Mixing It Up With Some Norwegian Teens.
Last summer, I spent a few days visiting friends in Norway, a couple I had met in 2012 on one of the trans-Siberian trains running between Moscow and Beijing. She teaches English to young people in their final year of what we would call high school and I volunteered to come to her class and give the kids a chance to hear and talk with a native-speaker of English.
When I got to Oslo, I discovered that three of her colleagues had asked if I could speak to their classes, too. I was more than glad to do so. Truthfully, I probably had more fun than they did.
These kids had been taking English lessons from a very young age and, as you would expect, they were all nearly fluent. They were particularly interested that I was from Hawaii, so to get things moving, I started them off with some half-serious true/false questions about these islands. For example . . .
True or False: As we speak, engineers in Honolulu are designing a tunnel for cars and trucks that will connect Hawaii with Los Angeles.
Guess what: two thirds of the kids got that one wrong.
True or False: The Hawaiian Islands were discovered by English explorer, James Cook, in 1778.
Several of the kids immediately said, “False! It was Leif Erikson!” which got a big laugh from everyone. But this question was a set-up, because it gave me the chance to tell them about the Polynesians from Tahiti and the Marquesas who really did discover Hawaii a thousand years before Cook by sailing across 2500 miles of open ocean. And, yes, the kids were fascinated.
Then I asked if they had questions and there were plenty, most about the multi- racial society we have here. And no wonder. Looking at those young Norwegian faces – all vanilla – the idea of being white and in a minority group was hard for them to comprehend.
One of the youngsters asked if a white person ever came to feel comfortable in a mixed-race group of people.
I told him some people never do. But I said that moment came to me about six months after I had arrived in Hawaii. I had just come home from a very enjoyable party and suddenly realized that I had been the only haole (white person) there. The reactions to that ranged from disbelief to wonder to delight.
Those Norwegian kids were bright and fun … and I do think they enjoyed our time together. My one big regret: I had my camera with me in a bag, but I was having so much fun that I forgot to take a single photograph.