Ben Shaw on Exchange at Herlufsholm in Denmark

Underneath Kronborg castle there’s a statue of a knight. Known for his incredible heroics, Holger Danske was set in plaster and later concrete and is a reminder of the strength Denmark once had. Legend has it that when the country is in need, Holger Danske will rise from his seat and lead his armies into battle one last time.

Denmark seems to be full of places like this, ordinary landscapes undermined with history.  The school we’re going to has a museum older than American independence and rumoured underground tunnels connecting all the buildings. There’s a tank in a field near my host family’s house that’s been left abandoned since WWII, but still keeps watch with a rusty barrel over acres of farmland.

The country has a sense of worn comfort to it, but of self-importance, too. It’s almost as if, as a collective, Danish people know exactly where they are and what they need to do. Maybe it’s the growing trend of hygge, or comfiness, or maybe it’s just the settling in process, but people seem calmer here than they are back home. More aware of things around them. Maybe too, of course, this is all just me projecting what I want onto the experience.

Herlufsholm feels like it’s losing a game of hide and seek with the students. Buildings are nestled in a forest, huge brick things with too many stairs and empty classrooms. Classes change location every day, and the schedule makes less sense than our own. After school activities are at random times on different days of the week, and classes get cancelled at the last minute. But despite all this, or maybe because of it, the school feels more whole, more like something new every day. It’s confusing, and I seem to get lost a lot, but that isn’t a problem. It’s more like every wrong turn is a new day, and every day has more to find. Thinking of it that way makes it feel less like a countdown, a countdown to the end of the school day, to the end of the week, how long I’ve been away, how long until I have to go back. It’s all there in one place, a jumble of locked rooms and tardy slips holding up an exchange.

Barren was the first word I thought of when I got to Copenhagen, with its icy streets and grey weather color scheme. But the longer I stay here, the more pockets open up, and like Holger Danske show a Denmark that is warm, and new, and a little bit scary but comfortable. Two weeks in, and time zones have never been less of a concern.



Update from Sarah Zemelman at Gordonstoun in Scotland

I arrived in Scotland a few days before my exchange experience was due to begin. By the time school started, I was one of the few exchange students who was completely over jet lag, which made my transition much easier. When I first stepped into the school, students were just coming back from their winter break. There were shouts of greeting and many hugs shared between friends. Wondering if I would ever become a part of such a tight-knit community, I unpacked my bag and tried to make my dorm room into a home.

Almost immediately, students came to greet me. First the other exchange students, just as bewildered as I was, sought each other out. Then my dorm mates, amidst screaming and running down the halls, welcomed me to the school. At Gordonstoun, I’ve found a community of students that are brilliant, funny, warm, and welcoming. Boarding immediately became a joy. I love living with so many wonderful people, although I am grateful that I have a room to myself. Kids come to Gordonstoun from all over the world. I’ve met exchange students from Denmark, New Zealand, and Germany, and full-time students from Nigeria, Russia, Poland, Spain, and countless other countries. I have yet to meet a student, save myself, who is fluent in only one language.

Every day is an adventure of new experiences. So far I have shot a gun for the first time and joined a sewing class, two activities that are entirely against my nature. Students attend chapel every day, which lead to my first communion service. Navigating the campus still proves to be a challenge, but wandering aimlessly is absolutely worthwhile because the school grounds are so beautiful.

Classes are very different than those at Athenian. Each class seems to be teaching towards the next test, but they are all very interesting. Every student takes Chemistry, Physics, and Biology at the same time. In Literature class, we have yet to write an essay. At the moment, we are reading and analyzing Blood Brothers, a musical that is well known in the UK. In history class, we are studying the Cold War. It is fascinating and entertaining to learn US history through European eyes.

As beautiful as Gordonstoun is and the people in it are, I can’t help thinking of the beauty I left behind. I miss the view of Mount Diablo just outside of Athenian’s classrooms. I miss bringing my own lunch: being gluten-free has proved to be difficult. I miss walking the streets of Berkeley. Most of all, I miss you guys. Regardless of where you are in the world, it is the friends you have that make your experience. The wonderful friends I’ve made here have made me more grateful for the friendships I have back home.

