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Chris Murphy, Published October 23 2012

Foreign exchange student has given state-bound Spuds a boost

Moorhead - Carl Walker entered the Moorhead High School cafeteria on the first day of school with his heart beating wildly, his eyes wide and his mind having no clue what to do. Basically, Walker was a freshman, only he was 17 years old and had traveled more than 4,000 miles – including an ocean – to make that first awkward entrance into a place that epitomizes the life of an American high school student.

“That was really hard,” Walker said. “All of a sudden, it was lunch time. I walked in the cafeteria and everyone is punching in their lunch order and I was just standing there not knowing anyone. I just sat down and thought, ‘Wow, this is going to be hard.’”

Walker is a foreign exchange student from Eidsvoll Verk, which is a village in Eidsvoll, Norway, and a place Walker has called home since kindergarten. He left his parents, two brothers, uncle, aunt, cousins grandma and friends to explore the United States for a year and find out a little something about himself. There is one thing Walker did bring with him: soccer.

Walker has nine goals and four assists to help put Moorhead within three games of a state championship, as the Spuds open up the tournament with a 5:30 p.m. game versus Eastview on Thursday at St. Cloud State University.

“We had no idea what kind of player we were getting,” Moorhead coach Lance Hansen said. “Once he stepped on the field and took one practice session, I knew I had a seasoned center midfielder. He had a real strong slide tackle and won the ball the first time we scrimmaged, and I knew he was going to add toughness. You just fall in love with a kid like that, because he works tremendously hard and he has so much talent.”

Walker had received an email before leaving for the United States that told him to not get his hopes up about making the soccer team, that not all foreign exchange students automatically make it. Little did the Spuds know.

“I remember thinking, ‘Either this team was really good, or their past foreign exchange students were really bad,’ ” Walker said.

Walker won over captain and senior midfielder Jake Leier on his first pass.

“When he first came to practice, we were kind of wondering what he was doing,” Leier said. “We thought he was just a new student, but not from a different country. First time he touched the ball and passed it, me and (captain and senior midfielder) Ben (Herbst) looked at each other and we knew we got lucky. I’d venture to say he’s the best player on the team.”

There was a lot of luck in Walker landing in Moorhead. First, one must select a region of the country they would prefer to live.

“It’s a completely random procedure,” Walker said. “You select any region in the country and hope you get placed there. My parents selected the Minnesota region because I had some family in the area.”

After selecting an area, the foreign exchange student has to have a host family select him or her to live with them.

“It was weird when I stepped off the plane and saw my host family,” Walker said. “You come to their house and try to feel like home. You wake up in a different place and have to call it home. They have done a lot to make me feel at home and now I feel it.”

Walker uses weekends to Skype with his family back home and sends them newspaper clippings of how the team is doing, but he doesn’t get much time with them.

“When I’m going to school, they are going to sleep. And when I’m going to sleep, they are waking up,” Walker said. “It’s tough.”

Walker is keeping plenty busy investigating American football, hockey, the high school life and, of course, fast food, while trying to figure out some slang words.

“I was told I had to go to Buffalo Wild Wings and fast-food places and hockey matches in Moorhead,” Walker said. “The way people talk is completely different. When I hear people use slang, I’m kind of confused.”

There is no language barrier in a final score. With a Norwegian flag being waved in the crowd, Walker scored the biggest goal of the season for the Spuds, clinching the section championship with a shootout goal and sending Moorhead to the state tournament for the first time in seven years.

“That was really funny,” Walker said. “I couldn’t believe they found a Norwegian national flag here. It made me feel back home.”

Moorhead found in Walker the final piece to what Hansen is calling the best midfield he’s had in seven years of coaching varsity soccer. Just as he has all season on the pitch, Walker found his teammates in the cafeteria for a table to sit at and he’s found a home in the United States. Next, Walker hopes to find a state championship trophy for Moorhead.

“I want to go as far as we can go,” Walker said. “I want to make the most out of this whole experience.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548