by Mr. Lakhaney

Gunshots, Lifelong Friends, and a Lot of Shopping Reflections From Danish Exchange students at BSGE

From September 13th through the 24th, twenty five exchange students from Denmark stayed with seniors from BSGE as part of an exchange program that BSGE has done for the past four years.  The exchange students stayed with their BSGE host families and came to school with the kids.  While the BSGE students were attending classes, the Danish students and their two accompanying teachers toured and experienced New York City.  At night, their individual host families determined their activities.
According to the students, highlights of the trip included uniquely New York things like a visit to Rockefeller Center, the Statue of Liberty, and Ground Zero.  “We saw things that we’ve heard a lot about and seen on television and movies and then we finally got to see them,” said Michael Holst, one of the exchange students.
One event that each of the exchange students wanted to tell their friends back home about was their walking tour of Harlem where the students could learn about the history and culture of one New York’s most famous neighborhoods.  During their tour, the students got to hear gun shots in the distance, see police cars, fire trucks, and even receive some unwanted attention.  Some things that you might rarely experience in New York, these students saw all in one day.
Much of the students’ experiences were shaped by the family they were staying with because once you were dismissed from school, you were in the care of your host family.
The students appreciated understanding how people lived and said that they got to know the culture and people much better.  The students went to London and Berlin in years past and New York has been their favorite city of the bunch because they got to experience New York while living with native New Yorkers, which they did not do in either London or Berlin.
One of the first things students brought up upon reflecting on the trip was all of the shopping they did.  Some of the students got to shop on 5th ave., Woodbury Commons Outlets, and Queens Center Mall.  Why so much shopping?  “Items were cheaper by more than 50% compared to prices in Denmark,” explained Brian Laursen.  The economic difficulties the US has experienced has led to a weaker currency exchange rate that worked to the benefit of tourists in the US, including our Danish exchange students.  In addition to the currency differences, the Danish students did not have to pay the 25% tax on consumer goods that they are used to, compared to much lower tax rates in New York.
When discussing the students they got to live with, the reputation of the overworked BSGE student was apparent.  The kids at BSGE “are a lot more serious about school” than students in Denmark, said Anne Norgaard.  Living among students, the volume of work and the seriousness of their students’ commitment were obvious, though answers certainly varied depending on which student was hosting.  Michael Holst agreed with the assessment of the seriousness with which students and parents both took education in the US: “to people here, education is everything.”  He speculated that was the case because “there are so many people and it is so difficult to get seats and top universities and jobs.  In Denmark, we are more relaxed.” Brian Laursen added, “we have a safety net in Denmark,” referring to the amount of government assistance the citizens of Denmark can receive when they need it.  “We will never have to be very poor and have to beg on the streets.  People are just more relaxed about education,” he added.
The kids also commented on the differences in college education and how it affected the way students in high school worked.  “If they [American Students] want to go to and afford a good college you have to get a scholarship but in Denmark it is free and we can go back even when we are 50 to study” so the incentive to work as hard isn’t there.
The Danish students also had some interesting insights into the relationship parents had with their kids and how different it was based on what they were used to.  The parents in the US were “very overprotective.  The kids had to be home at 10.  In Denmark, even when you’re 15 it is your problem to deal with if you have to go to school tomorrow.  In a way we grow up more but they get more of a push from their parents,” said Michael Holst.
The second part of the exchange will happen in late January and have BSGE students travel to Denmark, a nation with fewer people than New York City, and live with host families.  During the time they spend with their host families, the students from BSGE are “going to get a shock.  We live in big houses with our own gardens.  Our living standards are much different,” because of the amount of space and it is a small town, said Maja Sorenson.
As far as what there is to do in Frederecia, the small town in Denmark, where the exchange school is located, Anne Norgaard quickly responded, “nothing,” followed by some awkward laughter, when she responded seriously, “it is hard to show them something special because New York has so much.  Maybe nature.  They don’t have a lot of nature.  We have a lot of it.”
Aside from nature, BSGE students have a lot to look forward to when they visit.  They will get to take a tour Copenhagen (Denmark’s capital), see various castles, sit in on classes with Danish students, among many other activities in addition to immersing themselves into a new culture.
While staying with their host families, BSGE students can get used to living in a culture and place where the pace of life is much different from what they are used to in New York.  The Danish students also implied that BSGE students would enjoy a culture where parents weren’t quite as strict with their kids on curfews and other do’s and don’ts.
Though Queens is possibly the most diverse place in New York, having Danish students live among us and be part of our community for two weeks was truly a unique experience and valuable to the mission of our school.   The visit further developed our sense of global education and allowed us to learn from each other.
The exchange program is organized and arranged by community and service coordinator and college counselor Peter Wilson.  Underclassmen who are interested in the trip should talk to him about how to get involved but it is exclusively reserved for seniors.

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