I am so excited to continue a wonderful experience at Gordonstoun!

Cailin Plunkett heads home from South Africa

I arrived home in San Francisco a little over two weeks ago. I was immediately thrown back into school here.  Processing my exchange experience was sent to the back of my mind as I faced the whirlwind of responsibilities in front of me. I missed the first week of school due to a backpacking trip at the school in South Africa. As I scrambled to catch up, I didn’t take much time to think through my exchange. Two weeks later, as I’ve settled in back home and have caught up with all of my work, my trip already feels like a distant memory. The stark differences between here and there make it seem even more surreal. I was glad to be back in school here and at the time I was happy to not have to think about exchange. As it seems far enough in the past now, I feel much more honest about my trip. Letting it stir in my mind allowed me to sift through exactly what made it the way it was.

My last few weeks of school were decent overall. I became a lot closer to people in my last week there. Leaving them right after I started to get to really know them was difficult. I met a lot of amazing people, but there were also people I met whom I wish I did not. On exchange, you can be a slightly different person. You have to figure out the types of people you want to surround yourself with. Finding those who like you for who you are was one of the most difficult parts of exchange for me.

One of the highlights of my exchange was going on a backpacking trip through the school there. Each year, the grade 10s hike the Fanie Botha trail, a famous hike in South Africa. I can’t say everyone in my group enjoyed the hike, but I know I did. Outdoor adventure has been a part of my life since I could walk and being able to do that on the other side of the world was something truly special. I made close friends on the hike in the four days it lasted. The bonds created on that short trip rivaled those I made in my entire month at the school.

The hike was gorgeous, except for one day during which we hiked ten miles on an exposed ridge fighting pouring rain and biting wind. Despite almost freezing to death, we all made it through.  We spent hours around a large fire every night. We laughed as we dried our soaking clothes, had deep honest conversations after cooking dinner, played games and told stories. (Advanced Uno may have ruined some friendships.) Those evenings were some I will never forget.

Overall, my exchange was filled with ups and downs. I have a deeper understanding of who I am as a person, the good parts and the bad. Going on exchange is truly a unique experience.

At the beginning of my exchange, as several things were going downhill, I asked myself if I would regret it by the end. At the end, in no way do I regret exchange. I learned from the bad times, I cherish the good times, and I think I’m a stronger person on the other side.

Josh Birnbaum’s time in Perth


After a brutal 15-hour flight, I finally touched down in Sydney, Australia. I thought I had the heavy lifting behind me, but the 5-hour flight from Sydney to Perth was harder to endure because of the anxiety leading up to experience of a lifetime. After meeting Kirwan’s family at the airport, we drove an hour and a half from Perth to his house in Northam. Northam is a very small country community in rural Western Australia. We spent a night in Northam and then traveled to their farm in Koorda. Koorda is another hour and a half from Northam, totaling three hours from Perth. Although Kirwan’s family owns the farm in Koorda, they no longer use it to grow and produce canola. It is simply kept to continue the family tradition of owning agricultural land. On the farm, we rode motorbikes, shot birds, hit some golf balls, and kicked the footy (Australian football). That night we went kangaroo spotting in the truck, fulfilling one of my to-dos while Down Under.

After a day on the farm, we made our way to Rottnest Island, which is about 30 minutes off the coast of Perth. On the island, we went fishing, snorkeling and explored the entire island on bike. While on this island I was introduced to an animal called a Quokka. I would describe it as a mixture between a kangaroo and a koala. Quokkas are only found in one place in the whole world, and it is Rottnest Island. After an amazing weekend on the island, we made our way back to Northam to prepare for school. I am very excited to meet everyone at Scotch College and cannot wait to continue my exchange experience in Western Australia.


