community in itself – I really like it, because you get closer to people at school. I feel like people are a lot more polite than Norwegians. We never say, “How’s your day?” or “How are you?” to strangers or acquaintances. We don’t make what you call “small talk” – we ask questions directly.
What have you liked about Connecticut and West Hartford?
I really like the autumn here. The colors of the leaves turning is really special. For me, everyone has been really welcoming. They want to know what’s “normal” for me, for example. I haven’t had any trouble finding friends or having people to talk to. The town center here is smaller than in my town, but I like that it’s walkable with great places to eat. The town library is beautiful, too. I’ve enjoyed that there are four AFS students in town, because with their host brothers and sisters, we make a really supportive group.
What do you do outside of school here?
I’m running cross country for the first time and made the varsity team. It’s a big part of my social life here and I’ve made really good friends with the guys on the team. We just won the state championships, and I’m so proud to be a part of it.
On the weekends I go to the Center or go out with the other AFS exchange students and friends from school. The other host families took me to a corn maze, and it was really fun!
What would you like people reading this to know about:
Norway: If you like nature, you’ll like Norway. The mountains are unique and really beautiful. Winter is dark north of the Arctic Circle where I live, but you can see the northern lights in winter and the midnight sun in summer.
Hosting an AFS exchange student: It’s a really nice way to connect with other parts of the world and getting to know other cultures. Know that you don’t have to feel like you have to entertain the exchange student at all times. When you treat the student like a part of the family, they become a part of your everyday life.
Being an AFS exchange student: As a student, you shouldn’t think too much about what you’re actually doing … if you overthink it, you’ll never do it. But that’s the best thing. You definitely grow from it, and it’s the best thing. If your year won’t “count” for graduation, then you should take as many fun classes as you can! As a parent, they should know that your kid will be taken care of really well by the local AFS team. It’s an important way for your son or daughter to mature.
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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