She's casual. Criss- crossed legs. Her face is gentle and brave. Her accent is soft and warm, like an invitation. She sounds regal, perhaps because the sound is unfamiliar; perhaps from a quiet confidence. All I know is that I want to listen, to ask more questions to hear the sound of her "S's and L's" all afternoon. The way she says the word, "English" is enough to just melt your heart. If you're a romantic at all, hearing it will make you want to go to Norway and hear from a dozen more Norwegians just to listen to their accents. Her eyes get wide as she speaks and she seems to forget herself, to become more comfortable and expressive. Her humility is genuine. I’ve had my small baby with me as we’ve talked. She’s been gracious and loving in between me attending to baby and distracting from the interview. If you are quiet and wait for her to grow comfortable, she seems to blossom, to expound on the hint of a person she shows in her initial quiet demeanor. Her eyes are kind, her soul is loving.
Since this interview Linnea has turned eighteen and moved back to Norway.
Emily: You're here as a foreign exchange student. How long have you been here in the States?
Linnea: Oh, I don’t really remember! I think when I traveled I didn't sleep for almost fifty hours.
So, it's all mixed up. I think I’ve been here for nine months now, though?
E: How did you get involved with the foreign exchange program?
L: I have a lot of friends who traveled with this agency and recommended it because it was so great. I was searching online to find the best agency as well, but I really wanted to go on exchange. The other exchange agencies seemed fine, but not as good as the one I am with. There was a lot of paperwork to do, but it was worth it because I'd rather be safe even if it means a lot of papers to fill out.
E: What drew you to do exchange? Why did you want to travel to study?
L: Um, I wanted to...oh, get out. I wanted to get away from my town, to experience something new, another culture, another language. I've always wanted to learn how to speak English properly and in Norway we have English, but it's not the same as being in America where you have to speak English.
L: I wanted to go on exchange in middle school, but then other things came up. I'd never seen myself doing it. I've never been the person to do something like that. I'm more like the quiet and careful and "don't do it" kind, you know? I think I just wanted to do it and get some perspective on...on, you know, the United States.
E: What was your perspective before you came? What did you think of the U.S.?
L: I thought it was big. Now I think it is still big, but I don't know! I didn't know what to think about the people. But, now that I know people here I see they are very nice and I heard before that Americans were very nice and friendly which is the opposite of Norwegians.
L: Yes, people who travel say that Norwegians are not very friendly. And that's very true, too. If you go out to do your grocery shopping, people don't talk to each other at all; it’s only people you know, but not to people you don't know. When I got here I saw, "Oh, yeah! People do that actually."
E: What have you enjoyed the most since being here in the States?
L: Probably speaking English and meeting the people. It's cool to say you know people in America, or you have friends that are Americans! It's going to be hard to leave everyone. I don't know if I'll ever see some of them again. So, that's strange, but you know that's how it is.
E: How old are you?
L: I am seventeen. I'll be eighteen in December.
E: Seventeen! You seem so much older!
L: Oh! You think so?
E: I would have guessed at least twenty.
L: Oh, well, oh that's funny I think. But yes, the stereotypical Norwegian doesn't talk to another Norwegian. I think the Petersons (her host family) read somewhere that we're like a coconut. So, a Norwegian sort of is hard on the outside and soft on the inside. It takes a while to get to know someone from Norway. That's true, but not everyone is like that. It's kind of hard to explain. It's very different than here. If you were in Norway and just started talking to someone it's kind of like, "Woah!" You know? You just don't do that.
E: What do you miss the most about Norway?
L: I miss my friends and family, of course. And the food I think. I really miss brown cheese and chocolate - Norwegian chocolate. It's the best chocolate ever! I miss meals, like the typical Norwegian meals. Sometimes I miss just talking to people in Norwegian. I miss the nature and the country. Virginia is more similar to Norway. We have a lot of mountains and fjords and trees. It's very green, but the town that I'm in is more agricultural. It's very flat and we have mountains too, but if you go north in Norway you have these big mountains and fjords. And the weather sort of depends. We can have all the seasons in one week. Like last year we had rain, snow, and sunshine all in one week. I think it depends on where you're at in Norway too, but where I'm from it's raining a lot and it's flat, so it's very windy.
E: Tell me about your family.
L: I'm a twin, so I have a twin brother and I have two older brothers. They are twenty and twenty six, I think? Yeah, twenty six. I'm actually one minute younger than my brother, so I'm the youngest. And my parents? My mom is a midwife in a hospital and my dad has a Ph.d in physical education, so he teaches teachers physical education. My twin is in England right now on exchange. When I wanted to go on exchange he didn't really want to, but he realized while I would be gone that he would be all alone. And he wanted to do something, to play soccer in England. So, he went to England on exchange.
E: Is that pretty normal, to go on exchange?
L: Yeah, I think it is becoming more normal. Students who are in my county and are on exchange, there are about 25 of us and that's more than there has ever been. So, yeah more people want to go on exchange.
E: Do you live in a pretty small town?
