Student from Finland earns degree in America

By Kim Walter

Oscar Berglund never thought much of the color purple, but after spending this past year at Strasburg High School, he’s learned to love it.

The 17-year-old from Finland is a foreign exchange student, and will join 154 other seniors for the high school’s graduation at 10 a.m. Saturday morning.

This being Oscar’s first time in the United States, he wanted to experience as much as possible. However, when he ended up in Shenandoah County, he found the list of things to do to be a bit short.

“I think I’ve done pretty much everything I can,” he said Wednesday afternoon sitting inside the school’s library. “I’ve seen the nearby cities, and I’ve done the hikes … I do like it here.”

Oscar’s host father, Kenneth Jaeger, is also a French teacher at the high school. Jaeger was happy to welcome Oscar into his home – this is his seventh year hosting international students.

The program holds a special place in his heart, since he had such a wonderful time as an exchange student during college.

“I know first hand the value of seeing the world while you can,” Jaeger said.

Jaeger was happy that Oscar was so outgoing from the get go. It also helped that his new peers were accepting.

“I think it was good for Oscar to come during the senior year, because these older kids are more willing to welcome new kids to the group,” he said. “They were really excited to learn about other cultures.”

Oscar noticed a number of differences between school here and school back home. For instance, Oscar’s high school in Finland is much smaller, and he had to apply to get in. He also said students at home have more responsibilities, and often plan out any free time they might have.

He was surprised last fall when he attended a football game in Strasburg and saw friends, family members and community members there to cheer the team on. Oscar plays soccer back at home, but said there would never be such a turnout for a game.

“That was one thing I really liked,” he said. “This place comes together for the students. The people here support each other, even for a game.”

While Oscar’s American high school diploma won’t carry much academic weight back home, he said he knows the experience and social knowledge gained are worth it. Upon returning, Oscar will have another two years of school to complete before entering mandatory military service and then, hopefully, going to a university to study business or economics.

“Staying at home would’ve been easy, but not everyone takes this kind of chance,” he said. “This has changed my life.”

Oscar did take a few classes in Strasburg that weren’t available at home – agriculture was one that he had never even considered as an academic passion. After realizing its prevalence in the area, he realized why students were drawn to it.

The student also filled his free time by playing soccer and basketball at the school. He said he’s happy with his grades over all.

“At home, if you don’t have the grades then you don’t keep going with school,” he said. “You could learn a skill at a special school, but that limits your future.”

Jaeger said he’s proud of the senior’s easy transition to American life, and his desire to try new experiences.

“Honestly, he might’ve done more this school year than a lot of kids do their whole life around here,” he said.

Oscar said he’ll take the school pride back home, as it’s not a big part of education in Finland. He also has a word of advice for students here.

“Foreign exchange students don’t always have to be like me … I mean, American students can go to other countries, too,” he said. “And if they can, they should. Seeing other people and how they live taught me a lot about the world, but I really learned a lot about myself.”

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com