Project Idea No. 791
By: Michelle Morrell from ,

Hakarl and Curds: Connecting Cultures

From Viktor: Becoming an exchange student has been by far the most rewarding and amazing experience of my life. I feel more mature, confident, and happy than I ever did before arriving in Burlington, Wisconsin in September. I will admit that only getting five days to get to know about the family that I would be staying with for the next year was scary at first. I wasn´t sure what they were like, what their interests were, or how we would get along. The information they put on their profile made it seem like they were compatible with me, but it was hard to be completely sure in such a short time span. But I couldn’t have been luckier with a family, as we clicked very soon after I came, and they have been amazing hosts since day one. We´ve been very busy for these past months. We’ve been all over, from Chicago to Boston, to Washington D.C. (and many more places to come this summer). I’ve been to more states than I ever imagined I would ever visit! In school I have done the school’s jazz band, the school musical and spring play, show choir, and the one act play. I made so many great friends in these activities that mean a lot to me. I always felt very welcomed, both by the people in school and these activities, and of course by my host family. Whether we’re traveling, performing, or simply goofing around, Michelle always has her camera up. For that I am very grateful, because these memories I am making during my stay are invaluable to me and I hope to keep them forever. She also keeps updates on my stay here on social media, which my family back home appreciates very much. The Morrells are very interested in learning about Icelandic culture and traditions (although they each like the food to varying degrees) and always want to learn more. I think that’s one of the great things about AFS, as the student doesn’t only learn about the country’s culture, his host family and friends learn about another culture too! My experience here in America has been absolutely amazing and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world. Even though I’ve only been here since September last year, I already feel like I’m a part of this family and the community here. AFS didn’t only give me a trip to the United States, they gave me another family too. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- From Michelle: When we first decide to host a student, we weren’t sure how the experience would be. Would they feel welcomed into our family? How would our busy schedules adapt to another person in the house? What changes would we experience? Since we decided to host only five days before the final deadline, we had very little time to get to know Viktor before he arrived. Two emails were exchanged and social media counts were “stalked.” Although our initial time together was full of questions and could be awkward at times, Viktor quickly found his place in our family. We soon found out that we shared a lot of the same values and had common interests which facilitated our family bonding. School activities, family trips and new experiences were quickly planned. Before we knew it, it felt like Viktor had already been here for so much longer than he had and it was difficult to image not having Viktor living with us. Through these photos, I tried to capture many of the memorable times we have spent together and how all of our lives have been impacted by our exchange experience. Although Viktor was not used to having my camera with me everywhere and his picture taken nearly every day, it is still hard to capture all of the day-to-day interactions that have created our new family: talking around the kitchen table until past midnight, learning new card tricks and games, playing “bloody” knuckles, goofing around in the family room, enjoying the cats, watching spooky movies, playing video games, eating lakkris and hakarl, learning and butchering the Icelandic language, teasing endlessly and bickering occasionally, visiting the gym, cooking Icelandic recipes, reviewing chemistry, playing guitar and piano, appreciating death metal, taking long drives and, of course, laughing at all of the memes. Although I am not looking forward to Viktor’s return to Iceland this summer and we are going to miss him deeply next school year, I know we can look forward to many trips between Wisconsin and Iceland in the future. I may have only had two kids a year ago, but now I have three.

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