When I was 13 my family decided that we wanted to host a foreign exchange student from Greenland. I was quite excited about the opportunity to have another member of the family for a year, but I didn’t realize how significant of an experience it would be and how much Paarnaq would impact my life.

It was the first time I was exposed to a different language, different culture, and different world view…it gave me a global perspective from a very early age. I value this experience very much, and it has helped shape who I am today.

Shaping college and career aspirations

My family’s experience hosting a foreign exchange student ultimately shaped my career path, as well as my lifelong interest in cultures and travel. I befriended other foreign exchange students at school, and I learned to respect and value people who were different from me.

In college I wanted to explore different parts of the world, so I took part in a short-term study abroad program in Europe, a semester study abroad program in Europe, and a summer exchange program in Japan.

After I completed college, I participated in a global mission exchange program, where I spent a year abroad in Slovakia. I built a life there, learned a new language, met new friends and had my own wonderful experience with a host family.

When I returned to the U.S., I knew I wanted to work with international students. I am now currently working in a study abroad and global experiences office at a college, helping students gain global perspectives and experience different cultures.

Lifelong family ties

We had the privilege of hosting Paarnaq for the entire school year. We also had the opportunity to meet her parents and two brothers from Greenland when they came to the U.S. to attend her high school graduation in 1998.

A few years later, my parents, brother and I traveled to Greenland to visit [Paarnaq] and her family. We were able to see her home country and experience her traditions firsthand.

Paarnaq came back to the U.S. in 2003 for my high school graduation, and it meant so much that she was there for me at that important time. [She] came back to visit again in 2007.

In 2011 she stood beside me at my wedding. It meant the world to me that she could be there, as she is part of our family and always will be.

– The Severson Family of Westbrook, MN