Foreign exchange student Julia Faber will have the chance to experience two high school graduations in her lifetime — one as a member of the DuBois Area High School Class of 2019 and one in her own country of Norway.
“We have 13 years of school in Norway, so I will have my senior year there next year,” said Faber, who will be 19 at her high school graduation next year.
Faber will also have the honor of making an address to the DAHS senior class of approximately 240 at Friday’s commencement at Mansell Stadium.
Faber spent the 2018-19 school year with host family Erin and Josh Shaffer of Treasure Lake and their three children after applying with EF Education First’s student exchange program.
“After my freshman year at high school, I was pretty bored. I wanted to see the world and learn English,” said Faber. “I’ve never been to America before so I thought I’d like to go to school there.”
She said she feels like she has learned the language fairly well during her time here.
“I feel like I struggled putting a sentence together when I came here,” Faber said even though she has been learning English since first grade.
“Now, you struggle putting a Norwegian sentence together,” joked Erin, who was a foreign exchange student in Germany through the Rotary Club when she was 15.
“It was an excellent experience, and I always said I would recommend it to anybody,” said Erin.
The Shaffer family decided to host a foreign exchange student after Erin saw a Facebook post from an EF regional coordinator looking for a host family.
When Faber arrived in DuBois in August of 2018, she and the Shaffer family tried to take advantage of the free time before school started to get to know each other.
“I really like Treasure Lake,” said Faber, adding that it reminds her a little bit of home. “I was really nervous for school because I didn’t know anyone yet.”
The Shaffers have a son who is also a senior and he had a small get-together with some of his friends so they could meet Faber before school started.
“I did feel like I had a unique perspective, though, because I’m a mom, so I kind of felt like I understood how her mom was feeling with her leaving the country,” said Erin. “But then I was an exchange student, so I knew how she (Faber) was feeling. I really didn’t expect it to be this amazing.”
Faber said she has made a lot of friends here now — participating in cross country and track at the high school, as well as spring soccer with a club team helped with that. In Norway, Faber said they do not have school sports, only club sports after school.
Faber noticed some cultural differences between Norway and the United States as soon as she had lunch the first week of school.
“I was just impressed how people bring those chip bags and stuff,” said Faber. “In Norway, we eat chips on Saturdays after 6 p.m. That’s the only time, especially kids, get snacks and candy. You don’t eat a chocolate on a Wednesday. That’s a no-no.”
Faber also said she believes school is more strict here.
“In Norway, you can come and go as you want,” Faber said. “It’s your responsibility to come to school and do your work. You can drop out of high school in Norway. The teachers in Norway never tell us, ‘you have to take notes, you have to work.’ That’s something you should understand when you’re 16 years old.”
Faber said Norwegian students apply to attend high school.
“You need to have good grades from middle school, and the people apply to different high schools. It’s like college. You have good grades, you go to a good high school. You have bad grades...,” Faber said. “Norwegian students are there to learn because they chose to be there. I believe students in AP classes here care a lot about school.”
Teachers in DuBois are more personal with students than are teachers in Norway, she said.
“They’re more like your friend than your teacher (here),” she said. “Although, in Norway, you call them by their first name. Here it’s like Mister and Missus.”
After graduating in Norway next year, Faber said she plans to attend college to study psychology. Applying to college in Norway is a simpler process than in the United States, she said.
“We don’t need to pay anything to apply. We don’t need to write essays. We don’t need a letter of recommendation. You go online, click on the school you want to go to, click yes. Five minutes. Done,” Faber said. “We all get the same amount of scholarship, so you don’t apply for them. They just give you scholarships. It’s competitive, but we just have to work really hard for our grades our senior year.”
During her time in DuBois, Faber said she hasn’t been homesick once.
“I feel like I fit really good here,” said Faber.
“My husband and I talk all the time, it is just so amazing how perfectly she fits in with our personalities,” said Erin. “We’re kind of a sarcastic, goof-around, practical joke kind of family, and she just goes with it.
“They kind of get annoyed by me at home because they think I’m too sarcastic,” said Faber.
Faber will leave DuBois to return home to Norway on June 18.
“It’s going to be sad to leave everyone. People have welcomed me here,” said Faber. “But I’m planning on coming back next summer to see my friends and everyone else. I won’t really get summer here, essentially.”