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Prom the ultimate American experience for foreign exchange students

It's just like the movies. That's how Anne Marit Ege Bj?rnes and Loreen Schmid, foreign exchange students at Mitchell High School, described their experiences in America so far, and prom on Saturday night was no exception. Bj?rnes, from Norway, a...

Mitchell High School students participate in the grand march as their classmates look on Saturday night at the Corn Palace. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)
Mitchell High School students participate in the grand march as their classmates look on Saturday night at the Corn Palace. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)

It's just like the movies.

That's how Anne Marit Ege Bjørnes and Loreen Schmid, foreign exchange students at Mitchell High School, described their experiences in America so far, and prom on Saturday night was no exception.

Bjørnes, from Norway, and Schmid, from Germany, said there are no events like prom in their home countries, though Bjørnes described a smaller-scale formal dance toward the end of high school. For that dance, people get dressed up and go to a dance, but she said it's not as much of a staple as prom is in America. For Schmid, the closest she would come to an event like prom in Germany are non-school sanctioned parties after major tests, none of which are formal.

"They have, like, one or two dances, but it's nothing like prom," Bjørnes said.

So, for Bjørnes and Schmid, both juniors, who have become close friends during their time in America, prom is an event they strongly associate with the country. They said the people in charge of the study abroad program emphasize prom as a unique experience that all foreign exchange students are encouraged to attend to enhance their organic experience in the country.

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"It's what we think is part of being an exchange student here," Schmid said. "It's something we think of when we think of American high schools."

And with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came difficult decisions for each of the girls. The toughest, they said, was choosing the perfect dresses and shoes.

"I didn't really find a dress for a long time," Bjørnes said. "I'm just really picky."

Schmid bought a dress from a boutique in Tyndall, and Bjørnes wore a hand-me-down dress from her sister, which she had fitted. And although she doesn't anticipate finding a second use for her dress, Schmid said she plans to take it home with her when she returns to Germany in May. She said she might try to sell it, or she will keep it as a keepsake.

The theme for prom this year was "To the Moon and Back." The pair went to the dance with a large group of approximately 20 students. Each had a date that asked them to attend months in advance.

The girls in the group got ready for the dance together, with many doing each others' hair and makeup, and Schmid said having friends, both foreign-exchange students and Mitchell natives, helped create a well-rounded experience she will remember for the rest of her life.

"There are friends there who don't ever get to do something like this except their wedding," Schmid said. "They think it's crazy, but I think they think it's cool, too."

The grand march and after prom were two parts of the night neither girl had heard of prior to coming to the United States. Bjørnes said she was surprised to learn most of her friends were more excited about after prom than the actual dance. She also said that even though she was excited for the grand march, she was nervous, too.

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"I'm kind of scared because I heard of many people every year falling, and I'm hoping I'm not going to be that person," Schmid said.

She didn't fall during the march, and neither did Bjørnes.

Most of all, the pair was excited to experience prom and said prior to the dance that they were confident it would live up to their expectations.

"A lot of people here don't like dances because they get to do them a lot," Bjørnes said. "But I think it's really special."

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