After having the time of my life at Scotch College, I am very disappointed to say I am currently 10 hours into my 15-hour flight back from Sydney to SFO. The highlight of my trip was easily the boarding experience. Simply put, I would describe boarding as living with your best friends. I loved being able to ride my bike to the beach after school or walk downtown for food after soccer practice. The school is in close proximity to Perth city, and everything I needed was a bike, train or bus ride away. I made my closest connections with the boarders. Because Scotch belongs to a private school collection called the PSA, I made friends from a number of schools, not just Scotch. Scotch is an all-boys school, but there are a number of girls schools less than a 15-minute bike ride away.

Living in a boarding helped me become much more independent and forced me way out of my comfort zone. I suddenly went from having my mom do my laundry, to doing my own every Tuesday, at the allotted time slot assigned to me. I would highly recommend exchange to every sophomore. I came in with low expectations and I thoroughly enjoyed every second of my time Down Under.

Nicholas Wong reflects on his time in Perth

These last four weeks have been a complete blur. It feels as if I just arrived yesterday with my bags at the airport. My exchange trip has been an extraordinary adventure that I will remember for the rest of my life. The beginning of school was rough for me; I didn’t know what to do or where I was going. But as I learned the general time table, I became more comfortable with the students around me. At Scotch, I was put with my exchange partner, Will, in every single class period. This was okay, but as time went on I decided to branch out and look for new people. I met Dan through one of Will’s friends in PE and we quickly became great friends. I never expected to make a really good friend on exchange, so I was unprepared to say goodbye when the time came to leave Perth.

Perth itself was not very different from San Francisco. The Perth culture is generally progressive and it is also located on the coast. On one of the weekends I was there, Will caught the flu and I had to decide to either go to a family friend’s farm an hour away from Perth or stay home. I really wanted to stay at his house because I didn’t have the confidence to leave Will and go to the farm alone. When Will’s family pondered if I were to go or not, I was about to say no when something changed in my mindset. I don’t know what it was, but I ended up saying yes, I’d go. After going to the farm and getting to ride in a tractor and push out a hay bale, I was very glad that I chose to go even though I was alone. After thinking about why I said yes, I think Perth has given me the confidence to say yes to live my life the way I want without worrying about the judgement of other people. Leaving my various insecurities in the dust for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure is what my decision came down to.

One of the prime highlights of my trip was walking back from school next to the train and going to one of the various cafes in the Claremont quarter. It was a cool new experience to sit down and have a berry smoothie or an iced tea after school and talk with my exchange.

Another highlight was learning how to successfully jaywalk in Australia. Unlike California, Australia doesn’t have many crosswalks, so it’s commonplace to walk across the street when there aren’t any cars coming. I must admit I’m glad to be back in California with crosswalks.

When I heard that Scotch had marching, I thought it was going to be a once a year sort of thing.  It turns out that it’s a very serious event on Friday mornings and I was supposed to march with the Shearer house (pronounced Shira). I was terrible the first week and kept on shoe flat-tiring the student in front of me. The next week I was better, but got yelled at by a Shearer house head for wearing the wrong shirt with the uniform (oops). We laughed when I told him I was an exchange. (Exchanges generally wear their school uniform from home, so people thought I was a normal student.)

When I was at the farm, I had the opportunity to ride inside a tractor, which was pretty awesome. I also got to stand at a real bonfire and roast super oversized American marshmallows.

Finally, going to Perth’s city beach with my exchange host and Dan was an enjoyable experience. We didn’t go into the water because of “Warning Sharks!” signs placed everywhere, but it was still an experience I hope to never forget.

I would definitely recommend and encourage sophomores to take this wonderful opportunity to not only explore a new part of the world, but also to learn something new about yourself. This was an opportunity of a lifetime. I am grateful for the lifelong friendships I’ve made and the chance to go on exchange. 

Jennifer Salako heads home from Argentina

It has been a week since I stepped off the plane that took me away from a place I now call home. It seems surreal that I am now back in the Bay Area, back where I started. I spent these last four weeks adapting myself to this new culture and I feel like I have finally adjusted. Now it seems almost wrong for me to leave. I am, and will forever be, grateful to my exchange family as well as the many friends I made on this trip. My daily experiences and interactions have brought me closer to the heart of Argentinian culture and my own. I hope these same relationships and experiences follow me in the journeys ahead.

