Amanda Stengram Mortensen started her international education adventure when she went to ’efterskole’ (boarding school) in Vedersø, Denmark. She went from the Cambridge class at Vedersø Idrætsefterskole to IB in Struer, and on to take her Bachelor’s Degree from Regent's University London. In the autumn of 2020, she started her Master’s at the prestigious Imperial College London
It was a regular Tuesday afternoon for Michel Christensen, Vice Principal at The International and Vedersø Idrætsefterskole; that is until a message popped up on his phone: A message that brought a big smile to the Vice Principal’s face:
”It made me so happy when you described my development and journey as a great one to follow as a teacher back in August. […] Recently, I had an experience on my journey that I would like to share with you. I have succeeded in getting into one of the best universities in the world! […] I am so proud, but also really grateful for the platform that the school gave me back in Vedersø. Without it, I doubt that this would have been my future.”
The message was from Amanda Stengram Mortensen, former student in the Cambridge class at Vedersø Idrætsefterskole, which later became its own independent department, The International – Academy and Boarding School of Denmark. This is her personal account of what an international ‘efterskole’ experience has done for her.
”Community is born when ’I’ becomes ’us’”
August 2013. Excitement and nerves are coursing through Amanda’s body. She is on her way from her hometown Krejbjerg to the village of Vedersø. Her first year at ’efterskole’ is about to begin.
”I didn’t know a single soul. And I remember so clearly that I had so many thoughts and worries about how it would be to be around 120, at that point, total strangers every single day. But WOW… the community, the unity and the bond that was created right there in Vedersø is just something completely unique and indescribable. I quite believe it must be experienced in order to really understand it. As we sometimes sang back then during the evening assemblies: “A community is born when ’I’ becomes ’us’” And so it did back then in Vedersø”, Amanda recalls.
One year at ’efterskole’ was simply not enough for Amanda, who chose to stay for another year in Vedersø - but it was to become quite a different year. Why? She chose to attend the newly established Cambridge class. Here all classes were taught in English – and the classes themselves were just a little different somehow. The challenge and the English convinced Amanda that this was the class for her:
”I already had a great love of English. I loved how it could open new doors to different cultures, knowledge and a new way of seeing the world. Plus, I am someone who simply loves to challenge myself, physically, personally and academically.“
”Two teachers should get credit for where I am today”
The choice to attend the Cambridge class turned out to be the right one for Amanda. Especially the class called Global Perspectives made a big impression on her. She gives a lot of credit to the school, the Cambridge class and especially two teachers for the international direction her life took from that time onward.
”The Cambridge class gave me a whole new perspective on the world and myself. Especially the class Global Perspectives just knocked my legs out from under me in the best way. Have you ever thought about the fact that Afghanistan is the world’s biggest producer of opium (the main ingredient in heroin) and cannabis? And what effect that has on the stability in the country? Or why a girl with a book is seen as more dangerous than one with a weapon in several African countries. No? Well neither had I until then. The most influential, however, was without a doubt my teacher Jon Ross. His personal accounts and experience brought the topics to life, and his openness to letting us discuss freely, while at the same time challenging us to argue our points better, made the classes fun and exceptionally instructive. I still use some of those skills to this day,” Amanda explains eagerly.
She has no doubt that her years in Vedersø has given her a lot that has been of immense importance to her later journey:
”The most important things that I took with me from my time in Vedersø are first and foremost the community which has become an amazing network – including a group of 13 girls I still see to this day. Additionally, I would mention the two teachers Michel and Jon who should get some credit for where I am today and the things I am achieving; and of course the academic side, which has had a great impact on my life today as well.”
”You could just feel the inclusive atmosphere”
The Cambridge class where Amanda was a student in her second year in Vedersø developed into an independent international department which opened its doors in the summer of 2016. To this day, Jon Ross still teaches the class Global Perspectives and Michel Christensen is still the Vice Principal, as well as the Extended Math teacher. The department carries the fitting name: The International – Academy and Boarding School of Denmark and every year the school gathers students from all over the world with many different nationalities. Amanda has followed the development joyfully:
”I was so happy when I heard that our little Cambridge class was going to become The International. I was lucky enough to get invited back to do a presentation about my experiences with the Cambrisge class, IB and the university in London. The minute you stepped on campus, you could just feel the inclusive atmosphere. I think it is such a cool initiative. The International gives its students the opportunity to have the same experience as I did – just a hundred times more international.”
”A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”
Amanda is now 22. It has been five years since she left Vedersø behind – but she hasn’t left her international path. In the spring of 2020, she graduated from Regent’s University London with a Bachelor’s in Fashion Marketing, achieving the highest possible grade in the British system. In September 2020 she started a new chapter of her international adventure: A Master’s in Strategic Marketing from Imperial College London – an education and a university that are among the best in the world. It was the admission to her dream education at this prestigious university that the message to her old teacher was about. She wanted to share her joy and pride with someone, who was a part of the beginning of her journey. As Amanda puts it: It all began in Vedersø.
”It’s such a difficult place to get into and I am just so proud to have been accepted into such a recognised university,” says Amanda and continues:
”Many will say that it’s easy to say these things in hindsight. But the academic and personal journey I have been on all began in Vedersø and the Cambridge class. I made a choice. I didn’t want to go the same way as everyone else. I wanted to go to Vedersø because the school stood for something I liked. Luckily, that decision turned out to be the best of them all. After Vedersø, I started at IB in Struer. Two years later, I moved to London with my boyfriend to start university – without knowing anyone else. Every time I have experienced these nerve-wrecking situations, it has required grit, calmness of mind and drive – this is something I developed at and took with me from Vedersø.”
Amanda’s international adventure has required a lot more than just nerve, though. It has required hard work and a big personal effort. She has, for example, applied for several scholarships. It is unfortunately not free to study abroad. Her hard work paid off with six scholarships, which had a value of about 150.000 DKK, combined.
”It requires courage and lots of work to embark on such a hectic application process. I believe I wrote about 50 applications for scholarships. I believe it is important to set a standard; to be a role model and show that where there is a will there is a way – it is a philosophy that I carry with me from my time in Vedersø. I remember so clearly that sign in the class room that read: ”A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” Amanda smiles, ready for a new international chapter of her life at one of the world’s most prestigious universities.
A message from Amanda:
If anyone is in need of advice regarding IB, scholarships, or studying abroad, they are welcome to write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Many years ago, I would have loved to have someone to ask. Someone with experience; so to be able to help others now is a privilege.
Amanda’s best advice to those considering an ’efterskole’:
”Do what YOU want to do, what YOU think might be fun and interesting; not what your friends want to do. Believe me, you will have the time of your life - and the great thing about ’efterskole’ is that you will get loads of new friends.”