L: Yes! I live in a town with like fifteen thousand people I think.
E: Do you and your twin spend a lot of time together? Is that maybe why he wanted to go on exchange?
L: I think so. You know, one day he just said, "I want to go on exchange!" And I think my parents wanted him to go on exchange, as well. I don't know. I don't really know why. It's strange being so far away from him. I've been around him for seventeen years and it's strange to be the only child now with Lisa and Steve (her host parents) because I've always had a twin. That was kind of an adjustment, but it's okay.
E: Are you two very close?
She smiles softly.
E: And your older brothers, are you all close?
L: Yeah. My older brother, the oldest, is in Oslo, the capital of Norway. He's a photo journalist. So, he moved out a long time ago. And my second oldest brother is in north Norway right now and he's studying to be a lawyer. He moved out two years ago, I think. So, he's in college.
E: Do you have plans for what you want to do?
L: I have no idea. Still trying to figure it out. I'm considering teaching something.
E: And this experience has led you to want to keep traveling?
L: Yes! Actually I didn't decide to go on exchange until the last minute!
L: Yes, I was actually too late for the deadline for exchange through this agency to go to the United States. But, before I decided to go on exchange we, as a family, decided to plan a trip to Africa and we started planning two years before the trip. We went last summer to Africa. It was for a birthday party for a friend of my mom's because she was turning fifty. I think because she had worked as a midwife in Africa, she wanted to turn fifty in Africa. At the time I still hadn't decided to go on exchange. I don't think we would have gone to Africa if I had decided to go on exchange because when I came home from Africa I had three days then I went to the United States. Yeah, so it was kind of crazy. But, it was really fun to experience Africa, too.
L: I just love to experience a new culture and meeting new people from another culture, so that was really special.
E: What about it is the most exciting to you?
L: To know a person, to see what's important in their lives. I can see the difference between Norway and that particular country. I just like getting to know people and their values and such.
E: Have you always been that way? Interested in other people in that way while growing up in Norway?
L: Not really. More in my teenage years than before. When I was younger I was really shy and quiet. I'm still quiet, but not as shy. Like, I hated meeting people because I was so shy, but now it's fun meeting people and talking to them. Yeah, you just see how different their lives are in so many ways. I don't remember when I started... I always liked traveling, but it was always with my family and not alone.
E: What was that fifty hours like from Norway here with no sleep?
L: It was awful in a way. Because I had just left my family and friends and I was on the plane like, "Oh my goodness. What am I doing? I'm not going to see my family for ten months. I'm all on my own and I don't have anyone!" In South Dakota where I'm staying I'm the only Norwegian out of all the students. I was really, really tired but I was excited to meet my host family. I don't know. I don't remember a lot from that time. It was all just mixed emotions.
L: I couldn't sleep at all because of the time difference. Seven hours.
Yeah, that was hard.
E: Did you feel scared at all?
L: When I applied for exchange I didn't feel nervous at all. Then I went to Africa only a few weeks before leaving for America. I didn't think that much about going on exchange for ten months, but the day before I left I was just freaking out. It was awful…the worst day of my life. I was crying all the time and when people came and said goodbye to me I was crying. Even just saying goodbye to my parents at the airport I was crying and they were watching me and I was like, "Agh!"
L: So, yeah. That was not good at all, but I'm glad that I did it. I think it's kind of strange that I didn't freak out before. I was kind of thinking that I wouldn't do it.
E: That you would pull out at the last minute?
L: Yes. And that that was okay, but I didn't. And the last day I knew I was going to go for ten months. So, that's how I felt.
E: You are very brave. Perhaps it was the realization and the weight of your decision that made you cry the day before?
L: Thank you. I think it's going to be even worse going home! Because I won't see most of them again. Like, I know I'm going to see my family again. But, I think about that I won't be able to see people here again and I'm terrified. I just know that I won't ever see them again. I don't know; life happens I guess. I have really good friends in South Dakota. And my host family, too, because I've lived with them for nine months now. It's going to be really hard. They're like my second family. And they haven't treated me like a guest. They've taken me to family and treated me like family, so I really appreciate that.
E: But, you said foreign exchange is becoming more normal in Norway?
L: Yes, it is. It's common in high school and college.
E: Are you excited to see your brother and hear of his adventures?
L: I've been Skyping with him a lot, so I've heard a lot already. But yes, I'm excited. His experience has been totally different from mine here. At his school he has Norwegian as a class, so that's very different from my experience here. And I'm excited to hear how he has changed as a person. I'm excited to see him how he is now because I haven't seen him in nine months!
E: How do you think you've changed the most since you came to America?
L: Oh, me? Hmm. I think I've become more outgoing...Ehh, I hope.
L: Yeah, I don't know. Just more… outgoing is the word for it. Because I am not afraid of talking to people anymore like I used to be. I stayed back a lot, I think. I wasn't afraid of what people thought of me, I was just different. I'm not like that anymore. It’s kind of hard for me to tell, but I know when I go home my friends and family will tell me.
