Kyabram Free Press
Chrissie had a whale of a time
Chrissie Brewer’s admiration for her older sister fuelled a desire to travel when she was just eight years old.
Nine years later she was on a plane bound for Norway to start a 12-month exchange, following closely in the footsteps of her sister Jillian, who had travelled to Thailand almost a decade earlier.
A Kyabram High School student from the early to mid1980s, Chrissie grew up on a dairy farm in Cooma with her three sisters and brother.
“I always thought that I would do the same as Jill,” she said.
“I didn’t really mind where I went.
“I was friends with Seb (Swedish exchange student to Kyabram High School), but Norway sounded nicer.
“I really had no idea what it would be like.”
Chrissie, who is now a mother-of-two and assistant principal at Corryong College, reflected on her time as an exchange student with the Free Press last week.
Exchange program organisers such as Youth for Understanding and Rotary have had to delay recruiting plans, but both plan to continue the decades-long tradition.
“Being an exchange student was one of the hardest, but best, things I’ve ever done,” Chrissie said.
“I learned to live with other people at an early age, managed to navigate a public transport system in a different language and made friends with people from around the world.”
Chrissie turned 17 while she was in Norway, finishing year 11 at Kyabram when she returned to Australia.
“The language was pretty easy to pick up, except most people wanted to practise their English with me,” she said.
“They (Norwegians) use the same alphabet as us, with three extra letters. Spelling was very phonic (unlike many English words).
“I spelt better in Norwegian than English."
Memories of daily two-hour bus rides on winding and narrow roads remain fresh in Chrissie's mind, along with the lack of Norwegian humour.
“I missed the Australian sporting culture and the quick wit of Aussies,” she said.
“I still remember the first Norwegian joke I actually got.
“It was rude, so I can’t repeat
I, but I was mostly homesick for sport and humour."
Chrissie hasn’t been back to Norway, but both her host families have travelled to Australia to visit, and maintain contact via Facebook.
Norway’s treatment of women in 1986 was, according to Chrissie, ahead of its time.
“Women received 46 weeks of paid maternity leave for each child and everyone had a job,” she said.
“My host father milked 18 cows and made a good living from this, while my host mother was a hairdresser.
“I stayed in a small village called Vaksvik on the edge of a fjord. I later moved into the small city of Ålesund on the western coast of Norway.
“My host sister from Norway came over to stay with my family three years after I returned.”
Chrissie was one of three Kyabram students who travelled as exchange students in the same year.
“Rachel and Renee both went to the United States,” she said.
Norway’s different seasons were a constant talking point while Chrissie was away, with winters long and dark (10:30am sunrise and sunset at 2pm).
“It was better in summer — sunset at 11pm and sunrise at 2am,” she said.
“We would walk home from late parties in sunlight.”
Chrissie said she knew, from experience, why there were not many Norwegian restaurants around the world.
“The food was terrible,” she said.
“Once I visited a family and they served up whale. I could not bring myself to eat it.”
Chrissie said summing up Norwegians was easy, and still brought a smile to her face.
“They are a people who are non-judgmental,” she said.
“They accept people for who they are and celebrated living, hence nudity not being a big deal in Norway.”