Nicole Irvine presents FCHS Principal Jerry Green with Education First's "Global Excellence Award."

Nicole Irvine, Fort Calhoun resident and area coordinator for Education First's High School Exchange program, presented Fort Calhoun High School (FCHS) Principal Jerry Green with the international exchange organization's "Global Excellence Award" during a school board meeting May 13.

This is the fifth time FCHS has won the award, Irvine said. The award is given to schools from Education First's main office in Boston after they are nominated by area coordinators and meet certain expectations.

"I've talked often about the environment that Fort Calhoun offers," Irvine said. "Being a smaller school, (exchange students) can really excel. They can try every sport, they can try drama, art, they don't have to just try one thing. I think they develop a capacity to be brave to try new things. Fort Calhoun is a safe environment to do that, and the culture has allowed that."

FCHS has hosted 13 students from more than five countries since 2007. Three students — Emilia Finke from Germany, Mavin Chou from Taiwan and Espen Hervik from Norway — attended the school this year.

Chou, who lived with Irvine this year and attended the meeting, said she developed great relationships with her teachers.

Irvine also offered written comments from Hervik and a former exchange student during the board meeting.

"It's pretty rare to enter a new place in a foreign country and actually feel welcome from start till finish," the former exchange student wrote. "People treated me like everyone else and seemed genuinely interested in learning about other cultures. The teachers taught me so much academically and the students became some of the closest friends I've ever had."

Hervik said he was never treated any differently because of where is from.

"This had made me feel like a real high school student and not like an 'exhibit' for others to treat like a celebrity," he wrote. "We're just normal people here, which is great."

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