IMAGINE being overseas on the adventure of a lifetime, undertaking a Rotary exchange when the COVID-19 pandemic hits.
That's the journey 17-year-old St John the Evangelist Catholic High School student Saxon Perry has just completed.
Saxon spent 12 months in Denmark on a Rotary International exchange, arriving back into Australia in mid-January and straight into two weeks quarantine.
While a few of his planned trips and experiences were curtailed due to COVID, on a whole he said he "coped pretty well".
"It was a different experience and probably not the one I imagined when I left Australia last January," he said.
"Honestly, for myself it wasn't that bad. Sure some things were cancelled but I was still able to go out and do quite a lot of the stuff I wanted to do.
"I was still able to travel the country pretty well."
He described it as an "amazing" experience.
"I loved every minute of it," he said.
"Obviously no-one really knew what was going to happen with the pandemic, even now no one really knows what is going to happen."
Honestly, for myself it wasn't that bad. Sure some things were cancelled but I was still able to go out and do quite a lot of the stuff I wanted to do.Exchange student Saxon Perry
Even the 33 hour, 16,000 kilometre journey over four flights just to get there didn't put him off.
Landing in the Danish city of Aalborg, his journey continued with a 30-minute drive south before arriving in the small northern Denmark village of Skorping; population about 3000 people.
"Surrounded by forest the village was my home for the next 12 months," he said.
"I went to school in another small village about 10 minutes north called Stovring in what was called first grade and second grade, the equivalent of our year 11-12."
Hosted by the Rebild Rotary Club, at the time he was among 150 exchange students in the country, but the end of his stay there would only be 16.
Three months into his stay was when COVID really hit.
"There were thoughts and discussions of coming home at the start but at that stage we weren't really sure what was going to happen," he said.
"I thought there was no real point going home, it was just going to be like having a three-month holiday. I'd get home and life would just get back to normal, nothing would have really changed.
"Early in the outbreak, we would still go to the lake with the class on the hotter days. During their summer it wasn't really a problem, everything was pretty much okay.
"Around Christmas things got a bit worse and cases rose quite a bit."
He moved between three host-families during his stay, spending four months with each.
"They were all lovely and were all able to help with anything that I needed over the year," he said.
His first family was Poul Eli and Annette Nymann, who had three grown children who had all moved out of home.
"Luckily with them, I got about two months before the first COVID lockdown hit Denmark," he said.
"I was still able to do quite a lot of exploring even though everything was closed at the time.
I was still able to do quite a lot of exploring even though everything was closed at the time.Exchange student Saxon Perry
"Because school was shut down I took the opportunity to see as much of Denmark as I could. I was able to see many things in northern Denmark, which was a very pretty area."
This included visits to World War II bunkers that lined the west coast, some of the natural sights and even the chance to stop in a city or two.
Before COVID hit he even managed to attend a few ice hockey games and also a game of handball, the country's national sport.
Thomas and Eva Andersen were his second family, who still had two boys at home which was "good during some of the long rainy days in lockdown that happened over the four months".
"Not long after switching we were allowed to go back to school one day a week with a few different restrictions. It was good to be able to see all my friends again," he said.
"That only lasted a few weeks before school holidays and making the most of the few restrictions, we spent a few days in a lovely little cabin in the Norwegian mountains.
"Norway was beautiful and I loved every minute of it, the only problem was even though it was summer the water was still quite cold. The mountains and the forests were amazing."
At the end of the holidays Rotary Denmark, disappointed that some of the scheduled plans had been cancelled, arranged for the remaining exchange students to go on a 10-day mountain biking camp.
"It was a lot of fun, but my legs were hurting after 175km of biking," he said. "It was enjoyable and a great way to see a little bit more of Denmark."
As life returned to relatively normal again, he was able to go to Billund and visit Legoland.
His third and final family was Peter and Lene Pilgaard, who had a daughter still living at home.
Despite experiencing some problems with COVID at that time, but nothing too major, the family took advantage of being able to cross the border to take him to Germany.
"While down that way we were able visit significant towns such as Christiansfeld and learn more about the history of southern Denmark when it used to be Germany," he said.
