Pharos-Tribune

December 24, 2012

A foreign experience

Norwegian exchange student and Salvation Army member rings bell for Rural King donation kettle

by Sarah Einselen
Pharos-Tribune

— Plenty differs between Logansport and Norway. One of the differences, as exchange student Espen Folkestad discovered, is the bells that Salvation Army volunteers ring each Christmas.

Espen, a 17-year-old Norwegian student attending Logansport High School this year, helped ring the bells for the Salvation Army donation kettle at Rural King last week.

It was his first time ringing a Salvation Army Christmas bell, he said, but he had tended Salvation Army donation kettles before in his hometown of Lillehammer. He and several of his family members are part of Norway’s Salvation Army network of churches and his mother works at a Salvation Army rehabilitation program.

So when his host father, Jeff Hamilton, found out Espen’s mother worked for the Salvation Army, he suggested Espen might benefit from participating here across the pond.

And help he did, donning a Santa hat and a Salvation Army apron for the job.

“It’s great,” Espen said, chuckling and ringing a bell.

Lillehammer, where Espen’s mother, father, older brother, younger sister and six step-siblings live, is home to about 25,000 people in the eastern part of Norway. It was the site of the Olympic Winter Games in 1994 and is a popular winter sports destination.

Espen’s mother, Hilde Langseth, works with a Salvation Army rehabilitation program in Lillehammer for people addicted to drugs and alcohol. She’s currently managing the program in its director’s absence.

The program serves 51 regular clients as of Wednesday, ranging in age from 20 to 64. It’s based on a program founded in Oslo, Norway’s capital.

Other work Espen’s mother does closely resembled his own volunteerism in the United States. Langseth had just tended a Lillehammer kettle for the Salvation Army the day before Espen watched one in Logansport, she said.

“I did that for two not-so-freezing hours,” Langseth commented. “Normally it’s quite freezing at this time of year.”

If Espen weren’t in the United States this year, he’d be volunteering to pack Christmas meals for impoverished families in Norway, as he has done the last three years.

As it is, Espen is spending most of his time at school activities — another significant difference between Logansport culture and that of his hometown.

“School is basically my life here,” Espen said. He played soccer, participated in the chorus for the high school’s Winter Fantasy production of “Oklahoma!” and sings in the concert choir.

In Norway, he said, school is just academic classes. Sports and other traditional extracurricular activities are sponsored by community leagues and aren’t as plentiful.

But English is taught in schools beginning in first grade, Espen said. He speaks with just a hint of an accent foreign to the Midwest.

“We only go to school to learn stuff,” he explained. “It’s really boring.”

Espen’s host parents have tried to expose him to many different aspects of U.S. culture, they said, taking him on trips to Chicago and Los Angeles as well as involving him in smaller activities like the Salvation Army bell ringing.

Espen was Jeff’s first host student in eight years, said Jeff.

“It’s been awesome,” he added. “I got to be a soccer dad this year, which was cool.”

Hamilton’s wife, Brenda, said she loved caring for a teenage boy and attending his sports games. It’s a new experience for her, she said.

Espen and his host family are holding out now for something much more familiar to him — a white Christmas. He’s used to Norway’s long, cold winters, where snow normally starts falling in October.

“He’s just waiting on the snow,” said Brenda.

Sarah Einselen is news editor for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at sarah.einselen@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5151.