Foreign exchange students making a difference in their community

Students from Norway, Germany volunteering in their new homes

For some of us, moving across the world while in high school could be a challenge.

But for 11 foreign exchange students, the experience wasn’t all about learning American culture, but also volunteering in the community.

When Norwegian Foreign Exchange student Julia Nilsen found out she was headed to Westby, she quickly realized she wouldn’t be far from home.

“When I got to know where I was going, Googled Westby, and the first thing that came up was Velkomen in Norweigian, and I was like, OK, going back to Norway, great,” said Nilsen.

Nilsen is one of 11 foreign exchange students placed at Westby, Viroqua, De Soto, and Cashton High Schools. For most of them, coming to the Midwest was an eye-opening experience.

“I’ve never heard of Wisconsin, so I was very surprised, but I was also happy because my host family seemed to be really good,” said Frida Sundberg, an exchange student from Sweden.

“The tractor pulls. I’ve never seen that before I came here,” said Emma Christinsvenesen of Norway.

“It’s a shock for the kids when they come here,” said Leah Monroe, local coordinator for the exchange program. “When they sign up to be a foreign exchange student, they are not thinking Westby, Wisconsin.”

To connect more with the community, Monroe had students participate in a variety of projects, including collecting food, visiting nursing homes, as well donations to the Salvation Army.

“By volunteering, I’m hoping they go home and continue to volunteer, and continue to give back, and continue to try to change their worlds back home,” said Monroe.

“I feel like I’m a part of this town and this community,” said Sundberg.

Despite living in a small community, organizers are hoping this experience is making a big impact on the student’s lives.

“Even though they may have been a little disappointed they got placed in a small town, they go home with such a real experience,” said Monroe.

“I’m already planning my visit to come back here,” said Nilsen.

The 11 students will finish off the remainder of the school year before returning to their home countries.

Those nations including Norway, Germany, Japan, among others.