12/12/2012 10:18:00 AM Exchange student from Denmark enjoys his year in Chino Valley
Review/Heidi Dahms Foster
Clockwise from top, Kristoffer Brendstrup with his exchange family Michael, Melissa and Ashley.
Heidi Dahms-Foster Former Editorial Manager
Kristoffer Brendstrup-Brix wasn't sure what to expect when he came to Chino Valley in July as an exchange student from Denmark. Since then, he's gained a second mom and dad, a brother and two sisters, and a host of new friends and experiences.
Kristoffer is Chino Valley's first high school exchange student (another student has since come from Germany). He's from Kjellerup, Denmark, a community of about 10,000 people, and is a sophomore here.
In Denmark, Kristoffer had completed ninth grade and was looking to try something different. Other students had told him that being an exchange student was a great opportunity, that he would see and experience a lot.
Kristoffer's exchange "mom," Melissa Lee, said PAX Academic Exchange called her "out of the blue," about being a host.
"I said yes, we both (Melissa and husband Toby) said it would be a good opportunity," she said.
Then they brought the opportunity to their children - Michael, a freshman, Jasmine, a seventh-grader, and Ashley, a kindergartner.
"We were most concerned about Michael, because he would have to share his room," Melissa said.
Within two weeks the family was approved, and they had a lot of profiles of potential exchange students to look at.
"You look at the profiles without a photo at first. They want you to be interested in the child, not their appearance. When I saw Kristoffer's profile, I called that day and said, 'I want this one,'" she said. "He was athletic, he had good grades, and he was from Denmark. We grew up in Minnesota and have that Danish background in our family, and I thought he would be compatible with Michael, who is athletic, too."
Melissa added that Kristoffer wanted to try American sports.
"That was a big thing, he was willing to try anything," she said.
Kristoffer said his mother was an exchange student in Chicago in her late teens, so she "knew what it was all about."
"She said it was a good idea, and she supported me. My dad hadn't done it, but he was agreeing with my mom about it," he said.
Before coming to the U.S., Kristoffer and other prospective exchange students met with local coordinators to prepare for their journey.
Likewise, as soon as Melissa knew Kristoffer was coming, she began to converse with him on Facebook, email and Skype. She bought bunk beds for the boys' room, and soccer team sheets from Europe, so Kristoffer would have something he liked from home.
When he finally arrived, she said, "I felt like I was getting a relative back or something."
Kristoffer landed in Phoenix in late July, and will stay until June, 2013, two weeks after school is out. In orientations, coordinators had cautioned him to not have high expectations about their host families. But meeting this new family was "special," he said.
"When I walked off the airplane, they had welcome signs," he said.
Melissa's concerns about Michael also were unfounded. The two boys get along well, and play sports together. Kristoffer said he played a lot of soccer and little bit of golf. Michael is into football and track and field. Both lettered in football this past season, and they're ready to take on track in the spring.
"Football is very different, because I'm used to soccer. But it's really fun once you get to know the game," Kristoffer said.
Of Kristoffer, Michael said, "I thought it would be fun to learn new things, another culture and stuff, and that he would be like a brother. That's how it has turned out."
Michael talks about the time Kristoffer cooked a Danish lasagna. "I'm learning a lot of different things, how they cook and stuff."
Michael also is learning about how Danish young people date.
"Here, you ask someone on a date, and there's that pattern. It's not that formal in Denmark, there are more group things," Kristoffer said.
While Chino Valley covers a larger area than his hometown in Denmark, Kristoffer said it's similar.
"I don't notice that things are really different," he said. "All the small things, the daily life, makes it interesting."
One big difference, he said, is that in Denmark, people don't eat out as much as Americans do.
"We had McDonald's maybe once every year," he said.
In Chino Valley, Kristoffer has tried a lot of international food. At home, he enjoys burgers and a lot more fish and seafood.
He finds that schoolwork is easier here, and is getting straight A's. While his native language is Danish, he has been taking English classes in school since third grade. He also knows German.
"Denmark is a small country, and we have to learn other languages," he said.
Michael also notices small differences.
"They eat everything with a fork and knife!" he said. He remembers with a grin the first time the family observed Kristoffer using a knife and fork to eat pizza.
"We stared at him and asked, 'what are you doing?'"
Kristoffer also experienced his first Thanksgiving this year with the Lees.
"He thought it was nice," Melissa said. He noted the abundance of food, and said he liked pecan pie the most.
Since this is a voting year, Melissa made sure Kristoffer got to observe the entire voting process, taking him with her when she cast her ballot.
The exchange experience has been so positive for her family, Melissa said, that she hopes all of Kristoffer's siblings will come to Chino Valley.
"He has two sisters the same age as my girls. I want to host them all," she said. "It changes your life completely, to have someone trust you to take their child."
To her, Kristoffer has become another son.
"I dread losing him. I know what his family feels like. It's going to kill us to let him go. And it has been good for Michael to have someone his age. He has gained a friend for life, and hopefully one day we'll all go (to Denmark) and visit them and their culture," she said.
Kristoffer said his time as an exchange student has expanded his world.
"I'm probably a lot more independent, and I have a different view. I know things can be done differently than we do at home," he said.