RACHEL S. KARAS
The Frederick News-Post
MIDDLETOWN, Md. (AP) — When Jesper Hell, 19, signed up to visit America, he expected to see the land of fast food. In Middletown, he found politeness and a strong sense of community.
Hell is one of 19 exchange students from Denmark who visited Frederick County from Oct. 4 through Wednesday, in the seventh year of a partnership between local high schools and the Danish secondary school Alssundgymnasiet S°nderborg, or AGS.
AGS students enrolled in high-level English courses have the opportunity to live with host families and attend either Middletown High School or Tuscarora High School for about a week. Students must pay for the trip, which costs roughly $1,300, teacher Ole Oestergaard said.
Hell and Martin Jacobsen, who visited Middletown, said they wanted a firsthand view of American society and politics.
“You have stereotypes that everyone drives a big truck, a Suburban, everyone has a big house,” said Jacobsen, 18. “But we knew it varied state by state and family by family.”
Living with host families gave the students an opportunity to intimately experience American life. And instead of traveling the country or hopping between big cities, they wanted to see suburban Maryland life.
“We feel this is the common city of America,” Jacobsen said. “If you live in a fancy apartment in New York, that’s not a good picture of what this is really like.”
Danish students are most often surprised at the American “super-size” mentality, Oestergaard said.
“Everything is so big here,” he said. “The food is big, the cars are big … we are a small country, and America is not.”
But the students said they’ll most remember Maryland for its politeness.
“Americans are very nice to each other,” Jacobsen said. “You walk into a store, everyone says, `How are you?’ That doesn’t happen in Denmark.”
Stacy MacMillan, a Middletown teacher who helps organize the program, said these students were among her favorites. The funny, close-knit group was quick to ask questions about anything from American health care to the government shutdown, she said.
“They are quite open to have any type of discussion,” MacMillan said. “They were like a sponge. They wanted to take in as much as they could before they left.”
Organizers said they plan to continue the partnership for years to come, and Oestergaard hopes Frederick County students can someday make the trip to Denmark.
Frederick County students can learn as much from exchange students as the guests do from their hosts, MacMillan said. Making lifelong friends with Danish students demonstrates that anyone can connect, no matter their culture, she said.
“A lot of students who don’t have the opportunity to study abroad or travel out of state … can come hear these kids talk,” MacMillan said. “The diversity appeals to them … makes them more globally aware.”
Information from: The Frederick (Md.) News-Post, http://www.fredericknewspost.com
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)