Denmark student discovers Canadian differences

Rotary Youth Exchange program offers worldly opportunity

BY DAWN BOOTH, CONNECT WEEKLY

Danish exchange student Malou Haulund, 17, gets a photo snapped with a cardboard cut-out at the local cinema last week. Haulund has been living in Fort McMurray since August 2015, on behalf of a sponsorship from the local Fort McMurray Rotarians. SUPPLIED PHOTO

Danish exchange student Malou Haulund, 17, gets a photo snapped with a cardboard cut-out at the local cinema last week. Haulund has been living in Fort McMurray since August 2015, on behalf of a sponsorship from the local Fort McMurray Rotarians. SUPPLIED PHOTO

Making the move to discover the world has been on the mind of Danish citizen Malou (Marie Louise) Haulund since she was 12 years old.

“I wanted to mature and explore the world and gain some different views on it,” she said. “I think I really wanted to get out of the house and I felt like I was missing something.”

Haulund is a 17-year-old exchange student from Sønderborg, Denmark. Haulund, along with Natalia Sowińska of Poland, have been living in Fort McMurray since August 2015, on behalf of a sponsorship from the local Fort McMurray Rotarians.

Haulund’s typical day in her Denmark home was spent with her mom, dad and two brothers. Helping out with steady chores in her parents’ garden and cleaning linens were a part of her regular routine. She biked to and from school and worked the evenings as a dishwasher.

Today, she finds herself intrigued by Northern Albertan behaviour and the cultural backgrounds among Fort McMurray residents. She’s also observed their brave sense of fashion in cold temperatures.

“I noticed a lot of people wear yoga pants,” said Haulund. “It kind of puzzles me that, where you Canadians would go out in only a hoodie and flip-flops, I would still be wearing my winter gloves and hat.”

“The food is different and people are more religious here than back home,” explained Haulund. “There are people of different backgrounds and colors and I like that. In my country, we have very little people other than white and most of our TV commercials are only represented with white people.”

She describes her Danish hometown as a very humid climate and said Fort McMurray felt dry like a desert when she first arrived. In comparing the winter season, she said residents tell her this is “a very warm winter.” However, compared to Denmark, she said, “this is very cold and there’s a lot of snow.”

As she’s had six months to adapt, Haulund has noticed many differences among Sønderborg and the Wood Buffalo region. She likes the diversity, amazing nature, and the people.

“The food is different and people are more religious here than back home,” explained Haulund. “There are people of different backgrounds and colors and I like that. In my country, we have very little people other than white and most of our TV commercials are only represented with white people.”

In regards to her Canadian educational experience, Haulund thinks there’s more unnecessary discipline here and she believes students should have more trust and independence.

“While in Denmark, my school was more like: ‘Show up and do your work. If you’re not here, we will notice. And, after a certain amount of missed classes, we will talk to the students’,” she said.

“Here, it’s immediate attention from the school. And, after the second day of missed assignments, the parents get involved. Even though the kids are almost old enough to go to jail, they apparently are not old enough to take care of their own school.”

An estimated 8,000 students from over 100 countries take part in the Rotarian International Youth Program annually. The program offers three types of exchange: the long-term program, the short-term program and a program called New Generations, which lasts for three weeks to three months for young people aged 18-25.

The docks of a harbour in Sønderborg, Denmark. SUPPLIED PHOTO

The docks of a harbour in Sønderborg, Denmark. SUPPLIED PHOTO

Hauland is taking part in the long-term program and will return home this coming July. She has already learned a lot in Canada and hopes to be an advocate by encouraging her younger Denmark peers to take in the program.

“I want to talk to the younger classes in my home school about exchange,” she said.

She further shared how she’s surprised that some of Fort McMurray’s local students are not aware the exchange program exists. She also hopes to encourage them to take part.

“They have included me in their own families and have introduced me to their relatives,” Hauland said. “Most important, they listen to me talk about my every day and really do seem to care what’s going on in this life of mine.”

“I find that a lot of young people don’t know about exchange,” she explained. “Or they do know, but don’t feel the need to leave their country behind.”

As for her host families, Hauland said she has a sense of belonging.

“They have included me in their own families and have introduced me to their relatives,” Hauland said. “Most important, they listen to me talk about my every day and really do seem to care what’s going on in this life of mine.”

To learn more about the Rotary Youth Exchange, visit www.rotary.org. Local clubs can be found at their regular weekly meetings. Visit the Fort McMurray Rotary Club at http://portal.clubrunner.ca/460 (Club meetings are held every Wednesday at noon in Smitty’s Restaurant (back room) and Oil Sands Rotary Club at http://portal.clubrunner.ca/461 (Club meetings are on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month at 5:30 p.m. at the Sawridge Inn & Conference Centre).

 

-Connect Weekly-