They say home is where the heart is, and this certainly holds true for 16-year-old Helene Lyngbye, who will miss her Arcadia family and friends when she returns to her native Denmark.
Lyngbye just wrapped up her school year at Phoenix Country Day School, where she was on an exchange program through AFS Intercultural Programs. This non-profit promotes intercultural education across the globe through study abroad and exchange programs. Every year, the AFS Greater Phoenix chapter welcomes about 22 students from around the world, setting them up with host families and incredible experiences. Lyngbye and her fellow exchange students arrived for the start of this past school year, and they have spent the past nine months expanding their horizons and getting accustomed to the American ways of life.
Despite her initial impressions that the two countries were very similar, Lyngbye soon realized many surprising differences, from the way parents raise their children to the size of supermarkets.
“Parents worry a lot more here and play a much bigger role in their child’s life,” said Lyngbye. “Denmark is more about letting their child become very independent from a young age.”
Lyngbye embraced the tight-knit family environment provided by her host parents, Jamie and Stephen Boscardin, and her host sister Olivia. They were there to support her along the way, introducing her to their traditions and showing her around the state. Back in Denmark, Lyngbye has an older brother, but it was a nice change to have a close confidante in Olivia.
“It was really nice having a sister and someone you can talk to. They are all wonderful people and super fun,” said Lyngbye.
Living in another country is an experience Lyngbye would recommend to everyone, even students who worry about missing out in their home country.
“I feel like you learn more on a foreign exchange program than you do going to your own school for another year. You enter a country and you don’t know anyone, you don’t have your best friends or your parents that raised you,” she said. “But you get to appreciate your personality and find out who you are.”
For Lyngbye, that meant stepping out of her comfort zone and being more outgoing. “I love how open Americans are. It taught me to be myself,” she said. “In Denmark I was much more quiet, and when I came here I had to learn how to make small talk.”
Monthly catch-ups and group excursions helped her connect with other exchange students. Every year, AFS volunteers take the students on a trip to the Grand Canyon, which Lyngbye described as the most beautiful sight she’d ever seen.
Now, as she looks ahead with hopes of pursuing a career in medicine and working for Doctors Without Borders, Lyngbye says she will always cherish her time in Arizona.
“I’ve learned so much you could say in some ways it has been the hardest year of my life but also the best year of my life,” said Lyngbye.
Her host mom Jamie knows how amazing it can be to learn about new cultures and customs. The Boscardins have hosted several students over the years.
“These students become your family for life and the experience is one that lasts far beyond the year of hosting,” Boscardin said. “This is a big commitment and it does indeed take some adjustment, but if truly committed to the experience, it can be life-changing.”
Unique experiences and memories like these make it totally worthwhile, says Karen Powers, a dedicated volunteer with AFS and a former host parent.
“It’s an incredible learning experience for both the students and their host families,” said Powers. “Exchange students are curious and will ask you why you do things a certain way, and you won’t even have thought about it until then! It’s simple things like who does certain chores around the house, or meal times.”
AFS hopes to continue offering these eye-opening experiences for years to come, but the organization needs host families for the upcoming academic year, especially for placements at Arcadia and Phoenix Country Day. A bed, three meals a day and a loving home environment are all it takes.
For more: Karen Powers at 480-970-0987 or Kpowers355@gmail.com.