The ketchup consumption in my house has dramatically increased this fall.
No, we are not newly obsessed with the tomato product or eating an exceptional number of French fries: we just happen to have an exchange student.
And she puts ketchup on everything: pork tenderloin, bagels, and even orange chicken. (Apparently ketchup tastes good with all food—though I prefer to take her word for it on that one).
Ever since she arrived from Norway, our exchange student has seamlessly meshed with our family. She asks intentional questions, shares stories from home, and divulges hilarious anecdotes from her own life. Her imitation of an “American-Spanish accent” is spot on, expertly capturing the novice way students in her class pronounce the Spanish words she can fluently speak.
She has also effortlessly connected with our community. We have lived in the same house for thirteen years and have never before seen one of our elusive neighbors. But on one of the first weeks she arrived, she was next door swimming in the pool chatting away as if they had been friends all along. One day, she went for a run and came back with an invitation to an exclusive neighborhood barbecue. Her adventurous spirit has enabled her to spend a year across the world with strangers and fit in perfectly.
But even with her laid back personality, there are several aspects of life in America that have proven to be more difficult adjustments. For one, she never had homework in Norway, so the college preparatory mission of her high school came as a shock. The lack of accessible public transportation is a whole other beast that has greatly limited her ability to go and do. And the food in America is better—especially with excessive amounts of ketchup.
As the daughter of missionary parents, she has already done a fair amount of traveling for someone her age. Even in all her travels and exposure to the world, this seventeen-year-old holds fast to her relationship with Christ. She is calm and collected thousands of miles away from her home, and the God that is her rock is the same here as He is in Norway. She is eager to observe the ins and outs of America just as she’s done in countries around Europe, all the while knowing that the cultural differences will teach her more about the differences in God’s people and highlight His creativity.
But of all the things she has taught us, it has been fascinating to view America through the eyes of an insightful Norwegian teenager. Her school newspaper approached her with a question, and her gut response surprised me.
When asked the question What’s the biggest difference you notice between America and Norway?, her answer was this: the Americans she’s observed have a pride in their country—a pride that she hasn’t seen in Norway.
She has seen this attitude in her classmates and undoubtedly in our family. Since she is here during such a turbulent time, I was surprised at her choice of the word “pride.” While it might partly be a language gap (she is fluent in several—I can only imagine finding the right word is a challenge), I think she is on to something.
Despite the current tumultuous political landscape, our Norwegian sister senses a core gratefulness for freedom—for the right to speak up and be heard and make a difference. She can see the determination to preserve and utilize the resources God has given us. And for better or for worse, she is fully taking advantage of the freedom to put ketchup on everything.
Olivia graduated from Calvin in May 2018 with a double major in business (human resources) and writing. She is currently living and working in Grand Rapids but is eager to find a new city and a new adventure.