Monday, April 29, 2013

Hej, Jeg Hedder Rachel – Allow Me to Introduce Myself


My name is Rachel, and I'm going to be living in Denmark next year! This blog will chronicle my foreign experiences. I'm currently fifteen years old, a freshman in high school, and I live in North Carolina, USA (though I'm still new here - I've lived in Massachusetts my whole life). Just a couple of days ago I got an email that I've been accepted by AFS-Denmark for their year program! I'll be living in Denmark for an entire eleven months, starting in July. I'll be keeping a blog while I'm there to keep everyone back in the U.S. updated on my life. I also hope that my blog can be a resource for potential future exchange students. So, here's my introductory post!

I'll start off with the program I'll be travelling with: AFS. What, exactly, is AFS? AFS (AFS Intercultural Programs, formerly the American Field Service) is a nonprofit organization, run mainly by volunteers. It is, according to the AFS-USA website, "a leader in intercultural learning [that] offers international exchange programs in more than 40 countries around the world." The organization is basically a new incarnation of the organization of field nurses from battlefields in the world wars. AFS-USA works with partners worldwide to send thousands of students around the world every year. It is probably one of the most, if not the most reputable large foreign exchange program, having been sending students around the world since 1947. I think that the total number of countries forming AFS is somewhere in the sixties.

So, with all of these countries to choose from, why and how did I pick Denmark? Everyone's been asking me that. Overall, I guess it just seemed right. I considered many different countries in the beginning. I knew I wanted to go to Europe, and I didn't particularly care which language I would end up learning. So I looked on the AFS website through all the different European countries (and there are a lot, so it took me a while). I kept a list with all of the possibilities and crossed out countries as I went. I ended up having only a few not crossed out at the end, so I looked more closely at those. I'm about 6 months too young to go on a number of the programs, which ruled out a bunch of possibilities. But I didn't want to have to wait to go my junior year, so I kept looking. When I stumbled across Denmark, I decided that I really like the country in general. One thing that the AFS website said that caught my eye is, "Citizens of a maritime nation, the Danes have always turned their eyes and hearts to the sea, and no part of the country is more than an hour's drive from the seashore." I personally have never lived farther than about a mile from the ocean, and it's important to me to have some proximity to the sea. I also like that the Danish standards of education and living are high, because I don't think I could handle being in a third-world country for a year (all my respect to those who go for service and such, but I couldn't do it - education and hot showers are too important to me!). Furthermore, Denmark is beautiful! I like that it isn't completely developed, like some countries I considered. I don't like living in the city. Much of Denmark is made up of small towns, in more rural areas, that are still easily accessible by train or bus. Some other things that I used to decide if Denmark seemed right for me were blogs of former exchange students. I ended up reading about nine different blogs - all of the posts, from the very beginning - which, admittedly, took a long time, but was worth it. That's one reason why I'm going to write this blog, because those blogs were so helpful to me, and there aren't that many blogs on Denmark. I really could go on and on about all of Denmark's many merits (and I haven't even stepped foot in the country yet - just think of what I'll be like when I come home!), but I'll stop boring you, dear reader. My second choice ended up being the Netherlands, which really looks like a great country. I think I would love it there, too, but Denmark seems like a better fit for me overall, and I've been accepted by Denmark, so Denmark it is. 

I've started looking through the visa information and application, and I've been making all sorts of plans. The application for a student visa is long and fairly complicated, so I wanted to get started on it as soon as possible. I probably will have to go to the Danish Embassy in DC (or maybe New York, I'm not positive about that) for the visa (and how exciting would that be! - I've never been to an embassy), preferably sooner rather than later. AFS helps out with the visa process some, but it's largely something the exchangees must do on their own. There's also an AFS pre-departure orientation coming up for me on May 18th, which I'm really looking forward to. It feels like the first step to Denmark, and I can't wait!

I'M JUST SO EXCITED. About everything. Seriously, I can't express it in words. I've been researching Denmark and foreign exchange in general for months, and, finally, there are around 90 days until I am living in Denmark! I've already made a basic packing list - there's this great website that makes one for you, but is still customizable, and I've also been looking online at what other students have brought - and I predict that I'll end up packing and unpacking a hundred times in the next few months. I've started working on my Danish, which is nonexistent, and so far I know basic phrases, the colors, basic numbers, the months and days, some clothing items, and a few random words. It's hard to learn Danish pronunciations online, without an actual Danish-speaking teacher, but I'm making at least some progress. I don't want to be completely lost when I arrive! I'm normally good at learning languages, so I hope I'll pick up Danish quickly once I arrive. AFS also requires students to take language classes in Denmark, and I'm sure those will be very helpful. I'll try to include some Danish phrases in my posts so my readers can learn a bit. I think I'll end up making all of my blog titles Danish, with the exception of this one.

Okay, wrapping up this very long blog post now... 

I may write a couple more times before I get to Denmark, but I won't guarantee it. Once I'm in Denmark I'll try to write at least once a week, and I'll include lots of pictures! So, vi ses, readers!

Much love,