A worldwide tradition


Sophia Beckman

Mathias Eriksen and now his brother, Mads Eriksen, traveled 4,438 miles from Søndersø, Denmark to St. Louis.

Every family has traditions. For some families it’s vacationing in the same place. For others, it’s a recipe passed down through the generations. For the Eriksen and Wagner families, it’s sending their kids thousands of miles to participate in a foreign exchange program. Mathias Eriksen and now his brother, Mads Eriksen, traveled 4,438 miles from Søndersø, Denmark to St. Louis. The boys both stayed with the Wagner family, whose oldest son, Henry, is a sophomore at KHS.

“[I’ve known I wanted to do this exchange] for the last two years,” Mads said. “Two years ago I went and visited this family that I’m living with now over the summer for a couple of weeks to see if it was something that I wanted to do.”

This isn’t the first generation from these families to participate in this exchange. When Majbrit Eriksen, Mathias and Mads’ mother, and Shelly Wagner, Henry’s mother, were in high school, the two women participated in the Youth For Understanding (YFU) international exchange student program.

“My mom was an exchange student in Michigan twenty or thirty years ago and the family she lived [with had] a sister, and the sister of that family is the mother in my host family right now,” Mads said. “Last year my brother was here as well and he lived with the same family, so it’s kind of an exchange student program that went back through the family.”

Unlike some exchange programs, Mads is in the U.S. for a whole year and has the opportunity to experience much of what KHS and St. Louis have to offer. Mads plays on the Kirkwood soccer team.

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“I really enjoy it over here,” Mads said. “People are very friendly and very interested. I play for the JV [soccer] team and we did great in the first two games.”

While the focus has mainly been on Mathias and Mads, since they are the ones in another country, the plan has been for the other boys to participate in the exchange as well. Henry plans to travel to Denmark soon.

“I’ve been planning on going over there for probably a year now,” Henry said. “We thought about it when Mathias left at the end of the school year last year. I’ll be going over the summer, hopefully, because if I went over the school year I’d have to do that year over.”