Last week I gave a presentation about Athenian to the entire secondary school and two grades in primary. Discussing and researching about my school allowed for me to reflect on more differences I had seen between Belgrano Day and Athenian. Additionally, I found a new sense of appreciation for where I come from and the community I’m involved in. It was quite interesting to see the multiple reactions I received after my presentation. I remember being told, “Your school is so beautiful!” and “You guys can choose your own classes?!” Hearing these responses made me realize what I had taken for granted and allowed me to be thankful for the opportunity I have to attend Athenian and go on exchange to the beautiful city of Buenos Aires.

Although I was still met with many stares even in my last few days, they became common greetings instead of hostile gestures. After writing my first blog post, I had the chance to discuss with my exchange family the meaning behind these long stares. I was told that staring is a way of acknowledging a person. Unlike how people tend to avoid staring at others in the U.S. because it is deemed rude, Argentinians use staring as an unspoken way of saying hello to someone they don’t know. After hearing this explanation, I felt a gradual change in my daily interactions. Each time I walked out of the house, I felt myself become less overwhelmed by racist perceptions. Even though I still carried that feeling of discomfort till the end, I have come to understand and respect it as a cultural difference.

Argentina has shown me its best and its worst, teaching me new lessons along the way. I am more than happy to be able to call Argentina my home. I look forward to welcoming May to San Francisco and showing her where I come from. Argentina, its culture, and its people will forever be in my heart.

Ciao Argentina! We will meet again!

Alina Cao bids farewell to Alice Springs

Unlike my first exchange blog, this one is a little hard to start because there is not much time left before I leave Australia. One month, 31 days, 744 hours, or 44640 minutes might seem long, but flies by so fast while on exchange. Looking back at my full experience on exchange, I have met a lot of lovely people, made close friends, learnt much more about Australian culture, and, most importantly, had lots of fun and truly enjoyed Alice Springs.

There are a lot of things that I have learned from this trip. The most significant one is that there is a new challenge every day. By overcoming these challenges, you will find yourself becoming a better person. It was these challenges that made my experience in Australia colorful and full of excitement, because you will never know what is going to be the next challenge in your life. After reflecting on my time here, I realized that new challenges help to push a person’s limit, and creates an environment where a person is encouraged to improve him or herself on a daily basis. This is the number one reason why I highly encourage my fellow Athenians to apply for exchange–you’ll find yourself growing up as a more complete person within just a few months.

Friendship is the most precious thing that you can gain from exchange. My best times in Alice Springs are all the times that I’ve spent with my friends, both at school and outside of school. I celebrated three of my friends’ birthdays, spent time chatting during recess, explored this amazing town with my exchange, enjoyed all the trips to amazing places in the Northern Territory, went to footy and netball games, and had fun singing and playing music with friends in music class.

There were so many incredible things that I was lucky enough to experience during my exchange. The most memorable was a three-day road trip to Uluru at the end of my time in Australia. I could not use words to describe the beauty of nature that I discovered in Uluru. Although there was lots of climbing and walking in dirt, it was all worthwhile after standing on top of the mountain and seeing the gorgeous views.  During the trip, I also learnt much more about how the aboriginal people live their lives in the mountains. Their culture is incredible. They are experts at utilizing all the natural resources out there in the mountains and rocks. In fact, the aboriginal people in Australia is one the earliest human civilizations on earth. Their stories warned me to not take nature for granted, and to protect our mother earth and all the ancient cultures that are endangered. The last night of my road trip, we slept in our swags near the camp fire lying under the sky. Until you see it with your own eyes, you will never know the beauty of the sky at night in the wild. The stars on that dark night were like diamonds. They were all positioned at random spots, without a single pattern, but together they were nature’s piece of artwork. The dark night and shinning stars created the best contrast of color. That night was also my first time seeing shooting stars, and you would not believe me if I told you that I saw three shooting stars. The shooting stars flew by so fast, just like how time was gone before I even noticed during my exchange trip. Even so, I still made three wishes within those few seconds. They were the best seconds of my life, yet it felt so long, because thousands of thoughts went through my mind within the blink of an eye. I will never forget that night, the camp fire, and those shooting stars.Now, I am on the airplane writing this exchange blog. A few minutes ago, I finished reading the flag that all my friends signed before I left and a letter from my exchange. I have no words to describe my feelings right now. I knew that this exchange trip was going to end, but not this soon. Reading all the words and sentences on my Australian flag, moments and images went through my mind – they were faces of all my friends at St Philips’ and all the memorable moments that we share. I will forever remember this exchange trip. Even though my time here already has come to an end, the friendships that I’ve gained during this month will long last in my heart. With a last thank you to every single person that I’ve met in Australia, this exchange blog has come to its end. 

