Student ready to experience year of schooling, culture in Denmark

Samantha Leicht-Ruskey and District Governor for Rotary District 6250, Dean Ryerson stand at Samantha’s July 27 going away party. (Photo submitted)

For Samantha’s official Rotary blazer, each pin on the jacket is from a Rotary exchange student she has met during her trainings. Some students are local to U.S. and some are international inbound students to the U.S. (Photo submitted)

By Caitlin Bittner

With the help of the Rotary International Club, Samantha Leicht-Ruskey will soon be eating Danish donuts in the land where they were invented.

As part of a yearlong Rotary Exchange Program, Samantha will be shipping out on Aug. 9 for Denmark. While there, Samantha is expected to learn as much as she can about the Danish way of life. “I’m going to be submerged in the culture and learn how to handle things in another country,” said Samantha.

During the program, Samantha will have three different host families. “I’ll stay with the first one until mid-November, the second until March, and then the third until it’s time for me to come home,” Samantha explained.

Samantha has known her first host family for a couple of months now, and so far she has learned quite a bit about them. “They have three kids—two that are close to my age,” commented Samantha.

Currently, Samantha’s first host family is eagerly awaiting her arrival. “They counted down until their daughter got back from a similar exchange in the U.S., and now they’re counting down until I arrive,” Samantha said.

On Aug. 1, Samantha received her driver’s license, not that she’ll get much of a chance to use it. “They have the “Four D’s,” no driving, drugs, drinking or dating,” explained Samantha.

However, with most of the transportation in Europe being public, Samantha’s not worried. “They take bikes and buses everywhere.”

Another thing Samantha expects to be different is the school environment. “They serve beer in the high schools; it’s like soda to them.”

Spending your junior year of high school in a foreign country, while educational and worthwhile, can have a few drawbacks. Samantha noted that she will miss participating in the high school band and watching school sports.

Besides school stuff, Samantha admitted that her family, friends and familiar foods will definitely be missed. “They don’t have Hershey’s bars over there,” she laughed.

Even though she will be staying at her host family’s home alone, Samantha will have a small bit of home coming with her. “I have two other area students coming with me, one from my same district and another from a different one.”
“We’ll meet and fly over together and then we’ll go our separate ways for a few weeks to spend time with our host families,” explained Samantha.

After those few weeks pass, the students will then all get back together for a crash course in learning the Danish language and culture. “It’ll be like going to camp where we can learn stuff that might be important for the rest of our stay, like how to do more than introduce myself and say I don’t speak Danish,” commented Samantha.

When the camp is over, the students are once again released to their host families to get the full immersion experience. The student will be able to get together at regularly scheduled Rotary events, but they are encouraged to expand their horizons beyond what they already know outside of the events.

During her trip, Samantha hopes she’s able to experience both the Danish culture, as well as the European culture. “I really want to go to a European soccer game,” she admitted.

At the end of her year of study, Samantha will also have the chance to travel around Europe, something she also really looks forward to doing. “With the group Eurotrips, we’ll spend 18 days on a bus traveling all over Europe, and there’s a chance to see so many countries.”

Samantha’s interest in the exchange program started when she was in fifth grade when her family hosted a student from Mexico. “That’s when I decided that I had to do it.”

To prepare for her trip, she has also taken summer school classes. “Most of what I learn in Denmark probably won’t transfer back with me, but with all the classes I’ve taken, I should still be able to graduate on time,” explained Samantha.

In order to be considered for the program, students are also required to be within the top 25 percent of their classes, which Samantha easily accomplished. Then, even with a few reservations, Samantha’s parents were convinced that she deserved the chance to go. “After she worked so hard, we really couldn’t say no,” said Tina, Samantha’s mom.

As far as the application process goes, Samantha had only one word to describe it—long. “I started filling out the paperwork a year ago, and I think it took me about three months to finish. Then, you have to do an interview. If you’re accepted into the program you find out in early December and you get your country assignment in mid-February.”

Although the process is long, Samantha encourages other students not to let it stop them, but instead suggests that they try to start preparing as early as they can. “If you want to go when you’re 16, I’d probably start getting in contact with the Rotary Club and learning about the program in eighth grade,” advised Samantha.

Samantha is the daughter of Joe and Tina Ruskey, of Prairie du Chien, and Dan Leicht of California. She also has two siblings, a brother Joseph, 9, and a sister Mikalina, 16.

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