There are many losses and indignities that come with aging, not the least of which is the medical professional’s response: “What do you expect at your age?” I have found some gains, too, and one of those is clear memory of events long past.
Sixty-five years ago to the day, back in 1956, I was completing my packing list. It was a long one and it included hiking boots, backpack, passport and a parka. I was headed for Norway and a three-month stay with a Norwegian family in Oslo. I was reminded of that when I saw an advertisement for host families for foreign students. Back then, I was one of those students.
A freshman in college, I had been selected as my hometown’s “community ambassador” with what was then the Experiment in International Living, now World Learning. My expenses were covered by donations from clubs, businesses and individuals.
My responsibility was to give programs regarding my experience and raise sufficient funds to send the next “ambassador.” That experience was life-changing, especially in my understanding of the world. The public speaking helped, too. In fact, one of my 128 presentations led to my first teaching job.
Our group of 12 was unusual in that we were all female and met the requirement of “rugged hiking experience.” (My own had been developed from three years of being in charge of hikes at week-long Girl Scout camps.) There were three other mid-westerners, one from California and the rest from eastern states. We ranged in age from 17-23, and only two of us were community representatives.
We gathered in New York, sailed to Holland, went by train through Germany and Denmark and sailed into Norway to meet our host families. We met together weekly for group activities and ended the summer with a two-week hiking trip through the mountains and fjords.
I had a single host sister — Elin — a year younger than I. She and her father spoke excellent English; Mom, not so much. We really got along, teaching each other our languages. Memories flood back of the things I learned, the wonders I saw and what we did.
The food was different and the Norse eat five meals a day. Only four percent of Norway was arable at the time, so beef and pork were seldom seen. The first things I wanted when I returned to U.S. soil were a hamburger and corn. Nothing to this day has ever tasted so good.
The mountains and lakes were glorious. The museums were filled with Viking ships and works of art that were all new to me. The parks became a second home and a statue of Abraham Lincoln, my “special” friend.
The story of Kon-Tiki came alive when I stood next to that little raft that made history when one of the “brothers” spoke of wanting to become the first president of a united Europe, I thought about those things that make this country great. I still do.
It may seem strange that traveling to another country increased my love and appreciation for this one, but it did. I remember my emotional response as we neared the Statue of Liberty as we sailed into the harbor coming home. That watching was done through tear-filled eyes.
The appreciation continues. “Tusen takk” — a thousand thanks, my friends, for tolerating this trip down memory lane, recalling events those 65 years ago.