Old Rochester Regional High School student Cate Feldkamp is getting ready for senior year in a way that is above and beyond your average back-to-school shopping for clothes, shoes, and school supplies. She is spending her free time learning a new language, getting together her passport, itinerary, and official documents, and figuring out how to pack as much as she can into one suitcase.
Feldkamp’s senior year will be unlike any of her peers’ at ORR. In fact, no ORR student in at least four years has done what she is about to do. Feldkamp is preparing to embark on a year-long foreign exchange experience in Sweden, and she couldn’t be more excited. For Feldkamp, the world is an open door just waiting for her to walk through.
“I just woke up one morning and decided I wanted to travel,” said Feldkamp. She explored the option of graduating early to head abroad on mission trips, but while expressing her sudden desire to see the world, Feldkamp said the school administration thought it would be best if Feldkamp finished school in the AFS-USA foreign student exchange program.
ORR hosts about two to five foreign exchange students from other countries annually, but rarely does an ORR student seek to become a foreign exchange student herself, said Kim Corazzini, the ORR AFS-USA coordinator and school nurse.
“She got this in her head and pursued it,” said Corazzini. Feldkamp went through the application process back in April, obtained the teacher recommendations she required, and went through an interview process before acceptance into the program. It was up to fate at that point as to whether or not she would go to Sweden.
“Essentially, you wait to see if [a family in the chosen country] chooses the student. And she was chosen pretty quickly,” said Corazzini. “Cate really is a nice, nice kid. She has a lot of great qualities about her.”
Feldkamp found out the week before the April school vacation that a family had accepted her.
“I was just speechless,” said Feldkamp. “I couldn’t believe it. I kept checking my email and when it came, I said, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is actually happening. There’s no turning back now. This is actually going to become my life.’”
There are some things Feldkamp will miss out on while she is away in Sweden for her entire senior year – like senior prom, graduation commencement, and all the other end-of-the-year activities that most ORR seniors look forward to. But what Feldkamp will experience instead will be something she wholeheartedly desires, something ORR could not offer her: a full immersion into a new culture, new language, and new traditions.
“I can’t wait to experience something new and something different,” said Feldkamp.”To live as someone else does, outside of my comfort zone.”
Feldkamp said the schooling in Sweden is remarkably different than in the United States. For one thing, high school is more like “junior college,” as Feldkamp described it. Study is based more on what interests the student rather than standard academics and a few electives.
“I won’t just be taking classes I’m forced to,” said Feldkamp. “I’ll be taking classes I actually want to take.”
There is some anxiety, though, as Feldkamp logs onto her Rosetta Stone account that the AFS-USA program gave her to learn Swedish. She knows that she will have to attend classes in another language, make new friends speaking a different language, and manage day-to-day life in another country far away from her family and friends.
“I think Christmas will be weird,” said Feldkamp. And never having been away from her family for longer than two months at a time will surely foster a little homesickness, Feldkamp acknowledged. But then, she remembers what she is getting – a whole year abroad and the opportunity of a lifetime.
“I think that it’s definitely scary,” said Feldkamp. “It is a little scary to think about. I’ll be living away from my family for a year with AFS.” But hey, a lot of other kids in other countries do it, so why not she, said Feldkamp.
“There is a whole world out there,” said Feldkamp. “It’s not just Marion or Massachusetts. There’s way more out there to see.”
Feldkamp expects that, for the first few months at least, she will be “super homesick.” And her friends are sad to see her go.
“They are sad. Definitely sad,” she said. “We’re just trying to spend as much time as possible together before I leave this summer.”
Feldkamp has been in touch with her host family for months now, and she feels as though she knows them already.
“I love my family that I’m staying with so much already,” Feldkamp said. “I know they care for me a lot, so I’m not too nervous about getting homesick, but I’m sure I’ll miss my dog and my mom. I’m really close to my mom.”
Feldkamp leaves for Sweden on August 19 and will not return home until July 4, 2016.
“I know I’ll have lifelong friendships in the end with all the people I meet, and I’ll have a totally new perspective on the world,” said Feldkamp. “I’ll also gain some independence doing more things by myself along the way.”
Corazzini said the AFS-USA program at ORR is always looking for families to host a foreign exchange student, much like Cate, from another country who is also looking to walk through that open door into the world.
For information about hosting an exchange student for a half year or a full year, contact Kim Corazzini at 508-738-3801, or visit the AFS-USA website at www.afsusa.org.
By Jean Perry