Where in the world is Hedda Ingeborgvik?
Like Carmen San Diego, fictional geography game star, the Norwegian exchange student could have gone almost anywhere. The American Field Service program hosts students in more than 50 countries, according to its Web site.
Hedda picked the United States, which is how she ended up in rural Patterson.
The 17-year-old from Kristiansund, Norway, is spending the year with Ken and Michelle Bays and attending Patterson High.
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"People here, at least my age, are a lot more friendly than at home," she said. "America isn't like in the movies. It isn't all skyscrapers. ... People live just a normal life here, too."
It's that "normal life" that the AFS is aiming for, Michelle Bays said, while in her farmhouse, surrounded by almond orchards.
"It takes you out of the tourist mode ... you get to see a much warmer side," she said. "I think it's a great program. I just really believe in it."
Michelle Bays was an exchange student to Braz in western Austria when she was a teen. Four years ago, daughter Marie Bays, 22, was an AFS exchange student to Riobamba, Ecuador, high in the Andes. Bays' younger daughter, recent Patterson High graduate Christine Bays, 18, is an AFS student in Norway this year. Christine is living about three hours from Hedda's family.
Michelle Bays said the exchange student experience gave her a good grasp of German and "definitely a lot of maturing.
"You're really learning a language. It's not just an hour a day in a class," she said.
Marie Bays, now a senior studying ag management at the University of California at Davis, said she chose Ecuador to improve her Spanish.
"People in Europe learn four or five languages," she said, adding that spending 10½ months at the equator was eye-opening in many ways.
"It was the same day length all year long. And they didn't really have a winter or a summer, just rainy and dry seasons," Marie Bays said. "The style of teaching was very different. You study just to pass the test. It was a lot of rote memory. You weren't expected to understand so much as just memorize."
Hedda, a senior this year, said her experience is that school in California is much easier than in Norway.
"My first year of high school there was more difficult than the last year of high school here," Hedda said, and listed other first impressions.
"The food here is very different ... I love the pancakes for breakfast," she said. At home her main meal is at 3 p.m.
School days are the same length, she said, but in Norway each weekday has a different mix of classes.
Hedda had a few words of advice for others spending time half a world away from their families.
"It's not smart to get into the habit of talking to your family every day," she said; it added to her homesickness. "I felt like I was standing with one foot here and one foot in Norway."
The experience is typical, Michelle Bays said, which is why the AFS has events that bring exchange students together throughout the year.
Modesto's AFS chapter, formed in 1960, folded into the Sierra San Joaquin Area Team in 1995, team co-chairman Nancy Howard said. The region, stretching from Lodi to Bakersfield, has a dozen students this year.
Besides Hedda, the 12 include an exchange student from Germany attending Davis High in Modesto and an Italian boy and a girl from Austria attending Sonora High, Howard said.
Past Modesto exchange students include the late Bette Belle Smith and, coming to Ceres from Afghanistan in 1977, former U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.
"The bond that the (host) family and students make is so important to our world," Howard said. "That's why we do this."
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Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2339.