Commentary: The Macomb-Denmark Exchange
The program has sent hundreds of Macomb high school students to Denmark over the years and hosted just as many Danish students.
Much of what makes Macomb unique in this part of west central Illinois derives from exposure to other cultures and cultural, sporting, and other events via Western Illinois University. However, there is one very unique community tradition that began more than 20 years ago. Two cousins across the ocean from one another dreamed of setting up a cultural exchange between Danish and American high school students.
The Macomb-Denmark Exchange was begun by Earl and Pamela Godt, Macomb residents at the time, and a Danish relative of Mr. Godt, who taught at a private school outside Copenhagen. The Exchange has sent hundreds of Macomb high school students to Denmark over the years and hosted just as many Danish students. Many students and families form a bond that endures long past the exchange, with students staying in close contact with each other and families visiting and hosting each other on subsequent visits to each other’s countries.
After a two-year hiatus necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic, the program is back up and running and recruiting host families for the fall of 2022 for what may be the largest class of Danish students to ever make the trip. Students are expected to arrive Sept. 30 and depart on Oct. 12. Host families pay a modest hosting fee to cover the activities of the Danish students while in the U.S. Danish students also attend school in Macomb for a few days during the Exchange to experience what it’s like to be an American high schooler. Danish students are occupied during weekdays by activities set up by the program coordinators.
In March of next year, American students will have the opportunity to reunite with the student they hosted and travel to Denmark a few days before spring break officially begins. There, they will spend ten days immersed in a Danish host family and in Danish culture. Students are chaperoned to and from Denmark and during their time there by two American adults who travel with the group. These chaperones are usually teachers but many host parents have also traveled. Other than the hosting fee, a plane ticket, and spending money while in Denmark, costs to participate in the program are minimal for U.S. students.
American students participating in the Exchange are representative of our population in McDonough County: some have never been on a plane, let alone traveled overseas. Some are seasoned tourists or have even lived outside the United States. Some are farm kids, some are children of university employees or faculty, and some are town kids.
The Exchange is for every student and every family regardless of experience, background, or income level. Some of the most rewarding exchanges have placed Danish students in a setting they never get to experience in their home country, such as a large farm.
In past years, American students have attended Danish school, seen Hamlet’s castle, and seen the Changing of the Guard at the Queen’s palace. They’ve gone to the Viking Museum, toured and shopped in Copenhagen, and gone to a soccer match. They’ve seen the famous Little Mermaid statue and taken a boat tour of Copenhagen’s sights, including the picturesque harbor called Nyhavn.
Students also spend family time with their hosts, including participating in the “hygge” lifestyle for which Denmark is famous, and which can be loosely described as ensuring that home is a cozy haven for peace, relaxation, and reconnection of the family members. In recent years, students have also taken a ferry over to Sweden for a day-long adventure.
Alison Vawter is an attorney in Macomb and the assistant coordinator of the Macomb-Denmark Exchange program.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Western Illinois University or Tri States Public Radio.
Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.