Ida Heggen and Emma Johansson traveled from Europe through the Education First high school exchange program. Daily News sat with Heggen and Johansson to learn about their experience transitioning from large cities in Europe to Breckenridge, Minnesota.
Johansson’s hometown is Stockholm, Sweden. She is staying with Laura and Paul Heitke. Heggen’s hometown is Trondheim, Norway. She is staying with Dan and Marsha Ceminski.
Both young women were used to living in large cities filled with hundreds of shops, restaurants and people. They come from a place of astonishing different cultures with an open mind to experience a new way of life away from their friends and family.
After discussion, it became obvious that life in Europe compared to the States is paramount and beyond compare for Heggen and Johansson.
Daily News: How long will you be in the U.S. for?
Emma Johansson: I’ll be here for a total of 10 months up until the end of the school year. I’ve been living in Breckenridge for three months.
Ida Heggen: I was in Arizona before I came here, but I’ve been in Breckenridge for just two months. I’ll be here until the end of the school year.
DN: How did your program place you here?
EJ: We chose that we wanted to go to America and then they match you with a host family.
IH: I chose the States. I actually had other states. I was in Wickenburg, Arizona for three months and then I came here. It was a small place, an hour from Phoenix.
DN: How did you discover this program?
EJ: When we graduate from middle school, that’s ninth grade here, we get to chose what kind of high school we want to go to which is like college where you get to chose a major. They have booths at fairs where you can look at the different types of schools and they had a booth for foreign exchange and I thought that sounded cool.
IH: It was the same for me. After middle school, which was the tenth grade for me, I learned from other people who have been on exchange here and it sounded really fun.
DN: Does this exchange program count towards your high school diploma?
IH: This year counts as a year. But we have 13 years of school so I will have one year left when I come back.
EJ: Mine does not count so I have to retake a year when I come home. So when I get home I have two more years of high school before I graduate.
DN: Does the high school you chose have to be in your hometown, or can it be anywhere?
IH: It can be anywhere and there a lot of different options you can take. You can choose (to be) an electrician and then after three or four years you are done with education and you become an electrician.
EJ: I would say our high school is more like your college. You can do extra stuff after that as well.
DN: Which direction of high school did you take?
IH: I chose pre-university. So its what you have to take if you want to get into a university after high school. I always wanted to be a police officer and you have to go to university for that.
EJ: I don’t know what I want to be. I am in social science so you can pretty much do anything with that. It’s good to choose if you don’t know what you want to do.
DN: Do you participate in any athletics, organizations or other activities at Breckenridge?
EJ: I was in cheerleading for football and now I am managing basketball. I don’t know what I’ll do in spring.
IH: I was in cheerleading in Arizona, but I came too late in Breckenridge to start here for cheerleading so I haven’t started another sport. In Norway, they don’t have sports there, it’s not connected to the school at all.
DN: How has the transition from a large city in Europe to a small city in the U.S. been going?
EJ: Its a huge difference to here. It was really weird at first. I’m used to a million people a really big school. There aren’t as many things to do, but it’s really cozy.
IH: It was the same for me. It was a lot smaller and less shopping and malls, but its really pretty.
DN: Where have you traveled to in the U.S.?
EJ: We were in New York. When you get to the States you have three days in New York to get settled and meet other exchange students before you leave for your host families. I have been to North Dakota and South Dakota.
IH: That is the same for me and also Arizona.
DN: Are you planning any vacations while you are in the U.S.?
EJ: We are going to Florida, but not together. I am going with my parents in Sweden. They are coming to visit so we are going to Florida in January. I am going to Orlando. We are going to Universal and I am so excited.
IH: I am going with my family from Norway to Orlando, Florida in April. I’m very excited.
DN: Where have you traveled throughout Europe?
EJ: A couple of summers in a row we take our car and we go all through Europe. My parents and I have been through Spain, we have been through Greece. You get to see a lot of places. Italy is my favorite, I just love Italy.
IH: We (Heggen’s family) don’t drive or take trains but we fly a lot. We usually celebrate Christmas in Spain and then we go to a country in the summer. We have been through Greece a lot of times. We have been to Spain, Morocco, Turkey and others. Greece is my favorite place.
DN: What languages do you speak?
EJ: Swedish is my native language. English and a little Spanish and Danish. We understand each other though. Some words you get and others are like “Woah, what did you just say?” We get the most part so we can put it together.
IH: Norwegian is my native language. Then I speak English and Spanish. Norwegian is a mix between Swedish and Danish so we can speak with each other.
DN: Are you able to stay in touch with your friends and family back home?
EJ: Yeah, I talk to my family a lot, like a lot. I don’t know if that’s good or not. It’s really nice to have Facetime so that I can see them, that makes it a lot easier. I always call my parents when I go to sleep cause that’s when they get up.
IH: The time difference is probably the hardest part, seven hours.
DN: What is it like living in a host family?
EJ: It’s really cool. In the beginning, it is kind of weird because you didn’t know the people but now it just feels like my family. Like my real family, it feels the same way.
IH: It is kind of scary in the beginning because we don’t know. Before we met them I didn’t know if they were nice or who they were. Then I met them and they are really nice and we are just getting closer and closer.
DN: Even though you are in separate host families, are you close to one another?
EJ: Yes, we are close. It’s nice and we have a lot in common. It’s good to have someone that has the same experience and knows what you go through.
DN: How do you celebrate Christmas in your home country?
IH: We celebrate the day before on Christmas Eve. We don’t do anything on Christmas Day. We get a gift on Christmas Eve and that’s when people go to church and eat dinner together. People don’t decorate their houses in Norway but the city has decorations. People also start much earlier here.
EJ: Yeah we have the same traditions as she does in Sweden. It’s going to be weird spending Christmas without my family for the first time. It’s fun to go down the streets and see the lights here, you don’t see that in Sweden, no one really decorates.
DN: What are the biggest challenges you have had to face from moving here?
IH: It’s adapting to a different culture because it is very different like the way people behave. It takes some time but you get used to it. The people are really nice here. They say “excuse me” and they open the door for each other and if you don’t do that then it is kind of rude. In Norway, it wouldn’t have been rude. So I am trying to learn that so I don’t sound like I am rude.
EJ: I like that in a small town every time you go into a store there is always someone that says “hi” to you because there is someone who knows who you are. At home, you only know your family and friend group but then no one else. In my school (in Sweden) I see new people every day because there are like 2,000 people there. Here I know every single face and you learn pretty quickly.
DN: What has been the highlight of your experience thus far?
EJ: I think it’s cool to meet people that I didn’t even know existed. If I wouldn’t have got here I wouldn’t know all the people I do now. I have some really good friends here and I think its cool that I got to meet them from this experience. It’s great that you get to have friends from all over the world. I also really liked cheerleading and being at the football games.
IH: Its the same for me. Getting another family too that I will know for the rest of my life. I just like to be with the host family and see the traditions they have. Like baking cookies with them for Christmas.
Breckenridge High School has welcomed 14 of Education First’s high school exchange students since 1998. The program allows students to connect to families, friends and new cultures around the world.