A month is a long time to stay somewhere totally unfamiliar, but it almost seemed too short for two girls visiting America for the first time.
Frida Sienna Simonnaes, a 17-year-old girl from Norway, and Enkhmandakh (Emily) Purevsuren, an 18-year-old girl from Mongolia arrived in Minneapolis on July 1. The girls were traveling from the Metro Airport to Baxter, where they would spend the majority of their stay. It was their first time in the United States. The entire stay was orchestrated by the Lions Club as a program allowing young adults aged 16 to 20 to travel internationally for a month.
They arrived safely in Minneapolis, but getting there was not easy for one of them.
Simonnaes traveled from Oslo, Norway and was due to arrive a day earlier than Purevsuren, but ended up arriving the same day due to multiple flight delays. First, his flight from Oslo was delayed an hour, causing him to miss his direct flight from Paris to Minneapolis.
Instead, Simonnaes was put on a flight from Paris to Boston seven hours after arriving there. After landing in Boston, she was scheduled to fly to Minneapolis that night, but luck was not on her side. His flight from Paris was also delayed by three hours, causing him to miss his flight once again.
Simonnaes was stranded in Boston overnight and had to seek police assistance.
“It was scary because I knew when I was on the flight that I couldn’t make the next one because we were three hours late from Paris,” Simonnaes said. “I didn’t really know what I was supposed to do, because I didn’t know what my next fight was. So it was just super confusing and I was super tired but then the policeman helped me find everything.
She got a hotel room for the night, then the next day she was on her way to Minnesota.
Sandy Johnson, with whom the girls are staying at Baxter, had been on the phone with Simonnaes’ father throughout the experience and was there to pick up Simonnaes as soon as he arrived.
Because Johnson couldn’t drive to and from, another member of the Baxter Lions Club picked up Purevsuren at the airport. Purevsuren’s travels, however, were far less chaotic than those of Simonnaes. She flew to Korea and from Korea to Dallas. From there she flew to Minneapolis.
Johnson lives on her own, but has become the neighborhood grandmother of sorts. As she is alone in the house, she thought it would be better to have two children with her. Luckily for her, she and the two girls hit it off instantly.
The girls arrived just in time for the 4th of July, which was filled with celebrations of all kinds. They went to the parade and were shocked at how different it was from their own cultures.
“In Norway, when we’re talking about parades, there’s a bunch of kids just passing pies and saying like, ‘Hooray! Happy birthday, Norway!'” Simonnaes said. “But here it was like a bunch of cars throwing candy, it was super weird.”
The girls also watched a boat parade on the beach at White Sand Lake, very close to Johnson’s home. The neighbors were very welcoming to the girls and invited them to swim whenever they wanted. However, there was a catch with that: Purevsuren couldn’t swim.
Simonnaes took it upon herself to teach Purevsuren to swim and mentioned that Purevsuren caught on very quickly. Purevsuren tried to learn earlier in life, but failed to understand. However, with the help of Simonnaes, she learned and swam almost every day with the neighborhood children.
Throughout their few weeks at Baxter, the girls have been through a lot of different things. They went to lots of attractions in the area like Paul Bunyan Land and mini golf. Every day they were busy with something.
One thing that remained constant during their trip was the nightly card games between the three. Johnson’s four sisters come every Saturday for a competitive card game and the girls looked forward to it.
“We like to play cards,” Purevsuren said. “We play Tic and we play every night.”
Along with all the fun the girls had with Johnson, Simonnaes also helped Johnson learn more about his genealogy. Johnson is Norwegian and both sets of grandparents emigrated from Norway.
Johnson had old papers and documents in Norwegian that were written in cursive, so Simonnaes’ father and grandfather helped translate them. From them, Johnson learned much more about his family history.
The girls’ last day with Johnson was July 22, but that won’t be the last time they see each other. After leaving Baxter, the girls will go down to St. Cloud and stay at the college for a few days. They are going to organize a banquet for all the host families where the children prepare and serve authentic meals from their country of origin.
Purevsuren made a dumpling-like dish called bansh. She spent three hours making 81 at Johnson’s and freezing them for the banquet. Simonnaes decided to make a Norwegian pancake as a dish.
After going to Saint-Cloud, the girls will go back up and take part in Camp Confidence. After that, the Pillager Lions Club will host foreign children for dinner on Sunday evening and the Baxter Lions Club will host them on Monday evening.
This is not the end however. Before heading home, the girls will also get to see places like Mall of America, Chanhassen Dinner Theaters and Valleyfair.
“Minnesota is so chill and relaxing,” Purevsuren said. “It’s so comfortable to live in. The neighbors are so generous, friendly. I just love them.”
After their return to their country of origin, the two girls will continue their studies. Simonnaes still has two more years of high school education, but Purevsuren is starting her first year of college where she will study computer coding.
In the future, Purevsuren would like to continue her master’s degree in America and move here.
Johnson and the girls are confident they will stay in touch after they return home. They all agreed that they would continue to talk despite being separated by thousands of miles.
“Yeah, it’s gonna be sad,” Johnson said. “We’re going to cry.”
SARA GUYMON, Brainerd Dispatch editor, can be reached at 218-855-5851 or [email protected]