PHOTO: Markus Aschwanden, a foreign exchange student, plays the saxophone for the Edgemont High School band.
By Garland Wright
EDGEMONT – In a tale that combines fate, adventure, and an insatiable thirst for an authentic experience, Markus Aschwanden, a foreign exchange student hailing from the remote town of Narvik, Norway, has embarked on an extraordinary journey that has taken him from the snow-covered fjords of Norway to the heart of South Dakota.
Aschwanden, a 17-year-old exchange student, has left behind the picturesque but chilly landscapes of Narvik, Norway, for the welcoming arms of Edgemont, S.D. He revealed that the weather in Narvik is not for the faint of heart; it’s colder, snowier, and rainier compared to the milder climate of Edgemont.
Narvik, despite its population of around 20,000, is decidedly rural. Two hours away from the next town, with yet another three hours to the next, Narvik is separated from its neighboring towns by farms and wildlife.
Aschwanden, who embarked on this life-changing adventure with the EF Tour Company, stands out in his class back home in Norway as one of the six brave souls who decided to travel to the United States for a foreign exchange experience. Unlike his peers, Aschwanden chose to leave the selection of his US residence and host family to fate, opting not to request a specific location, believing that this would provide him with the most authentic experience.
This unconventional approach led Aschwanden to Edgemont High School. He has observed students’ freedom in selecting classes in America compared to Norway’s structured age-based class system. This flexibility has not only broadened his academic horizons but has also improved his English proficiency.
Aschwanden’s host family, the Darrows, have a rich history of hosting foreign exchange students and have given Aschwanden a warm and supportive environment in which to thrive.
This year, the Darrow family is particularly busy as they are hosting an additional senior who would otherwise not be able to complete his senior year at Edgemont High School due to a family relocation. Aschwanden has embraced this extended family as his own, participating in various activities with his host family “brothers,” including hikes, four-wheeling adventures, and running Cross Country.
Recently, the group even completed the Volksmarch at the iconic Crazy Horse Memorial, and they’re eagerly anticipating carving pumpkins for Halloween.
However, what stands out the most for Aschwanden is the friendliness of the people in the United States. He noticed that people are more likely to strike up a conversation while waiting in line, a stark contrast to the more reserved Norwegians.
“Edgemont has beautiful scenery; everyone I’ve met has been super nice and wonderful,” explains Aschwanden. While Aschwanden enjoys his newfound American experiences, he keeps in close contact with his mom, dad, and older sister back home in Narvik, Norway, who eagerly await his return.
Aschwanden’s journey, driven by a sense of adventure and a desire for an authentic cultural experience, serves as a testament to the power of fate and the hospitality of Edgemont, S.D.