Kyle Van Hoesen says good-bye to Australia

My exchange in Australia was amazing. The people were so cheerful and welcoming, and I enjoyed their accents immensely. I loved my host family, and they showed me so much of Australia’s culture. I found the kangaroos and koalas fascinating. They are both so soft, and the way the kangaroos bounce is adorable. I did not enjoy the snakes and saw 1 more than I was hoping to see. Some of my favorite times were watching footy (AFL, look it up), hiking Mt. Lofty, exploring the city, and taking a trip to Kangaroo Island. The sand dunes, Admirals’ Arch, and Remarkable Rocks were the highlight of KI. We went sledding on the sand dunes and climbing on the Remarkable Rocks. I also liked Australia’s colorful wildlife and plants. I was pleasantly surprised by parrots flying by me in the wild. The city of Adelaide is beautiful and filled with so many parks and built in a wonderful spot. The multicultural city is amazing and I would love to go back.

Westminster was a new and exciting experience for me. Wearing a uniform and calling the teachers by their last names was new and interesting for me. The classes at Westminster are interesting and styled a little differently with more students and lectors. I enjoyed all my classes and found them all to be somewhere different to where I was in my second semester. They group their science and math classes together into mixed curriculum classes. The social aspect of the school was fun with all the new stories and people.

Over all the exchange was very fun and I would love to go back and say “g’day mate” to my host family. I want to especially thank my host family, Phoenix and his parents for a wonderful experience. When I arrived I was greeted by welcoming strangers and when I left I said good bye to a second family. I would recommend going on exchange to anyone who has the opportunity. Life is short and we should take any opportunity that comes our way. I learned so much and I can’t imagine not going. 

AJ Sheinberg says farewell to Adelaide

I just got home from Australia a couple of hours ago. I was there for five weeks and made some amazing friends and memories that I will never forget. My Grandpa was born in Australia and moved to America when he was little, however, a branch of the family tree is still there. Over EXEAT, when they kick the boarders out for the weekend, I went into the Adelaide hills and spend the weekend with my Great Grandmother’s sister’s daughter, Michele. Sadly I was sick all night Friday and was unable to do much Saturday. As it turned out, one in three boarders got sick over that weekend, and they even ran test on some of us. The results showed it was a virus that spread through the boarding house. After this doozy of a day, we had to pack two days into one. They live on a farm that has about 150 acres and own a few other plots of land that total around 1000 acres. The hills on their farms are covered in vineyards and they have tons of sheep and cattle. I also had the opportunity to drive their tractors, forklifts and gators. After experiencing farm life, we went into Adelaide and saw my Great Grandma’s sister, which was an amazing experience.

After another good week at school, I flew into Sydney and spent the weekend with Michele’s daughter, Kate. Kate has three kids: Jordan in year 12, Chloe in year 10, and Dior in year 9. Over the weekend we took a ferry from Manly Beach to the Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge. It was awesome meeting these relatives that I had not known before.

The lessons at Westminster were quite different to those at Athenian and consisted of mainly lectures and assignments. Some of the classes I took were, Wood Tech, Maths, English, History, Science Plus and PE.

