The Eldstroms: Norwegian exchange student reflects on her year at MVHS

Alina Abidi

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Senior Amelia Strom: From the first time we met her, I was like, “This is totally going to work.” I just knew from the start that we were going to have awesome year. Senior Hilde Eldring: But you know how to count! Strom: Yeah, yeah! 1 – Eldring: No. Strom: I always get the first one wrong! Eldring: 1. Amelia: 1. Oh yeah, it’s like “and.” 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.. Eldring: I actually enjoy to run now, which is after field hockey, I guess. I’ve never been on a team before, so I was like, “What is this?” I remember the first practice when I spell my whole name out loud. I had no idea how to spell in English, so I didn’t know how to spell my name. I was a little bit embarrassed, a little bit shy. Eldring: We love to play Cards Against Humanity, so for my birthday, one my friends — Thank you Alexi — made me a personalized Cards Against Humanity. “Hilde teaching me how to ski since I sucked.” You know, just doing my Norwegian heritage, because Norwegians are supposed to be born with skis attached to their feet. I’m not really that good. First time I went skiing with them, I was like, “Yeah, pft. I’m Norwegian, I got this.” And they go out to hard one, and I was like, “Ah, I’m so scared I’m going to fall!” For Christmas, Mom and Dad sent me this huge box of Norwegian goodies, and they also sent me this jacket which is big and fuzzy with the Norwegian flag. I’ve worn it way too much, which people thought was weird, but it smelled like my sister. Oh my gosh, it made me cry. It smelled like home. It was such a great thing. I don’t know, it was a good memory to have. Everyone thinks I’m super nationalistic now, which I am, so it’s okay. It’s been really hard to stay in touch with everyone I want to stay in touch with, basically. Of course I miss my family and miss my friends, but then again, I have my “American family” and when it’s rough I just talk to them, so it’s all good. It’s of course ups and downs, the whole thing, but mostly ups. I’ve been really lucky, I just have to say that. I’ve just been lucky with the school — people say that Monta Vista [High School] is really hard, but what I’ve experienced is that teachers have been supportive, students have been supportive. Everyone has supported me. When I went out of school today, it was the last day of school, I was just happy. And pleased with my whole experience here. Hilde Vagstad Eldring — Exchange isn’t a year your life, it’s a life in a year. [/toggle_content]

When the Strom family decided to host a foreign exchange student for the 2013-2014 school year, they ended up with three options — a girl from Denmark, a girl from Sweden and a girl from Norway. As soon as they saw Norwegian senior Hilde Eldring’s profile on the exchange website, which included her love for violin and rowing, they knew that they had to choose her.

“It was basically a done deal,” senior Amelia Strom said. “There was no debate about it.” The Stroms unanimously decided on Eldring, and Eldring found out that she would spend her year in California soon after.

The exchange was their mother’s idea — she had lived in Brazil as an exchange student, and volunteers for American Field Service, an organization that focuses on international high school student exchange. The family had hosted a few students in the past, but only for two months each. This past year, however, was the last year both Amelia and her sister sophomore Mallory would attend school together, so they decided to host a student, Eldring, for the whole year, so the sisters could get to know her.

The Strom family had already planned a trip to Norway for the summer, so a few weeks after selecting Eldring, they visited her in Oslo. According to Eldring, the girls’ English was extremely fast, so she could only understand about 50 percent of what they were saying.

“I learned to smile and nod, and laugh sometimes,” Eldring said.

After spending the summer with the Stroms, Eldring grew accustomed to their American accents and traditions, and introduced the family to a few of her own. Eldring tried out for field hockey in the fall, because both the Stroms played, and cited her senior night as one of her favorite experiences of the year.

“Sports were never my strong suit, but they put me in, and it was so emotional and engaging,” Eldring said. “I still remember the feeling when we walked out and people were there with posters. I just felt like a part of the team.”

“I still remember the feeling when we walked out and people were there with posters. I just felt like a part of the team.”

Eldring explained that in Norway, sports are not tied to school, so one could not bond with teammates as much, but at MVHS she got to know the team well.

After field hockey season came Eldring’s birthday. Eldring explained that most exchange students find Christmas difficult, but she was so busy that she did not have time to feel homesick. However, on her birthday, she realized that 18 was an important year, and it would be hard to be away from her family. She did not really feel like celebrating, and was expecting a small dinner with the Stroms.

“We told her we were going to a restaurant, but she didn’t know that we had planned a giant surprise party,” Amelia said. “The best part was that I was planning the party, and one of her exchange student friends messaged me on Facebook and said, ‘Hey, we’re planning a surprise party for [Eldring],’ and I said ‘I’m surprising her! Why don’t we combine parties?”
Ten of Eldring’s foreign exchange friends rode the train to their party, which already included their school friends, and Eldring said she did not expect the giant party at all.

Another date that stood out to Eldring was Norway Day on May 15, so the Stroms made a Norwegian flag cake. Eldring often bakes with the Stroms, so they decided to celebrate with a cake. Another big difference Eldring faced in America was the food — she was used to savory lefse flatbread for dinner, so eating maple syrup covered pancakes for breakfast still makes her a little uncomfortable. In return, Eldring often encourages the family, although to no avail, to eat clay-like “brown cheese.” The Stroms found the same brand of brown cheese at Whole Foods that Eldring receives from home, but she insists that a Norwegian can always tell the difference.

Eldring explained that after introducing parts of Norwegian culture to the Stroms, she felt more connected to the countrym and that she started listening to more Norwegian music after coming to America. The Stroms have become big fans of Norwegian rap and pop — a favorite of the Stroms’ is Sleeping on my Piano by LidoLido.

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Eldring has also taught the Stroms some new vocabulary, both Norwegian phrases and homemade English abbreviations. Though Eldring explained that their Norwegian accents are pretty good, they could use some work.

“The last time [Amelia] tried to say 14, she said a really bad word,” Eldring said.

Much to annoyance of the Stroms, Eldring created several English abbreviations. Her favorites include “shup” for “shutup” and “horb” for “horrible.” Amelia and Mallory’s least favorite abbreviation is “prof” for “professional,” because “pro” already exists, but Eldring insists that her words will catch on.

Eldring now speaks English with ease, and she attributes some of her success to her Contemporary Literature class. The whole school system is different in Norway — high school teachers treat students more like college students, and rarely check homework, while most of Eldring’s teachers at MVHS checked homework daily. Eldring faced differences in all of her classes, but Literature was especially difficult because she read and wrote English slowly. Her teacher, Christy Utter, helped Eldring by finding her audiobooks, and she eventually started reading without them.

“That ended up being my favorite class,” Eldring said. “Even though I went into it being super insecure because of the language barrier and all the writing and reading, it was the class I developed most in. I know that from the day I walked in to the day I walked out, I learned the most.”

“I know that from the day I walked in to the day I walked out, I learned the most.”

Eldring noted that people rarely mention the great things about MVHS, like rallies and how dedicated students are to school and their class. Eldring had never experienced class spirit before, and she explained that it was her favorite part of MVHS.

In about thirty days, Eldring will return to Norway, and complete another year of school. After living in a foreign country for a year, Eldring feels even more “nationalistic” about her homeland. A visiting friend brought her a homemade t-shirt with the most Norwegian things one could find — a troll, mountains, a cabin with a grass roof, chocolate and more —, and though she would not wear it to school, it was nice to have reminders of home. Though Eldring loves IHOP and In-N-Out, and gets excited when strangers cannot detect her accent, she wears a small Norwegian flag around her neck and a fuzzy jacket with a giant red and blue flag on the back.

“I realized that it’s pretty cool to be proud of where you’re from,” Eldring said.