Exchange students thriving at SHS
Last updated 3/28/2023 at Noon
Hamburg, Germany and Copenhagen, Denmark contrast markedly from tiny Sisters, Oregon, but for the two 16-year-old exchange students at Sisters High School who hail from these famous European cities, the experience of living in our rural mountain town has been rich and satisfying.
Rebecca “Becca” Clausen and Freja Pedersen arrived in Sisters in late August as participants in the Pan Atlantic Foundation student exchange program. Within the first week both had joined fall sports teams and begun their integration into the student body of Sisters High School.
Pedersen and Clausen both come from families well acquainted with living abroad for a year.
“My mother, my step-father, and my sister went on exchange, and since I really like to travel and try new things I decided to do it myself,” said Pedersen.
Clausen’s brother spent a school year in Argentina, which prompted her to do some research.
“I chose the United States because I can speak English and my godfather lives here so I have somewhat of a personal connection,” she said.
Upon applying to take part in the program, neither girl had any idea that they would land in Central Oregon.
“When I found I was coming to such a small place I hoped that there would be nice people since everyone would know everyone and I knew it would be very different from living in a city of over a million like Hamburg,” she said.
When Pedersen heard she would be coming to Oregon, she immediately talked to her sister, who spent her exchange year in Hillsboro, west of Portland, and assumed her own experience would be similar.
“But when I got here to this small town I realized it would be way different than I expected, but I felt glad that the school was fairly small because I thought it would make it easier to make friends,” she said.
Both girls feel quite fluent in English now but say there have been plenty of times they didn’t quite have the right words, and that texting can sometimes be a challenge.
“I am a very sarcastic person and the meaning doesn’t quite get through right,” said Pedersen.
Clausen lives with the Kimberly and Jeremy Davis family, which includes four younger “sisters,” while Pedersen is hosted by the Angela and Ryan Ladd family, which includes two middle school girls. Being an “older sister” is a new experience for both.
Asked about some of the biggest differences they have noticed in America, things that surprised them, they pointed to recycling and wastefulness here in the States.
“Americans use a lot more paper and plastic than we do at home,” said Clausen.
Both girls said America lacks good-quality bread.
“Americans really need to up their bread game,” said Pedersen, laughing, with Clausen in full agreement. “Toast here is not really bread,” she said.
Both girls have been very active athletically for the Outlaws. Clausen played soccer and competed in Alpine skiing, while Pedersen ran cross-country, skied, and is currently on the track team.
“It really helps to be involved on teams because it is like community and then when you see these people in school and be integrated,” said Clausen.
Pedersen concurred, saying “A lot of my friends are from the cross-country team and it really helped form how the rest of my year was going to be.”
Clausen and Pederson noted that Americans are much less direct than Germans and Danish people.
“Germans say exactly what they are thinking,” said Clausen.
“With Americans you have to read between the lines more,” said Pedersen. “Which can be both a good and bad thing.”
Both girls encourage others to go on exchange, to travel and to experience other cultures, but caution against believing it will always be easy.
“You can’t have too high of expectations because then you may be disappointed,” said Clausen. “It can be a very good year, but it can also be a hard year being away from home.”
Pedersen said, “It can be a roller-coaster and some days you wish you could just teleport yourself back home, but it really is such an amazing experience and you learn so much about yourself.
“You have to be willing to go right up and talk to people and be outgoing.”
Both girls enrolled in the Interdisciplinary Environmental Expedition (IEE) program and got to experience its mountain trip up on the North Sister in October.
Pedersen said, “I didn’t really understand what I was getting into, and at first I thought the mountain trip was going to be up to a cabin with running water and beds, and have a bonfire and roast marshmallows.”
Despite the shock of it being a backpacking trip in cold conditions where she slept on the ground in a tent, she said, “It turned out to be so much fun getting to know other people and having a completely new experience.”
Both girls agreed that the IEE trip gave them a newfound appreciation for a warm bed and a comfortable home.
Overall the approach Clausen and Pedersen take toward life can be applied to all students.
“Try something new even if you might be bad at it,” said Pedersen. “I am a terrible skier, but it was still so much fun.”
“Don’t be afraid,” said Clausen.
Clausen and Pedersen have both traveled with their host families during their time here. Clausen has visited Seattle, Las Vegas, and Hawaii, while Pedersen traveled to San Francisco, Florida, and Idaho.
Clausen and Pedersen will return to their respective schools in Europe next school year to complete “gymnasium” and are both keeping open minds about what they will do when that is completed.
Clausen’s father is visiting during spring break, and Pedersen looks forward to her parents visiting in June.
As the school year enters its final trimester, both girls say they are looking forward to spring and summer after a cold winter, when they can spend more time outside. They intend to remain involved and both look forward to the IEE spring river trip on the Deschutes.
There is still more to experience, they agreed.