The first day of high school can be a frightful experience for a student, especially if she's not even in her home country.
Matilde Mattebjerg, 15, a foreign-exchange student from Denmark, collects books from her locker at Lakeside High.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"It was hard in the beginning," said Matilde Mattebjerg, a 16-year-old sophomore at Lakeside High School. "I was worried about who I should eat lunch with."
But Mattebjerg, a native of Denmark, confessed that was only one of her first-day jitters.
Gone were the days of going to class with a small group of familiar faces she had known from kindergarten to ninth grade. She soon realized she would have to make new friends. Mattebjerg learned she would have to familiarize herself around a new campus, and she worried about the challenging courses she would have to take. Mattebjerg also had to overcome a large barrier of speaking English instead of Danish.
It's been less than two months since Mattebjerg left Bornholm, to live with Marty and Karen O'Gorman and their two children, Tommy, 10, and Megan, 4, in their Martinez home as an exchange student.
Through a Scandinavian foreign-exchange program, Mattebjerg will spend 10 months in Evans, where she will study at Lakeside High and learn about American culture.
"I've learned the language," said Mattebjerg, who mentioned that her English has improved with Karen helping her with difficult vocabulary words. "I tried out for the (junior varsity) volleyball team and made a lot of friends. The family has been so nice to me."
O'Gorman had similar sentiments.
"She's just become like another daughter to us basically," said Karen O'Gorman, who met Mattebjerg and her family a year ago when the O'Gormans traveled to Denmark with some Danish friends who introduced the two families. "It's been great so far. She has fitted in so well into our family because we haven't had a high schooler before. It's kind of been an interesting transitions for us.''
After Mattebjerg finishes the ninth grade, she said, it is customary in her country for students to choose a profession and either attend a trade school or a three-year, general studies school, which will prepare her for college. Another option is taking upper-level classes for fun.
"It's a good thing to have," she said. "I did this to experience a new language and learn a different language and culture."
So far, Mattebjerg said, the experience has been good.
"I like my classes," she said with a smile. "I really like U.S. history. It's so interesting. American people are so nice.''
On Sept. 9, Mattebjerg was greeted at school by several of her friends, who made her a "sweet 16" American flag birthday card. She also received several gifts throughout the day. The O'Gormans celebrated the event with a special dinner.
"I was really surprised," Mattebjerg said. "All day at school people were saying, 'Happy birthday!' I couldn't believe it."
Although she is from Denmark, she said, a lot of people are surprised to find out that she is just like any American teenager.
"I like Abercrombie and Fitch and American Eagle," Mattebjerg said. "I like going to the movies with my friends (back home) and shopping. I like laying out in the sun. I like going to the football games because we don't have football in Denmark. And I like going to Taco Bell (after the games)."
But there are some things that make her stand out.
"I speak three languages - Danish, German and English,'' she said. "And I'm taking French in school."
Now that Mattebjerg has adjusted, she said, she hopes her American experience will motivate more people to travel.
"I would like for them to come to Denmark and get out into the world," she said. "I already have a friend and cousin who want to go to another country. Maybe when I get older and have a family, my kids can get the same experience."
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