ROCK FALLS – Instead of learning about Denmark in a classroom, Tess Schaefer will learn about the country firsthand.
The 16-year-old Rock Falls High School junior will spend the next 10 months in the land of the Danes, with the help of the Rotary Club student exchange program.
“While ranking my country options, I choose Denmark as my number one choice because it is very safe and I knew very little about it, so I thought it would be interesting to go somewhere unfamiliar to me,” said Schaefer, daughter of Kelly and Marty Schaefer.
Rotary Youth Exchange is a study abroad opportunity for students who spend anywhere from a few weeks to a full year as an international student.
Betty Clementz, a Rock Falls Rotarian and co-chairwoman of the public image committee, said Schaefer had to go through a series of interviews before leaving the country.
“During the process, you are trying to find out if there is anything that says the student will not be a good ambassador,” Clementz said. “Things like, can the student be away from their family for a long period of time or will the student be able to live in a new country.”
It will take her 9 hours to fly from Chicago to Denmark, where Schaefer will stay from Aug. 8 until June, attending school at Koge Gymnasium.
“I expect the schooling to be more difficult to me due to the language barrier and the different academic standards, but I’ll still try my best to do well,” she said.
The Rotary Club will provide room and board with a host family and a small monthly stipend. Schaefer is responsible for airfare, insurance, travel documents such as passports and visas and additional spending money.
While in Denmark, Schaefer will be staying with Simon and Lotte Spring and their daughters Julie, Sarah and Nadia. They live in Faxe, on the island of Zealand off the coast of continental Denmark.
“That link between a student and a host family will last forever and ever,” Clementz said. “That host family will be Tess’ new family while she is over there.”
Faxe’s population is about a third of Rock Falls’.
“I’ve never lived anywhere other than Rock Falls,” said Schaefer, who plans to learn Danish.
“I’ll be over there for a good 10 months, so I might as well learn the language,” Schaefer said. “Why go to a foreign country for that long and not bother to learn the language?”
This is not the first time Schaefer has left the country. She visited different countries in Europe last summer.
“I’ve always loved traveling, especially world travel,” she said. “There are so many different things I can explore, and I love that.”