By Ronan Morgan
I had just arrived in Denmark after a 13-hour flight from South Africa, tired, but not exhausted. I was excited and ready to face a year of surprises and challenges as a Rotary Youth Exchange student from District 9400. It was not until I moved into my new home where I would spend the first five months of my exchange that it fully hit me – I was not in Johannesburg anymore, or anywhere familiar.
My school class was wonderful and greeted me with open arms and warm enthusiasm. You have to understand I was the first, and most likely only, exchange student they have ever had. Nevertheless, I settled in like a Lego piece, snug in its place. (See what I did there: Lego is from Denmark!)
I had so many wonderful experiences. My first host mother spent considerable time showing me many points of interest in Denmark. I was overwhelmed by how kind everyone was to me and how many different things I was able to do. I had never tried handball before, but joined my local team and made goal keeper. Lots of training and games later and we were off to the Holstebro Cup, the biggest tournament for Danish juniors and other European teams. After a week of competition, we placed second and each got medals. Handball has definitely been one of my favorite experiences on my exchange.
When it came time to move in with my second host family, I was a bit scared at the prospect of moving on, but excited too. I had become so used to the first family. But once there, I settled in very easily, and the family once again welcomed me with open arms like one of their own.
Euro Tour was the greatest event that has ever happened to me. Now I know being stuck on a bus with 75 other exchange students, traveling around Europe, may not sound ideal to everyone. But we were all one big family and had a blast. I built memories and friendships that will stay with me forever. Our last night in Paris we all decided to meet at the Eiffel Tower and hang out there until the subway closed down. In Germany, we sat in the lobby watching the Champions League Final, and in Italy we spent time on the beach relaxing and unwinding. Every city was special to us and every one a unique memory.
Back in Denmark and school, I received many requests for presentations on South Africa. I did presentations for old classes and young classes and am still being asked to talk about South Africa. I love that I can teach people things they don’t know about my country.
My third move in Denmark was from the Danish equivalent of a primary school to a high school, which they call “gymnasiums” in Denmark. Part of the introduction for first-year students includes coming up with a war cry and learning the school’s “frog dance” song.
I love that I can teach people things they don’t know about my country, and that I can share what my experience is living in a different country.
My class also had to sing another scripted song with a live band in front of all the other first-year students. Our class won, largely because we did it in rap and the girls killed it. All this is to say that the school is very open to new ideas. Everyone is given liberty to do their own thing and it is easy to be yourself without worrying about the way others are acting.
There were so many other great opportunities. Shortly after settling in to my new school, I was asked if I would like to join a class trip to New York City with classmates from my first school. Jet lag, immigration forms, and lost luggage aside, it was a great experience. Then came a trip to Legoland Billund, a popular amusement park in Denmark, with my third, and final host family. I got to see lots of very impressive Lego buildings, including the world’s largest Lego Sculpture, with 5.5 million Lego pieces.
The year so far has truly been an unforgettable experience, and one I will never forget. Thank you Rotary.