Knights welcome foreign exchange student


Hanne and her host family

She woke up early and bundled up in a jacket, scarf and gloves as her and her host family made their way to the big city for the Hot Chocolate Run, a 15/5k located in the heart of Chicago. It was in the early hours of the morning, and she could vaguely see the sun rising over the roofs of the skyscrapers of the big city. Chicago was different from any city she had ever seen before. It had also become her home for the last two months. Senior Hanne Nilsen is a foreign exchange student from Norway.

Hanne became a foreign exchange student when school began this year, but she started the academic year at Stevenson High School.

“I really liked Stevenson, especially because I got to attend Homecoming there,” Hanne said.  “I made a lot of friends there.”

When her host family made an unexpected move, Hanne was moved to the host family of sophomore Christopher Guhl.

“Originally Hanne went to Stevenson High School with a different host family. I met her at the church youth group, and she said she needed a new host family or she was going to get “relocated” to a different state or get sent back to Norway. That night I talked to my parents, and within four days, she was living with us,” Guhl said. “We love Hanne living with us. My siblings are both away at college, and having Hanne feels like having another sister.”

Hanne feels like a part of the Guhl family already.

“They were so welcoming, open, interesting, caring, humorous and very kind. They are the best host family I could have ever dreamed of,” Hanne said.

Hanne’s counselor, Michelle Lawrence, immediately knew that she would fit right in at Grayslake North.

“[Hanne] was the first foreign exchange student I have been a counselor for, but I had no concerns that she wouldn’t blend right in,” said Lawrence. “There are some pretty high standards that foreign exchange students have to meet before being accepted into the exchange program, and I knew that she would do fine here at North.”

Luckily Hanne has traveled often, making this trip easier for her. This is her fourth trip to the United States.

“Last time I was here, I was 14 and I went to New York. Just seeing the people there, it was much different from being here in Chicago.”

Although her experience with traveling has made the experience easier, she still feels homesick for Norway.

“I am missing my family a lot now. I just realized that last Sunday marked 100 days since I said goodbye to them. I miss the fresh air of Norway. I grew up near the mountain country, and there’s something different about the air that’s there and the air here,” Hanne said.

Apart from missing her home, Hanne had immersed herself in American culture, trying new food and visiting American colleges, even though she will be attending high school in Europe.

“There is a lot of good food here. I like barbeque food the best, though. I don’t get to eat much of that in Norway,” Hanne said. “My favorite experience here so far was going to visit my host family’s sister at her college and getting to sleep in her dorm. It was really fun to get a view of the college life in America.”

Although she has all favorable reviews of the foreign exchange student program, she realizes that it’s not for everyone.

“I would recommend becoming a foreign exchange student, but it’s not for everyone. You have to really want to become immersed into that country’s culture. You are going to miss your family and feel lost and confused and lonely, but it’s just a part of the rewarding experience,” Hanne said.

Her biggest challenges weren’t the time difference or missing her family. She had a hard time making friends after her transfer from Stevenson to Grayslake North.

“One of the biggest challenges was making friends, especially since I got here kind of in the middle of the semester and most people had already formed their groups of friends,” Hanne said.

Mrs. Lawrence made sure that she didn’t have that problem too long. She helped her to connect with her fellow students and to make connections with others at North.

“[She] settled very well, and a lot of the students here have been very welcoming towards her this year. We had a few seniors who took her under their wing and showed her around,” Lawrence said.

Hanne is already looking forward to her next trip with her host family: Florida.

 “I’m really looking forwards to Christmas this year because my host family is taking me down to Florida to meet some of their family. I just can’t wait to get away from the cold and head where it’s warm,” Hanne said.