As she enters her first year at Irving High School, Anna Sofie Bjørndal is looking forward to trying new things. From making friends, taking different courses and experiencing homecoming for the first time, she’s ready to make the most of her time as an Irving Tiger.
No, Anna Sofie isn’t a freshman coming to Irving High from one of our middle schools. She’s actually a foreign exchange student from Norway entering her junior year of high school.
Her journey started about a year ago when she performed a Google search to find out more information about foreign exchange programs.
“I watched videos of students taking part in an exchange year, and I got inspired,” says Bjørndal. “I thought, ‘Maybe I should do it, and just take a year and see how it goes. My English will get better and I will get to experience a different culture than what I’m used to here in Norway.’”
After researching different organizations, Bjørndal’s school in Norway approved her exchange year, and she then applied to become a foreign exchange student through EF (Education First).
“I underwent different meetings with EF to determine if I was a good candidate or not,” says Bjørndal. “I had to submit my grades, I was tested on how good my English was, and they asked me different questions about my interests to get to know me better.”
Bjørndal elected not to pay an additional fee to choose which city she’d be placed in. Her mind was made up on trying something new, regardless of where she ended up. Little did she know, she would end up in a city with a 7-hour time difference nearly 5,000 miles away.
In April, she was matched with her host family – the Webbs. Her host father, Rev. Shane Webb, is a pastor at Woodhaven Presbyterian Church here in Irving, and she was admittedly a little nervous when she first found out.
“I anticipated a very Christian setting, where everything is serious,” says Bjørndal. “That was not the case at all. In my opinion, he’s not the typical pastor. He’s really funny, and he jokes about everything!”
The Webbs have shown her all that Texas has to offer, and as the old saying goes, everything is bigger in Texas, especially the differences between the two cultures.
“It is way hotter here than back home,” says Bjørndal. “Where I’m from, Bergen, it rains more than 200 days a year. Here in Texas, you can’t be outside for more than five minutes before you start sweating.”
The climate isn’t the only thing that took her by surprise.
“The portion of the food here is way bigger than back home,” says Bjørndal. “I always end up having to take the leftovers with me in a to-go box. I’ve also seen burgers – a lot of burgers everywhere!”
While she may be quite a ways from home, Bjørndal has had no trouble making friends at school.
“Norwegians are typically very introverted or reserved, but I’m more extroverted so making friends is easy for me,” says Bjørndal. “I don’t mind starting the conversation.”
This year, homecoming took place sooner than usual, so Bjørndal had a chance to experience several traditions early on. From Texas high school football, to mums, to getting asked to the dance, she’s taking it all in stride.
“The closest thing to football we have in Norway is soccer,” says Bjørndal. “Our national sport is skiing, so football is very new to me. I’m not sure how it works, I just remember seeing people jumping at each other. Because we won, I was a lot more into it, and I was cheering along.”
As the year goes on, Bjørndal is looking ahead to what’s to come. She has taken up tennis, a sport she’s never tried before, she’s taking all Advanced Placement (AP) classes at the recommendation of her principal in Norway, and she’ll be traveling across the country during the various breaks throughout the school year to visit her host family’s extended relatives. While she’ll only be in Irving for a year, she’s going to take advantage of every day she’s here so that it can help propel her in the future.
“I want to study abroad when I graduate from high school, and this once-in-a-lifetime experience will help me have an advantage over other students,” says Bjørndal. “I really care about the environment, and I hope to one day help find solutions for our planet’s climate issues by studying business, economics or engineering so we can move away from oil and gas to more sustainable and renewable energy sources.”