During the first few weeks with this family he even took part in an invitational team paddle tennis tournament with one of their sons.
Probably one of the biggest things I learnt was that if something goes wrong, I have to get back up, try something else and hope that it goes favourably this time.Exchange student Saxon Perry
Christmas in Denmark was different than in Australia.
"They actually all get together on December 24, exchange presents, and all have a big feast," he said.
"Unfortunately there wasn't any snow, like I had hoped there to be but that was okay, it was still a completely different experience than I was used to."
One of the highlights of his trip was a visit Copenhagen and witness the bustling streets of the capital.
"I ended up getting to Copenhagen about four times, each visit seeing something new and exciting," he said.
He visited Amalienborg, the home Danish royal family, Nyhavn which was probably his favourite place in all of Denmark, as well as Christiania a small microstate inside the capital.
Of course there was Legoland and visits to various Viking and WWII sites and Jellingstenene, which are runic stones carved back in the 10th century celebrating the conquest of Norway and Denmark and the conversion to Christianity.
"Probably one of the biggest things I learnt was that if something goes wrong, I have to get back up, try something else and hope that it goes favourably this time," he said.
"Then sort of just repeat until something works."
Getting home was also an adventure on its own.
"It was pretty stressful for Mum and Dad - we didn't know what was happening with flights; would I get bumped off like so many people had had happen."
Questions about his quarantine when he got home also confronted Saxon.
"Would it be in hotel quarantine or because I was under 18 would it be allowed to be undertaken at home," Saxon said was one of the questions.
"It was changing all the time - Mum and Dad kept me in the loop through messages whenever the government let out info or changed guidelines.
"We had plans if I was at the airport and got bumped off my flight what I would do and I had a list of contacts of people to get in touch with who could help me."
He admitted it was a "big journey" for a 17-year old.
"It was hard for Mum and Dad as they were on the other side of the world," he said.
"They could only do so much - I was pretty lucky I had a good group of people able to help, through Rotary and my host families.
It was pretty stressful for Mum and Dad - we didn't know what was happening with flights; would I get bumped off like so many people had had happen.Exchange student Saxon Perry
"I also had a Rotary councillor, Henning, who any time something changed in Australia he would call and let me know and we would work something out together."
Eventually arriving home he took part in two weeks hotel quarantine in Sydney. His mother Raylene actually undertook the two-week stay with her son.
"She was fine to go into quarantine with me which was great," he said.
"I wouldn't say I was keen to have to quarantine with my Mum, but it was something I had to do. Otherwise I would have had to do it on my own."
She brought with her a Playstation, which Saxon admitted "got a big workout" during their isolation period.
"It was also good to be able to catch up and just talk face to face," he said.
"Quarantine wasn't the greatest - it was annoying not being able to go more than five metres in any direction in the room.
"I walked a lot of loops across the room just to keep active.
"We were very lucky we had a balcony so we could get outside or have the door open to let fresh air in during the day."
He's certainly enjoying being back in the warm, sunny Australian weather.
We were very lucky in quarantine we had a balcony so we could get outside or have the door open to let fresh air in during the dayExchange student Saxon Perry
"Most days were cold, wet and dark," he said.
"It seems like every day it rained. We didn't get a lot of snow until the last week. It just seemed to rain a lot."
He said the highest the temperature reached was about 26 degrees.
He's now returned to school, completing his High School Certificate and is back on the hockey field playing in the Illawarra South Coast Competition where he is a goalkeeper for Fairy Meadow.
As for the future, he's not exactly sure but has a couple of plans.
"My two main ideas are to possibly join the air force as a pilot, or maybe even looking into foreign diplomacy and maybe become a foreign diplomat," he said.
Would Denmark be on the wish list?
"Of course, there are still many things I want to do and go and see over there," he said.
"I already have a pretty good handle on the language."
Would he recommend Rotary exchange to fellow students?
"Absolutely," he said.
"Just go for it. Even though there was COVID, I would still do it all again."
He recently returned to a meeting of his local sponsors, the Rotary Club of Nowra, presenting a speech on his 12-month adventure.
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