When Karlijn Gorter (‘22) listed the United States as her first choice for her exchange destination, she had been hoping for a state with a warm climate – but even with the snow falling briskly just outside, her sunny demeanor was by no means dampened. She was simply happy to be in the United States to begin with.
Gorter’s dream-come-true, however, did not come without apprehension. “Of course you’re nervous because you don’t know anybody, you’re meeting a family you’ve never met before, you’re in a school where everybody knows each other, and you’re like an outsider for everybody,” she admitted. Fortunately, her experience at Forest Hills Eastern has been thus far a positive one. “They said [Americans] were really nice, and that came true. Everyone is so kind and welcoming.”
Gorter hails from Friesland, Netherlands. While she is an experienced traveler – she’s been to France, Austria, Sweden, Greece, and the UK, among other countries – this marks her first time in America. “Since I was 12, I always wanted to go to America, but we never went,” she explained. “But then I found a high school program, ASSE, and they were really helpful.” ASSE (American Scandinavian Student Exchange) is an exchange program with connections in six of the seven continents. Gorter is here on its ten-month high school program, arriving in August and leaving in June. Her hosts are the DeJonge family.
Gorter has encountered a variety of differences between the American and Dutch experiences. Beyond American food, whose high sugar and fat content was something to get used to during her first weeks, there are several revolving around her life at school. “American schools are so about sports. They have so many varsity teams for every sport,” she commented. “We don’t go to varsity games with friends, we just go home to our club. We don’t have sports that are so big.” She also mentioned the absence of “party weeks” in America, during which she is accustomed to spending some time off with her friends and family at home. Of all the things she misses from the Netherlands, it is them – her friends and family – that she misses the most.
Fortunately, Gorter was able to bring one of her passions with her: field hockey. For 9 years, she played with her own Dutch field hockey club year-round. “My team is very good this year, but I can’t play with them this year,” she described. In America, she participated in the Forest Hills varsity field hockey team for the fall season, playing alongside her host sister, Amber DeJonge (‘21). In mid-January, Gorter will be traveling with Forest Hills National United to Louisville for the National Indoor Tournament Qualifiers; if they place within the top eight teams, they will move on to the tournament in Pittsburgh.
At about the halfway mark of her stay, Gorter says that her exchange experience has encouraged her into personal growth. Plunged alone into a foreign country, she feels much surer in herself. “I could live on my own now if I wanted to,” she explained. “That is the experience I’m going home with.”