E: And what are you most excited for when you get back to Norway?
L: I still have my senior year left in Norway and I just got a job. I applied for a job back home, so I have that! I'll be starting to work and I'm excited for that.
E: Where will you work?
L: At a pharmacy actually. I'm just excited to be in Norway and be with my friends and family and catch up. And I don't know because I don't have any plans for after high school. I really want to go backpacking, or something like that.
E: What are your favorite activities?
L: I like being with my friends. I like reading, hiking and just running. I used to play soccer for seven years, I think? And then I just didn't want to anymore. It was just too much. I like experiencing new things and I like traveling.
E: What sorts of books do you like to read?
L: I like fiction a lot and I like true stories. Yeah, before I came here I didn't read a lot, but now I like to read a lot more because I got a Kindle from Drew. (A member of her host family.) And it's very handy because I use it a lot at school. It's really fun to use and I think I'm going to use it more when I get home. I really like to read. I just read everything.
E: What are you reading now?
L: Now I'm reading a series called "Pretty Little Liars."
E: How do you like it so far?
L: I like it. I watch the show.
E: Since you've been here in the U.S.?
L: No, at home. But I like the books better. It's not only series like that, though. I like other books, too. But, right now I just wanted to read those because I heard it was so different from the show.
E: Is that pretty typical, to watch a show from the United States in Norway?
L: Mhm, I actually watch more American shows than Norwegian. We don't have any Norwegian shows really. Well, maybe a few but they're not my type of shows. We have a lot of American TV.
E: And does the same go for your music?
L: Mhm. More American music than Norwegian music. And we have Norwegian artists that sing in English because only five million people know Norwegian, so if they sing in English they have more of a response.
E: Did you learn English in school very young?
L: Second grade. It's required to take in preschool, middle school and the first year of high school. Before I came here I never spoke English with anyone other than my English teacher. So, when I came here, I realized that I had to speak English. It was kind of hard at first because I had to translate everything in my head. I could understand almost everything, it was just hard to speak it. So, it’s going much better now.
E: How has speaking English helped you in discovering American values?
L: Being in high school here they are focusing more on America and the United States and not much on other countries. I don’t know, it’s fun to communicate with Americans in English. I’m understanding better now that I can speak to them and not be in Norway.
E: What do you think the biggest difference is between you and Americans?
L: I’m not sure. I think that’s more like how you’ve been raised. Values for me are not the same as values for Americans because they have totally different lives than me.
E: What are your greatest values?
L: Family. Family and friends are the greatest values for me because they are always there for me. I’ve actually learned more about myself here than being in Norway because I know I am different. I know I am not an American.
E: What have you learned about yourself?
L: I’ve learned that I have to go after my dreams. I’ve learned that I have to do something and I have to do it without thinking that much about it. In Norway I was overthinking things. I found out that I have to listen to myself, too. And that I have to just be myself. I’ve learned that I have to trust people, because when I came here I did not know anyone. I’ve become more independent because I’ve come to know a lot of people and they’ve become very important in my life.
E: What is your relationship with your family like?
L: When I was younger I was my dad’s little girl. I was always with him and now we are very close still. We always do stuff together. We run together, we hike together and that’s with both my parents. Yeah, I can say everything to them and they don’t judge me or anything like that. They support me and they know what’s best for me, so they give me advice. My brothers have always been protecting me because I’m the only girl and I’m the youngest. Yeah, we are just very close and we do everything together. We go hiking and we play board games and just talk about stuff. Now I don’t see them as often as before and the time with my brothers is more valuable.
E: What are your favorite things to do with your family?
L: Play board games!
I really like playing board games with them. Just spending time with them. It doesn’t matter as long as I’m with them. Like, around Christmas when everyone is home and we just talk about different things and we just have fun.
E: Do you have any traditions as a family?
L: We do. Around Christmastime we play a lot of board games. We have movie nights and such. I know we have more, I just can’t seem to think of them right now.
E: Of course, because you just do them! Do you have a favorite holiday?
L: I love Christmastime. My favorite season is probably summer because I feel like you can do so much more in the summertime than during the winter. In Norway we have mild winters and cold summers, but still get some nice weather. We don’t have any school in the summer. I just feel like it’s more free in the summer. I love December so much because we have so many traditions around Christmas, not just in my family, but Norway in general. Like, every day in December when we were younger, but we used to get a present, or something. We used to be four of us kids, then there were three of us at home and we got a present every third day. That was from December first to the twenty-fourth we would get a present. That was just something fun because it was something exciting to look forward to. And then we have TV shows that are only on during Christmas, they are really old TV shows and just very fun to watch. I don’t know, I like Christmas a lot, but I like the season of summer more.
E: What do you think are the most obvious traits about you.
L: That I’m very careful and that I am there to help them. And that I am always happy…I hope!
Most of the time, yeah. And people know they can always trust me and my friends know that I am always there for them. I am adventurous and quiet and very calm. I am…nice? I like to help people. Yeah, I’m just, well …I’m happy!