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Exchange students return to visit with Coffey family

Exchange students return to visit with Coffey family

By KEVIN BOWDEN
Staff Reporter
Heidi and Tone Setsaas have returned to Union City for a brief visit with Bill and Jan Coffey, and they’ve brought their husbands and five children on the trip.
The Coffeys hosted the two Norwegian sisters as foreign exchange students years ago and they’ve remained friends ever since.
The group of nine from Trondheim arrived in Nashville on June 15 and will be returning to Norway July 9.
Heidi Setsaas was the first of her family to make the journey to Union City. She spent a year here in 1988 as an exchange student and attended classes at Union City High School. She still remembers going to the UCHS junior-senior prom that year with Bryan Bloebaum.
Her younger sister Tone, and their parents, Per and Berit, visited Union City in June 1988 to check on Heidi.
The two girls who experienced life in Union City as teenagers in 1988 are now 42 (Heidi) and 38 (Tone). Heidi is now married to Robert Kjeldsberg and they have two daughters — Thea, 15, and Marie, 12.
Tone and her husband, Lasse, have three children — Ole, 15, Andrine, 13, and Nikolai, 6.
When she was here in 1988, Heidi learned about life in America and discovered a taste for Pepsi-Cola and enjoyed learning the sport of softball. She played outfield for the Sovran Bank softball team.
Union City represents quite a change for the two Norwegian families. Their hometown, Trondheim, is home to nearly 177,000 people and the average temperature in June is in the 60s.
When Heidi turned 42 last week, the Coffeys threw her a Cajun-themed birthday party complete with a shrimp boil, cajun potatoes and a light-hearted voodoo ceremony.
“So that was a different birthday … a lot of fun,” Heidi said.
The Coffeys visited Norway in 1990 and it was four years ago that the Setsaas family last visited Union City. The Coffeys’ daughter, Missy Gammons, traveled to Norway to visit the Setsaas family in 1990, 1995 and, most recently, in 1999. She and her husband, Jerry, are among the many visitors who have stopped by the Coffey home just south of Ridgemont School these past couple of weeks.
There is a large wrought iron table set up under a shade tree in the front yard of the Coffey’s home and that has served as the “roundtable” where everyone congregates in the afternoons and evenings. Everyone is now wearing bright yellow bracelets and anklets designed to keep the mosquitoes and other biting insects away.
The group has enjoyed time in Memphis, where they visited Graceland and Sun Studios. They have visited Reelfoot Lake and Columbus-Belmont Park. They attended a western-themed wedding reception where they learned to line dance. They even stopped off at Bikini Bottoms in Dyer County for a “Redneck Saturday” that involved mud trucks, motorcycles and ATVs.
Tone’s son, Ole, got to “go muddin’” on one of the four-wheelers.
“They played in the mud,” Heidi said of her daughters, Thea and Marie. Both girls let loose with a playful smile as they recalled their experience.
On a more civilized note, the group also visited the historic Peabody Hotel and got to see the famous ducks.
The Coffeys have a cabin at Kentucky Lake and everyone will be spending the next few days there enjoying a final weekend in West Tennessee. There are some Fourth of July festivities planned around Buchanan’s Resort, and there are plans by Heidi and Tone’s families to enter golf carts in the golf cart parade.
“For me, it’s been real fun to have my sister with me … and for the two families to be together,” Heidi said.
Her husband, Robert, said in his native language that he has really enjoyed the Southern hospitality during his visit.
While they’ve been here, the two Norwegian families have also enjoyed a broad selection of cuisine, including pizza from Domino’s, American, Chinese and Mexican dishes.
“They’ve tried a little bit of everything,” Coffey said.
There are some things that are relatively universal, such as technology and music. Justin Bieber, Rihanna and Lady Gaga are musical favorites of the younger group of Norwegian visitors and they all spend a considerable amount of time on their iPods and iPads.
Heidi and Tone will be attending a Def Leppard concert in Nashville with the Gammons in the next few days and everyone is also looking forward to doing a little shopping in Nashville before they have to return to Trondheim.
As for what they’ll remember about Tennessee, riding in golf carts, playing pool at the Coffeys and the huge cereal aisle at Walmart are at the top of the list.
“Everything is so much bigger here,” Ole said with a big smile.
Now the two families can add America to their list of countries they’ve visited. That list already includes several countries in Europe, including England, as well as Egypt, Spain and Greece.
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Staff Reporter Kevin Bowden may be contacted by email at kmbowden@ucmessenger.com.

Published in The Messenger 6.28.12

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