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Exchange student found her American dream

The 2014 River Falls High School exchange students are shown with their advisor Christine Engel. From left are Anna Christensen, Denmark; Aranzazu Rodriguez, Mexico; Rafaella Florissi, Portugal; Renan Santanna, Brazil; Ana Santamarina Fernandez, Spain; Janne Liefold, Germany; and Engel. Santanna returned to Brazil after the holidays. Liefold was moved to a host family in the Twin Cities earlier in the school year. (Submitted photo)

Anna Christensen was looking for “the modern American dream” when she came to River Falls from the small village of Vognsild, Denmark.

“I just wanted to have the full experience of high school,” Christensen said.

Christensen is getting that experience at River Falls High School, thanks to an exchange trip through Rotary International.

“It’s an experience that I can't compare to anything else,” Christensen said. “It’s nice to say that I'm just an everyday exchange student going to high school and being like an American.”

One of Christensen’s favorite memories is being in the Marching Band Color Guard.  She said she’s never found anything like color guard in Denmark. But she will be able to keep her costumes and one of the silks from a color guard flag as mementos.

“One of the greatest memories that I’m going to remember forever is definitely going to be the time that we went to State,” Christensen said, “and we got to sweep all of the prizes.”

Another experience Christensen enjoys is being part of the dance team. She said the dance team has also helped her escape one high school experience she doesn’t like: The school bus.

“They’re bumpy and cold,” she said. “Whenever I can, I avoid the bus. That usually goes pretty well, because I’m in the dance team and we have practice every day after school.”

Christensen’s typical American high school experience will finish off with graduation -- she’ll walk across the stage with the senior class in her cap and gown, but she’ll get a certificate of completion rather than a diploma.

After she returns to Denmark and finishes school, Christensen plans to take a few of years off to earn money and travel.

She said, “The world is so big that I just need to see at least some of it.”

Editor’s note: This article is the last in a series featuring this year’s high school exchange students.

RFHS exchange program 

High School Spanish teacher Christine Engel knows what it feels like to be an exchange student. She spent a year in Costa Rica when she was in high school back in 1982.

So when she was asked to be the exchange student advisor, she said yes. “I felt like if anybody should know what these kids are going through, it would be me,” Engel said.

This year, which is her third as exchange student advisor, Engel said the program has gone very well. There are now four exchange students at the high school: Rafaella Florissi, Aranzazu Rodriguez, Ana Santamarina Fernandez and Anna Christensen. Two other exchange students who started the school year in River Falls have left -- German Janne Liefold has moved to a new host family in Minnesota, and Renan Santanna returned to his native Brazil, after the holidays. Engel said this is an average number of exchange students for RFHS.

Around the same time, Engel arranges a “Meet and Greet” event for students and staff to meet the exchange students and talk with them. During all three of the high school’s scheduled lunches, the exchange students stand at tables with displays of memorabilia from their countries and talk with anyone who stops by.

“I think it really helps the kids feel included and visible in our little school,” Engel said.

As the year progresses, Engel stops having regular meeting with the exchange students. She only meets them individually, if one needs to talk with her.

She said the exchange students at RFHS right now haven’t needed to talk with her much, but she does see some of them on a fairly regular basis -- thanks to the high school’s new student-led international club.

Engel said the group has become a real asset to the exchange program, especially as it includes the exchange students in its meetings and events.

“They are made to feel an important part of our school community,” Engel said. “And I like the way that it’s at least putting out there to the student body that we are a global community.”

The club officially started in fall.

For more on Christensen and the RFHS exchange program, please see the Feb. 6 print edition of the River Falls Journal.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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