Sept. 22, 2006
Twenty-three students from Randers Business College, Randers, Denmark, are experiencing American business and culture for the first time as guests of the Harrisburg Campus of HACC, Central Pennsylvania's Community College, Sept. 12 through Sept. 27. Rotary International is also sponsoring the group's visit.

In their college's first true two-sided student exchange program, the students are continuing their course of international business study while here, which includes researching Danish products to export here.

"We're certainly excited to be providing opportunities for this type of exchange," said HACC President Edna V. Baehre, "and as a Rotarian it helps achieve our objectives of bringing understanding and peace to the world."

Randers faculty member Henrik Svangren, who accompanied a Danish Rotary Group Study Exchange (GSE) group that visited HACC during a central Pennsylvania visit in 2005, first approached Baehre regarding interest in a Rotary student exchange program with HACC.

As south central Pennsylvania GSE coordinator for three years, Baehre said HACC would be very interested and set the communication in motion between the deans at the two colleges. The rest, Baehre says, "is history."

Randers faculty including Christian Sondergaard, marketing department head, and Claus Zedlitz, English department head visited HACC last September.

Their visit here was followed with a visit to Randers by Linda Lefevre, HACC associate dean, Business, Hospitality, Engineering and Technology (BHET) Division, and Marty Wise, HACC senior professor of marketing, to finalize the scope and content of the program.

"We see this pilot as the beginning of a continued relationship which would provide for a yearly exchange program between HACC and Randers Business College," said Lefevre. "Our students and faculty from HACC will travel to Randers in the spring. We expect to host another group of students next year, and likewise HACC will send a second group of students to Denmark the following spring."

Faculty members from Randers Business College see the benefits to their program in Denmark, too.

"We need this internationalization in our business program at Randers," said Zedlitz, who will return to Randers with Sondergaard Sept. 21, to be replaced by two other faculty for the remainder of the exchange. "That's where we want to put our focus. We've spoken about the brain drain - our nuclear physicists come to the U.S., for example," said Zedlitz. "We want to be able to attract and keep tomorrow's best students."

Before coming to HACC, the Randers students, ages 16-18, had been researching Danish products they would like to export here, including furniture, jewelry, sportswear and Legos (the children's building blocks).

They researched the market, how to get the products to market and possible barriers. They learned about legal and tax issues, as well as liability insurance, which does not exist in Denmark. HACC students studied the same, and the two sets of students compared information here.

Randers had participated in international exchanges before but only with faculty. Study trips are emphasized as part of Randers' international business curriculum, and students also will participate in visits and internships with Great Britain, Germany and Spain and will have foreign guest teachers.

Students are staying with host families here in central Pennsylvania and getting a wide array of experiences besides those offered by the program.

In addition to business presentations by the PA Department of Community and Economic Development, Harrisburg Chamber, Harrisburg World Trade Center and M&T Bank, program highlights have included a visit to the Harley Davidson factory in York, Gettysburg, and the Black Angus Antique Market in Adamstown.

The group flew into and toured Washington, D.C., upon arrival and will tour and fly from New York City when departing.

Rotarians and HACC faculty have hosted students, who will take on the role of hosting the American students next year.

Individual experiences have included high school and Penn State football games, dinner parties, a wedding at West Point, religious activities, meetings in Philadelphia, a trip to the Jersey shore, and, of course, shopping.

"The biggest difference between the cultures is the willingness to accommodate complete strangers and the hospitality here," said Zedlitz, who believes that originates from our immigrant history.

Another large difference is the greater welfare system in Denmark. "Some say ours is a lazy system," said Zedlitz. "You truly have the American Dream, and people rely more on themselves. We don't have what you would call 'the filthy rich,' but we don't have people sleeping the streets, either. We have a larger middle class.

"Americans are so hospitable and open, and we share a lot of values, especially how personal freedoms are cherished. But I must admit, until two years ago, my picture of Americans was not too rosy. Now having been here, I realize the overall policy of the country is not necessarily that of individuals. But I try to stay away from talking politics," he said with a smile.

As for the students, they are surprised that students have to pay to attend college in the U.S. Denmark's high taxation system makes all education free to students.

Students, too, are wowed by central Pennsylvania's hospitality.

"It's a great experience to be with our host families," said Stine Lejel, 17, "and see how they do special things in their normal day."

"I love meeting new people in another culture," said Rebecca Sorensen, 18, who said her biggest surprise is that everyone says, "how are you?" especially when they walk into a store to shop. Sorensen says she works in a clothing store and says that would not be an appropriate greeting there.

"Everything is bigger here. There are so many people, so many cars," said Maiken Hansen, 18. "Denmark has a population of only 5 million people. Everyone is friendlier here, and they talk a lot."

Students and faculty have been encouraged to add photos and comments to a blog that soon will be uploaded at www.clauszedlitz.DK/US-blog-OG/.

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