Connections for life

An American family’s love of Norway

Until 2000, Pat and John Barry and their sons Matt and Mike, who lived in Dutchess County, N.Y., had a modest knowledge of Norway.  They knew about Norway through what they had read, seen on TV, and learned from a Norwegian exchange student who attended their school. However, when Camilla Aasnes came to live with them in August 2000, a connection was started that has led to an amazing family bond with Norway.

Camilla Aasnes of Aurskog applied to spend the 2000 – 2001 school year somewhere in the U.S. as an exchange student through Youth for Understanding (YFU).  Her application made its way to Arlington Central School, Matt and Mike’s school.  In the spring of 2000, when a teacher offered Camilla’s information packet to students whose families might consider hosting an exchange student, Matt literally jumped at the chance, according to Pat.  By the time he got home, he had already figured out all the logistics of accommodating Camilla.  When his parents asked Matt why he wanted to host Camilla, he said, “Why not?” to which the family had only one answer: “Let’s do it.”

Recently, Pat mentioned that the decision to host Camilla for a year was one of the best, if not the best decision the family had ever made. This decision led to the family’s “lifelong connection not only with Camilla and her family but also with Norway.”

Camilla turned out to be a “perfect fit” for the Barry family. Camilla was open-minded, non-judgmental and very open to new experiences. “She relished the differences of our two countries, not the superiorities or deficits of either.” Also, Camilla was very outgoing, and with her strong music skills and positive outlook, she made many friends at the high school.

The Barry family learned “so much about Norway, its language, food, customs, and economy.” Camilla taught the Barrys to make Norwegian bløtkake, kransekake, rice pudding and other delicacies. The Barrys also learned a great deal from Camilla about the Norwegian schools, government, and economy. Reciprocally, the Barrys shared the U.S. with Camilla, taking her to many places, including New York City, Boston, Arizona, and Canada. Even a trip to the grocery store or mall was a learning adventure.  Near the end of Camilla’s exchange year, her parents visited the Barrys, enabling both families to become acquainted.

The following year, Matt spent his junior year of high school in Norway as a YFU exchange student, living with Camilla’s family in Aurskog and attending Camilla’s school, Lillestrøm Videregående Skole. Immersed in the language and culture, Matt became fluent in Norwegian.

These student exchanges further developed the Barry family’s enduring relationship with Norway. In 2003, Matt returned to Norway with John, Pat, and Mike for their first family vacation in Norway, visiting the Aasnes family in Aurskog and traveling with them to northern Norway, including Lofoten and Tromsø. The following year Matt celebrated Christmas with Camilla and her family.  In June 2006 the Barrys returned to Norway to attend Camilla’s wedding to Anders Engås in Tromsø. The family also travelled extensively around Norway during this visit, spending time in Geiranger, Ålesund, Stryn, Florø, Bergen, and Oslo.

Matt studied music performance and education in the U.S., receiving a Bachelor’s Degree from Ithaca College and Master’s Degree from Peabody Conservatory of John Hopkins. During these years he always maintained his connection with and love of Norway, as well as his mastery of the Norwegian language. In 2009, Matt learned that Camilla was going to take a leave of absence from her position as a music teacher and conductor with Molde Kulturskole. Matt sought the leave-of-absence position that he then obtained!  This original temporary position has evolved to a permanent position for Matt.

With Matt living and working in Molde, Pat and John Barry have visited Norway the last two summers, 2010 and 2011, travelling with Matt to different destinations. This coming summer (2012) they will again visit Norway to be with Matt and also attend, as American bestemor og bestefar, the baptism of Sindre, Camilla and Anders’ second son, at Oslo City Hall. Completing the sightseeing plans for the summer of 2012, Pat and John expect to have visited every fylke or county in Norway, a feat accomplished by very few Norwegians!

Mike, Matt’s brother has also maintained Norwegian ties. In 2006, he attended Camilla’s wedding. In 2009, Camilla, Anders, and her father attended Mike and Janice’s wedding in Pennsylvania. In 2011, Mike and Janice vacationed in Norway, taking the Hurtigruten from Bergen to Molde and spending time in Molde and Oslo.

Now that Pat and John have made many journeys to Norway, have a son living there, have a very good knowledge of Norwegian culture, language, cities and countryside, government, foods, and the Norwegian people, they truly are “Norwegian-Americans.”

This article originally appeared in the June 29, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.