Visiting Danish students experience American culture


Adrienne Oliva / Clarion

Instructor Nancy Stillwell and her family took two Danish students to a Middleton High School football game during their visit to Madison College.

Adrienne Oliva, Editor in Chief

Danish student Jacob Brunn sat down on the rain-drenched bleachers at Middleton High School’s football field where he jumped up with a shiver and a wet bottom.

Madison College instructor and mentor for the Danish student, Nancy Stillwell, quickly gave him her pink scarf to sit on, and then proceeded to sit down next to him to explain the rules of American football.

Despite the rain, both Brunn, as well as his fellow Danish classmate Philip Duer insisted that Stillwell bring them to the game, so they could experience American football in person. “We only see it on TV,” Brunn explains, “so it’s nice to see it live.”

Brunn’s and Duer’s trip to America is part of a longstanding relationship Madison College has with Denmark’s International Business College. For the past five years, each fall, a group of Danish college students studying business come to Madison to not only experience how American businesses run, but to experience American culture first hand.

As a part of this trip, the students are able to have an evening with a real American family. Stillwell, one of the mentors who hosted Danish students this year, described it as an opportunity for the Danes to see “how regular people live” in America.

“American culture can be tricky to present to people because there are so many stereotypes in the culture we export,” explains Education Abroad Coordinator Tammy Gibbs. The mentors allow the Danish students to experience real American culture, rather than what many people outside of the U.S. perceive as American culture from the movies, television and music that we export worldwide.

By hosting the Danish students, the community members at Madison College are able to learn about another culture without leaving the country. As Gibbs explains, Madison College students will be interacting with people globally in some capacity.

“It could be a vendor who’s creating or sending parts from another country, or a potential client who has headquarters somewhere else … it’s just becoming more common for every part of our society to have some global reach,” Gibbs explains

Though interacting with other cultures is helpful in terms of developing skills needed in the work force, intercultural exchange can also be personally gratifying.

“People really love to share who they are, what they love, their community, their space,” Gibbs explains. “People are just really happy to show people what’s important to them.”

Both the Danes and the Americans involved in the trip were able to share parts of their culture they were proud of. For the Danish students, they were given the opportunity to share their language with a class of Danish language learners at UW-Madison.

“I thought it was funny that (America’s) so big, that there are some people who want to learn Danish,” Brunn said, referring to the small amount of people in the world that actually speak Danish.

The Stillwell family shared bits of American culture that were important to them with the Danish students. After returning from the football game, Stillwell’s two teenage boys played videogame Madden NFL with the Danish boys. Stillwell’s husband treated them to Tom Petty’s second album via his treasured record player. Stillwell made both a pumpkin and apple pie special for the visitors. She insisted they try a sliver of each, as it is “Stillwell tradition.”

For those looking to share their own takes on American culture and traditions, the Danish students will be back at Madison College again next fall, and any students, staff, instructors or community members are able to host them for an evening.