On my final weekend at Westminster, the day known as Intercol was held. Intercol is the day where Westminster and their biggest rival, Pembroke, face off in every sport. Each sports team from year 8 up competes in this huge event. On this day I woke up to the song “We Ready” being blasted over the boarding house speakers at 7:00 am. I then went and watched all the girl’s netball games, which is pretty similar to basketball. After that, I played in the year 10 soccer game, which we won 4-3. The main event was the opens football match at 2:15. All students from both schools circled around the oval and did not stop cheering till the final whistle blew. In the end, Westminster destroyed Pembroke by over ten goals. Afterwards I went to an Intercol after party and spent the night at someone’s house.  The next morning I woke up, headed to the airport, and started my journey home.

My time at Westminster was amazing and I hope to go back soon. Thanks for reading and UP THE GONS.

Kaitlyn Chin’s last weeks in Tasmania

I really don’t know where to start. These final weeks in Launceston have been a blur. I’ve had my highs and my lows during Exchange. The saying “it will get better with time” applied to my experience at school. I admit I didn’t feel the most comfortable with the friends of my exchange partner Caoilainn, as they were two years older than me and talked about people I didn’t know. During the last few weeks, however, I branched out and found my own friends. Not only did I get to know more people, I have come to realize that talking and initiating conversation has gotten much easier for me.

Unfortunately, during the final few days of Exchange, I ended up getting the worst fever. I stayed home from school on Monday and I ended up having to leave early school on my last day. However, I was always surrounded by the most caring host parents and friends.

Some Highlights:

  • Being featured in Launceston’s local newspaper, The Examiner
  • Reading and playing with the most precious three-year-olds who were apart of Scotch Oakburn’s early learning program – This was through my Working with Children class. My classmates had to drag me out of the early learning classroom.
  • Going to the east coast – My host family took me on an overnight trip to Freycinet National Park. If you simply search ‘Tasmania’ on Google, pictures of the beautiful coast automatically pop up. We hiked up to the gorgeous Wineglass Bay outlook and hit Bicheno Beach.
  • Going to the famous MONA art museum in Hobart as an art class excursion – This museum is known to be extremely controversial, as they took on the theme of “Death and Sex.”
  • Fun fact: Launceston is in the North of Tasmania and Hobart is in the South. Driving from Launceston to Hobart took two hours, which really shows how small this state is.
  • Tasmania is made up of lots of farmland. I first went to a dairy farm with my agriculture class and saw many baby calves. My second trip was with Caoilainn’s rowing team. They hold an annual fundraiser selling sheep poo as fertilizer, so I had the pleasure of shoveling and packing sheep feces for the day.
  • Getting the biggest burgers and waffle fries from food trucks at night in the pouring rain
  • Dying at Caoilainn’s crossfit sessions
  • Local raspberry farm
  • Toasties
  • Passion fruit
  • Going to an official AFL [Australian Football League] game – They only play in Tasmania three times each year.
  • Making spontaneous trips after school: grabbing coffee and cake at nearby cafe, walking to a local park, taking the bus to go shop downtown
  • Winning Scotch Oakburn’s annual Singing Carnival and War Cry with the Fox House
  • I have my host family’s contact forever saved on my phone as “Australian Dad” and “Australian Mom”

Before coming on Exchange, some people asked me, “Why did you pick Australia?” The answer to that is still unknown. Australia and America are known to have similar interests. Furthermore, I was nervous about going to a place where there was less diversity. There were moments where I wanted to go home so bad I cried. I was told that some people might think I was a new Chinese boarder who didn’t speak English. With this in mind, I even felt embarrassed talking to some Chinese students in Mandarin because I didn’t want to be stereotyped. These were the moments where I had to step back and think about what I was doing. At the end, I thought “Who cares? I’m on a once in a lifetime experience and I’m doing my best.” I’ve had my difficulties and I’ve grown through them.

To those thinking about going on Exchange– it won’t be easy for some, but it’s truly an amazing experience. I’m so thankful for the lifelong friendships I have made and for having the opportunity to come.