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Exchanging stories


Its fun meeting new people while traveling and hearing their stories. Everyone likes to tell where they come from and are usually excited about where they’re going. All around the world people are flying in and out of airports, crossing the globe and trading places.

I was recently on a flight from Norway to Amsterdam and sat next to a young woman from Geneva. After hearing I was American, she told me told me an incredible story about her first and only trip to the US. She was on her way back from a wedding in Canada and decided to take a twenty-four hour stop over in New York.

She checked out of her midtown hotel early the next morning and set out to explore the Big Apple. She planned on heading down to Battery Park, to see the Statue of Liberty and The World Trade Center first. But due to a mix up, she got on the wrong bus and found herself heading uptown instead. After taking a stroll through Central Park and checking out Time Square, she began making her way back towards downtown Manhattan.

She was suddenly stopped by roadblocks, turmoil and sirens screaming throughout the city. It was September 11, 2001 and she soon found herself stranded in a chaotic city, with no money and no where to stay. She turned to the Swiss Embassy for help and it was five days before she was able to finally leave New York. Sigh.

A few days later, I met a Scottish woman on my flight from Glasgow back to Amsterdam. We got talking and after telling her I live in Norway, she told me she had once rode her bike to Norway.

“From Glasgow?!” I asked.

No – she was an art student living in Denmark at the time. Her and her Danish boyfriend took a ferry to Sweden and then cycled all the way to Oslo. She felt so empowered by the trip that upon her return, she packed her bags, left her boyfriend and moved back to Glasgow to become a rich and famous artist. Ten years down the road and she’s still single and struggling. Her Danish boyfriend however, is married, has two children, lives in a beautiful house and owns a very lucrative art gallery. After telling me her story, she shook her head and said, “You know what the worst of it is Maggie? I felt so guilty after leaving him, that I paid half his bloody rent for a whole year.” Ouch.

Afterwards, while franticly flipping through the pages of my passport, an officer at the passport control counter in Amsterdam asks, “Why are you going to Norway?”

“Because I live there,” I answer.

He then asks if I have a Resident Card, I tell him no. I only have a stamp in my passport, which he points out has expired. (Oops) With a crowed of inpatient travelers grumbling behind me, he calls for another officer to come and take me away!

I’m taken to the Immigration Office, asked to have a seat, and then bombarded with questions… How long have you been living in Norway? Why do you live there? Why have you not renewed your Norwegian Resident Permit? I see you also have an outdated, Dutch Resident Permit in your passport, why? Do you have a Norwegian personal number (Social Security number)? I answer the questions, give him my personal number and he calls the Norwegian Immigration Office, in Oslo.

By now I’m wishing I’d simply told them I was going to Norway on vacation. I was also wondering if he had the power to ship me back to New Jersey. Then as if nothing happened, the officer hangs up the phone and says, “Okay, you’re free to go, have a nice trip.” Phew.

Is it like this when you travel?

“I don’t want to go home!”

 

My son Alexander was born in Stavanger, Norway in 1993. He was immediately issued a Norwegian birth certificate (his Dad is Norwegian) and after reporting his birth to the American Embassy in Oslo (I’m American) he was issued an American one as well. With two passports tucked in his diaper bag he started flying before he could walk, as we spent Winters in Norway and summers in New Jersey.

He grew up in a home that talked English, went to Norwegian school, had Norwegian playmates in the winter and American ones in the summer. Whenever I put him to bed we’d read Green Eggs and Ham and when my husband put him to bed they’d read Mine Fineste Eventyr, av Grimm.

Alexander’s grandparents lived just up the hill from our house and everyday on his way home from school he’d stop by to say hello and have a snack. He joined the scouts and loved learning about Norwegian nature. He played soccer (fotball, as its called here) would disappear on his bike and learned how to drive a boat, before he was ten. Every year on Norway’s Independence Day, he’d march through the streets waving a flag and singing for Norway. He was happy, growing up in a safe wholesome environment and as his mother, I couldn’t ask for anything more.

When Alexander was twelve my husband’s job took us to Houston for two years and after that to The Netherlands for three years. We left Norway with a boy and came back with a young man. While we were gone, we traveled through America and all over Europe. Alexander has also been lucky enough to travel to Russia, Africa, Jordan and Israel on school trips. He has attended the finest private schools and has made a variety of friends from all different cultures. These experiences have given him an unfaltering understanding and interest in people of all races.

Alexander had one year left of high school when we returned to Norway, it was therefore impossible to send him back to Norwegian school. Instead he attended an International School in Stavanger and had to travel three-hours-round trip, back and forth everyday. It was hard to make friends and impossible to join any sports or activities when living so far from the school.

After graduating he informed my husband and I that he no longer felt Norwegian. He struggled to read and write, and didn’t feel comfortable talking the language, he preferred English. He wanted to move back to Netherlands, back to The Hague where his friends were and what he felt was home!

The realization that our son now considered Norway a foreign land, where he felt bored and uninterested was heartbreaking.

In order for Alexander to receive support from Norway in funding further education, there are certain requirements. One of those requirements is a certificate in Norwegian, to which he did not have. This inconvenience ended up buying us some time, as he could not apply to schools outside the country without it. He would instead be spending another year in Norway, against his will.

We ended up sending him to a boarding school outside Lillehammer, where he not only attend classes in Norwegian and studied international relations (something he loves) but also lived full time with other Norwegian students.

Thankfully, he seems to be regaining his roots, although he still jumps on a plane to Amsterdam every chance he gets and considers himself a citizen without borders.

How did it go when you brought your world travelers home?