Merten to become International Exchange student

“A dream is a wish your heart makes ….”
So starts the Walt Disney song. One young Waconia woman is about to make her dream a reality as she embarks on an experience of a lifetime. However, what is even more unique about this once in a lifetime experience is that it is a similar one to what her mother had.
Jane Merten is an outbound International Exchange student sponsored by the Waconia-West Carver Rotary. She will depart for Norway this summer and spend the school year with three different host families, becoming immersed in the culture and customs of the country.
During this year, Jane hopes to develop an expanded, more global view. “There’s a whole world out there for everyone to experience,” she said. “I think you develop more understanding when you break out of your shell and see the world.” She feels other exchange students feel the same way.
Jane has had excellent examples of exchange program students expanding their horizons, with the number of exchange students both who were from Waconia who went abroad for this experience and those coming to Waconia from other countries. However, the most stellar example to her is her own mother.
Corrie Bodahl-Merten, daughter of Larry and Jane Bodahl of Waconia, was one of the Waconia Rotary’s first youth exchange students and went to Finland during her junior year. Jane shared, “Becoming a foreign exchange student like my mother has always been a dream of mine, ever since I was a kid. I thought it would be awesome to follow my Mom’s example.” Corrie added, “Jane and I are both so grateful to the Waconia-West Carver Rotary Club for sponsoring us, 21 years apart, so that we could experience a dream coming true.”
Some parts of the exchange program will be the same for Jane as they were for her mother, but others will be different. Jane will be living in Rade, Norway, about 40 miles south of Oslo on the southeastern coast. The town is comprised of about 6,000 people and has a moderate climate. It is a rural, farming community. Corrie also stayed in a rural community in Finland when she went overseas. A large similarity will be the opportunity to bond with another family, according to Corrie.
“This is the opportunity of a lifetime to be able to completely immerse oneself in another culture for a year-long period and bonding with families from that culture,” she said. “Jane is sure to make lifelong friends and ‘family’ that she will be able to treasure for years to come, just as I have. ”
Another similarity that is expected is the change in culture. The change in culture was not as difficult to adjust to in going to Finland for Corrie and Jane expects that transitioning to Norway will be similar for her. However, Corrie has warned Jane that it is on the return trip to the States that Jane will experience the greatest culture shock. “When I came back, it hit me,” recalls Corrie. “It’s overwhelming!”
Yet another thing that is similar and that the Rotary Youth Exchange program and Corrie have cautioned Jane about is that she most likely will go through homesickness. Jane nodded and said, “Being away from my family will be the hardest part of this experience. We are super close, so I will miss them.”
In order to acclimate the students to the new country, students are advised to only have once weekly contact during the first three months. “The program is designed to be an immersion program,” noted Corrie, “so you can’t just Skype home all the time. You are there to study a culture.”
She also notes that when she was in the International Exchange program, there were no such things as Skype or Facebook. “When I went [to Finland], we could only talk with our parents and friends through mail and so it would be a couple week turnaround time before you got a letter in reply. Now with social media, communication is instantaneous. That’s a huge change,” she said.
Jane agreed, but she has also been able to make friends in Norway before she gets there and communicate with her host families and her Rotary counselor, because of such social media as Facebook and SnapChat as well as email. She feels she already knows many people there and is “super excited!” She also has been prepared by the students and her host families for a culture that is very “stoic,” as they have told her, and one in which, because many Norwegians from that area do not speak English as fluently as they would like to, will simply not speak it. On hearing that, Jane took matters into her own hands. She went to the Waconia Library and checked out as many books as she could on Norway, Norwegian language and culture. When she was there, the librarians steered her to the Transparent Language database the library has online that you can also access from your home.
“It’s great!,” exclaimed Jane. “I’ve been studying and I’m feeling more confident every day. I hear the words and then see them and use them in sentences with the program. I’ve been telling all my friends about it and that it’s free and there are lots of different languages. Everybody should try it!”
While Jane is interested in learning about the people and the language of Norway, she is also interested in learning about the artistic culture. In this sense, she is not only following in her mother’s footsteps in studying in a foreign country, but also in the footsteps of her grandmother, artist Jane Ask Bodahl. “I have a list of attractions I want to see while I’m in Norway,” says Jane, “and half are museums and art galleries. Seeing Norwegian art is definitely on the top of my list!”
Jane will miss her family while she is gone, and her family indicates they will miss her very much, too.
“It will be hard without her here,” noted Corrie. Her younger sister Eloise added, “It will be kind of hard because I like to talk to her and I won’t be able to come home and do that.” When asked if Eloise might consider going into the International Exchange program, she says she wants to as well. Was it because she was following in her mother’s footsteps as well? “No,” she replied, then looked up at her sister, “I’m following in my sister’s footsteps.”
If you would like more information about the Rotary Youth Exchange program or might be interested in hosting one or two exchange students the Waconia will host from Austria and Chile for the 2013-14 school year, contact Keith Sjodin, the Waconia-West Carver Rotary Club’s International Exchange chair, at (952) 442-7700.