Former exchange student reunites with Winchester host family

Published 9:50 am Friday, July 26, 2019

An unbreakable bond formed in August 1986 when Middlefart, Denmark, native Lise Hansen arrived in America, calling Winchester her home for a year.

Hansen was an EF exchange student staying with the Davis family, and the Davises’ daughter, Jana, found her forever friend in Hansen that year.

Decades later, like “forever friends” do, the friends, who are now married, going by Jana (Davis) Miller and Lise (Hansen) Hvid, still stay in touch.

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Miller said when she was a junior in 1985-86, George Rogers Clark High School sent information to students and their families about being a host family for a foreign exchange student. Miller’s siblings were already out of the house, so she urged her parents to consider hosting a student.

Miller said her family had never traveled internationally; they didn’t think ‘globally,’ as she put it, but Miller said she asked and asked despite their warnings she may not like the foreign exchange student, as a host family commits for a year.

“I was like, ‘I want to do it,” Miller said, recalling the timeline of events 33 years ago. “I was determined this is what I want to do.”

Eventually, and after much prodding, the Davises agreed to get more information, and finally after mulling it over, decided why not.

After passing a background check and getting the paperwork out of the way, the family sat down to look at their potential guests.

“They gave us three profiles to choose from: Lise from Denmark, a girl from Germany, and I don’t remember the other one,” Miller recalled. “It was the neatest thing, but looking through the profiles, the minute we saw Lise, we were like, “That’s who we want.’”

Miller said she and Hvid had an incredible time together that year. At the time, GRC also had exchange students from Italy, Germany, China and Japan.

“It was a cool year because I don’t think GRC had done that before,” she said. “It was neat to spend time with people from other countries. We all got to be great friends.”

Miller recalled a trip to Kings Island that year. Five teenagers squeezed into a small car, driving to the amusement park for the day. While there, one of their friends won a giant teddy bear, and Hvid was determined to get it home.

“The five of us barely fit in the car,” Miller said. “How in the world were we going to fit this thing? Lise was like, ‘I’m taking it back home,’ so we actually found a way to tie it to the top. We tied this teddy bear to the top, and drove all the way to Winchester with our arms out the windows, holding down the teddy bear.”

They got the teddy bear home safely, and that teddy bear eventually traveled to Denmark when Hvid returned, and stayed with her until eventually the teddy bear was falling apart in Hvid’s child’s room.

Miller said it was fun to have a new friend to share her senior year with, being normal teenagers, driving around town drinking Ale-8-Ones and listening to music.

Hvid was a cheerleader while at GRC, and acclimated nicely to Winchester.

Miller said Hvid warmed up to her host parents, and still calls them “mom and dad” to this day.

Miller said Winchester became such a part of Hvid that when she returned to Denmark after graduating from GRC in 1987, she left with a “hick accent.”

“She had sounded like she had grown up in Winchester,” Miller said.

Hvid returned to the states twice after leaving the Davises. She visited Miller in college for a few days and then again in 1992 when Miller was a newlywed. That was the last time they saw each other face-to-face until last week.

Last week, the “forever friends” reconnected in person for the first time in 27 years.

“We were both busy raising families, doing grown up things,” Miller said.

Hvid and her family from Denmark traveled to Nashville, which is where the Winchester native now resides, to celebrate each others’ 50th birthdays, which are a day apart. Miller’s birthday was Wednesday, and Hvid’s was Thursday.

In all that time apart, so much had changed. They both had families. Miller had four children; Hvid had two.

Miller had been a nurse but then chose to be a stay-at-home.

Hvid took a different route, choosing to work full-time at a corporate office, not straying from her hometown of Middlefart, whereas Miller had moved more than 230 miles away from hers.

They spent their five days together passing time telling stories, eating great food and learning more about each family’s culture. 

Of course, Miller said, she had some Ale-8s and Grippo’s potato chips waiting for Hvid.

“It was like we had never been apart,” Miller said. “It was just an amazing, amazing time.”

They saw a show at The Bluebird Cafe, watched Miller’s husband sing as well her son’s band, attended church, went hiking, shopped in historic greater Nashville and more.

They tried to soak in every minute they had together, Miller said. Their husbands even joked they were pretty much touching the entire trip, not leaving each other’s side.

“One thing I learned was taking time to really be in that moment,” Miller said. “This opportunity doesn’t come along many times in our life.”

Miller said it was amazing getting to see each other again and meeting each other’s children. It was the first time their children had seen each other, but it was like they had all always been together, she said.

“Our kids got along great,” Miller said. “It was a really cool experience. Mom and dad came down (from Winchester.) It was like a big family.”

With their children now in touch, Miller said she’s sure there will be many more international celebrations. Miller said her children hope to visit Denmark someday.

Miller said she and Hvid are thankful for EF bringing them together all those years ago. Miller said she has learned so many things from the experience.

“Grow up slow ,” Miller said. “Treasure friendships. And if anyone ever has a chance to host a student, consider it. It’s not just a one year thing. It can really turn into something that is a lifelong experience. It made my senior year all the more special.

“Everything was better because she was there with me.”

About Lashana Harney

Lashana Harney is a reporter for The Winchester Sun. Her beats include schools and education, business and commerce, Winchester Municipal Utilities and other news. To contact her, email or call 859-759-0015.

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