“It’s Been A Rollercoaster” Foreign Exchange Student Shares Her Story


Kate Wang

Elisabeth Kilaas (12)

Kate Wang, Reporter

Do you want to be an exchange student?


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Going to a foreign country and leaving everything and everyone you know behind seems like a scary experience, but for foreign exchange students, it’s an exciting opportunity to experience a new country, new culture, and new life. 

Elisabeth Kilaas is a foreign exchange student from Norway, studying at Granada for her senior year. 

For many years, Granada has had an exchange student program where several Granada students study abroad and many foreign students come to Granada. Elisabeth came to the US around 3 months ago and will be staying for the next ten to eleven months, leaving in June to July. 

Why become a foreign exchange student?

Elisabeth says that she decided to become an exchange student because of her best friend. “My best friend from Norway decided to do an exchange year in the US and I thought that’s so cool, I want to do that too,” she recounts. “So I was sure, I’ll do it too!”

Being open to new experiences is the only thing you really need to become a foreign exchange student. Many fear that they are too shy or won’t be able to fit in in a different community, but Elisabeth encourages students to go for it. A lot of exchange students are introverted, but having an exchange year will help you work on that. She says, “Just don’t think too much. If you want to go, just go!”

What has your experience in the US been like so far?

“It’s been a rollercoaster.”

Elisabeth first went to a camp in New York for foreign exchange students, her first experience in the US. There, she not only learned about what it would be like to stay in the US, but also got to have a lot of fun with the attractions in New York City. When the school started, she moved in with her host family and enrolled at Granada.

Studying abroad was difficult for Elisabeth who was an excellent student who had never struggled with school back in Norway. Because everything was taught in English, which wasn’t her first language, she had to work twice as hard to understand what was being taught. America also has a bigger focus on covering a wide range of content rather than achieving full understanding of each topic. 

According to Elisabeth, “In America, everything you do is graded and there is a lot more work. In Norway, you actually try to learn something. Here everything goes by so fast that I don’t have time to just sit down and learn.”

However, a big positive about Granada according to Elisabeth is the people. “I always have fun at school because everyone is so nice here.” Elisabeth says that meeting new people has been much easier due to the fact that Americans are so extroverted and will start conversations with people they don’t know. For Elisabeth, she said it was a huge culture shock at first when people here walked up to you and told her they liked her outfit, something that would never happen in Norway. In Norway, people are much more introverted. Norwegians don’t really talk to strangers in Norway because there is a societal norm that everyone has their own distance and privacy that others shouldn’t interrupt.  

Are there any cultural differences between Norway and the US?

Other than being extroverted, Elisabeth also noticed that Americans are much more comfortable talking about their own strengths. 

In Norway and many other foreign countries, bragging about yourself is a huge taboo. And while bragging isn’t seen as a positive trait here either, Americans brag about themselves all the time. The individualistic culture of the US that promotes having a strong self image.

Prejudice in young people is another difference observed by Elisabeth, saying “People our age are racist and homophobic, and that’s so weird to me. It’s such a big difference. In Norway, it’s not common at all.” 

What have you gained from being a foreign exchange student?

The United States is in a completely different part of the world than Norway, so life was very different for Elisabeth.  Throughout her first trimester at Granada, Elisabeth learned a lot about the different cultures and got to actually experience what it was like to live in the US. It’s one thing to hear what another country is like, but it’s a totally different thing to actually live there.

Elisabeth has built a life for herself here at Granada.  She plays soccer for fusion, and is trying out for the school team this week. She has also made many new friends here and loves hanging out with them.