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AFS students compare their Norwegian and Turkish homes to life in Muskego

Dec. 28, 2006

Temporarily planted in Muskego for the past four months, Ragnhild Tunestveit of Norway and Nazli Dincel of Turkey are from two very different countries.

On Aug. 11, both girls arrived in the United States via the American Field Service - more commonly known as AFS, an international, voluntary, non-governmental, non-profit organization that provides intercultural learning opportunities. The group aims to promote peace by allowing students to live and study abroad.

Foreign  exchange students Ragnhild Tunestveit (left), 17, and Nazli Dincel, 17, are  experiencing a culture much  different than their own this year at Muskego High School.  Tunestveit is from Norway, and Dincel is from Turkey.  CNI Photo by Ron Kuenstler

By the end of their stay, Ragnhild and Nazli will have spent 10 months in a land many Americans take for granted, but they will leave with a unique perspective not only of what America is, but what it is not. They also have a stronger understanding of their own culture.

Norwegian's goods

Ragnhild wanted to leave her country to improve her English and get to know a culture other than her own.

"I come from a small town, of about 4,000 people," Ragnhild said. "I know everybody I meet in the grocery store."

The school Ragnhild attended in Norway had 400 students compared to the 1,700 at MHS.

"It's hard to be so far away, but I try not to think about what I am missing and focus on what I can be doing here," Ragnhild said.

To Ragnhild everything is bigger in America - the cars, the schools, the cities, and the houses, even the amount of food served to you. She spent Christmas Eves in a Lutheran Church because everyone in her Norwegian town is Lutheran.

But she is also aware that her country is one of the richest in the European Union. Everyone who wants a job there has one.

Turkish times

That's not the case for folks in Istanbul, Nazli's hometown.

"Nazli's country is very poor and my country is one of the richest," Ragnhild said. "I think that makes a big difference, but here (in America) everyone pretty much works if they want to."

For Nazli, leaving Istanbul was not a question of where she wanted to go; it was a need to be in a different place and a different culture. In Istanbul, people who do not need the money are asked not to work so that people who do need the money can.

Istanbul is home to almost 9 million people and is religiously diverse. But there is also a dangerous side to Istanbul.

"I think here, people are more decent," Nazli said. "There's a war in Iraq right now and it's our neighbor, so it's kind of hard to live over there. You could vanish and like nobody would find you."

Living in Muskego is more like living in a village for Nazli. She's more accustomed to going to coffee shops with friends and attending different cultural activities. But Nazli knows that is one reason why she is here: She wanted to experience a different kind of life.

Still, Nazli also has a unique perspective she would like to share about the war in Iraq, but so far no one has gotten around to asking her.

"I would like to talk about it because I don't know why people here are so ignorant about their own government," Nazli said, noting one recent example of a conversation in which she mentioned United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and some students inquired "Who's that?"

Lessons yet to learn

Both Nazli and Ragnhild say school is much more difficult in their home countries.

"They give a lot of homework, but it's easier," Ragnhild said. "Everything is checked and you get a grade on everything. We don't do that where I'm from."

The two will also visit different places in the United States, including Chicago.

When they are done spending time in the United States, Ragnhild will go back to school in Norway for one more year - that country requires 13 years of schooling. For Nazli, it is the same, but she plans on opting out so that she can start college in Paris, where she wants to study film.

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