Back in 8th grade, I participated in a Student Exchange type of program. I guess the best way to put it is, it was a mini-Student Exchange program. Me and members of my Geography class went to Norway, and then the Norwegians came here for 10 days each. This was back in 1994 and 1995, long before the Oklahoma City bombing, the TWA flight 800 plane crash and 9/11. This may be the understatement of the century, but traveling on an airplane then was nothing like it is today security-wise. My teacher at the time, Mrs. Barbara Braithwaite, had a teacher friend that she regularly exchanged letters with that lived in Norway. If my memory serves me correctly, the two teachers lived next door to each other in Norway when Mrs. Braithwaite’s husband was stationed there for the army. After discussing ideas back and forth, they decided they would create a learning experience for their students by exchanging letters and places in each others lives.
Mrs. Braithwaite & Anne-Marie “Mia” (the Norwegian Teacher, who’s last name escapes me):
When the Norwegians visited the states, we took them to Philadelphia to see the touristy things, as well as Washington DC. We actually were able to tour the United States Capitol building and the White House. These days, that would be unheard of. I believe the Norwegians also went to New York City as well, but we were not able to go with them because they didn’t want us missing too much class in the 10 days that they were in the US. The Norwegian kids loved NYC because the exchange rate from the Norwegian Kroner to the US Dollar at the time was ridiculous. I think it was 1 Kroner = 1.70 in US Dollars. They bought a bunch of stuff in New York City because everything was dirt cheap to them and their money went further even with the ridiculous clothing tax in NYC. Each of the Norwegian kids was housed with an American family. My family didn’t take any of the kids in, mainly because there were only boys left and god forbid there be a boy the same age living in my parents house for a week!
When it was our turn to go to Norway, we had to make a pit-stop in Iceland for a few days. I can’t really recall the reason, but I think it was because there was a national holiday going on in Norway at the time and everyone was occupied with that.
Here are my friends Joel and Julia standing in the Reykjavik Airport:
The name Reykjavik always cracks me up because it’s pronounced almost identically the same to my my maiden last name of Hryvnak. The “H” is silent and all of the consonants together produce an “eh” sound.
When we were in Iceland, we stayed in Youth Hostels, which are a cheap way to stay when traveling. I shared a bunk with Courtney Biggs, Julia Prusek, Jackie Doerflien, and Rebecca Meixell. There was a bunk of boys directly across the hall from us, and one of my first boyfriends stayed in that room. We all played poker late at night once until we got in trouble from the chaperones, then we exchanged notes back and forth egging each other to come out of our rooms. Nothing ever happened, but the exchanging of notes helped me get to know my crush, Jim Byrns, better. Here he is (photo taken in Norway):
I ended up moving on to greener pastures, relationship-wise after some snafu of him pretending to call me as another boy to see if I’d go out with who he was pretending to be. You gotta admit, that’s pretty clever, even by 8th grade standards. I think I sat behind him in 12th grade English. It was awesome passing up all of my failing reading comprehension tests from Othello for him to see, let me just tell you. I think he’s a math teacher or something like that these days.
Anyway, we did a lot of sight-seeing when we were in Iceland, because there wasn’t much else to do. Here are some random photos from these excursions:
(Tom K, Julia, ex-boyfriend Rob)
Courtney, Me, Rebecca and Jackie
Same photo as above, but with none of us standing in front of it.
I also rode a horse with some very unfortunate hair.
When we finally arrived in Norway a few days later, we got to meet our host families for the first time. I was staying with a girl named Camilla Johannsen. Her and her family were very sweet people….very kind and generous. They lived in a flat (another word for apartment) in Amotveien, Norway…which is a small town. Probably very similar to Sweet Valley actually. Only Camilla and her mom spoke English. Camilla had a younger sister (who’s room I stayed in) and a father who did not speak or understand the English language. Here’s a photo of me with the family:
The family took me into downtown Oslo to experience some culture on one of the weekend days I was with them. Here are some photos from that:
Changing of the guard at The Royal Castle in Oslo
Me standing next to one of the guards from the Royal Castle. They aren’t supposed to smile or talk or anything, just like in London, I guess. More unfortunate hair.
The ski jump in Oslo. We got to climb to the top of this to see the view. Oslo was home to the to the 1952 Winter Olympics.
Here’s me with the host family in front of a statue by the ski jump. I’m not sure who the statue is of, I’m sure if I research it more I can find out.
When touring Oslo, we ran into more host families with kids from my Geography class. It seems as though everyone traveled to Oslo on the same day.
Camilla, Me, Courtney, Yensi, Dawn and her host friend (I forget her name), and Mrs. Drake. I wish I could burn every picture of me with bad hair.
We took a trip to Bergen (another city) at some point. Bergen is pretty far away from where my host family was located so we were bussed out there – I would say it seemed to be at least a two hour trip. Its a quaint town filled with little shops that look like cottage houses. On the way back, we stopped off at Lillehammer, where the 1994 Winter Olympics were held. I have pictures of this somewhere, but I can’t find them after the move. We got to see “Vikingskipet” a.k.a. the Viking Ship where the speedskating competitions were held during the Winter Olympics. There was a bad flood going on at the time that we toured the building. They were worried about the facility being flooded. It didn’t thankfully. I bring bad weather with me wherever I go, apparently.
When we arrived back to the host families, one of the other Norwegian girls invited Camilla and I to hang out one night. One of the strangest things about visiting Norway in the spring, is that the sun never sets. You could go outside at midnight and it looks like twilight. We were outside playing basketball at midnight on that night – and there was no need to flip on a light. Norway is often referred to as “The Land of the Midnight Sun” for this very reason.
Before we left for home, the Norwegian families and school threw us a party. All of the Norwegians got dressed in their formal dress, here’s Camilla’s outfit:
Here’s me and fellow bunk-mate Rebecca. God, I am committing so many fashion crimes in this photo. Note the camera perma-attached to my arm. I’m sorta like that now, except with the iPhone.
Here’s some more of the Norwegians in their formal dress. Note the placement of the American flag. It’s hung backwards.
The shirts, of course, made for a great group photo-op in front of the backwards flag.
Mrs. Braithwaite and Rebecca made speeches at the party and presented the Norwegians with a Pennsylvanian flag.
In closing, I had a great time on this trip. It was a valuable learning experience about other cultures and myself. It was probably one of the most defining moments of my life, all thanks to Mrs. Braithwaite. I’m not sure if she’s still out there or not. Last I heard, she retired from teaching in the early 2000s. Before then, she did a similar successful exchange program with students in Russia and the US. One of the guys I knew from Project Norway participated. After they returned, a big assembly was put on and I’m very jealous that I didn’t get to go. It looked amazing. Someday I hope to get there and also get back to Norway. Both are amazing places to visit. I dedicate this post to Mrs. Braithwaite…one of the best teachers I’ve ever had.
One Last Pic:
Thanks for revisiting the memories with me, everyone.
[12/01/11 Edit: Mrs. Braithwaite and I connected on LinkedIn recently and I sent her the link to this blog post. She made some adjustments to things I have remembered incorrectly. You can check out the comments of the blog post to read them. More importantly, she alerted me to the State Farm Good Neighbor she won because of Project Norway. I’m enclosing the photo of the magazine photo advertisement below.]
(Click little picture for pop-out)
I’m so glad that I had an opportunity to be a part of this learning experience.