Redwood Falls Gazette
  • Norwegian student reflects on impact Redwood had on his life

  • “I had a great experience here in Redwood Falls,” said Morten Reffhaug, of Drammen, Norway, who made a return trip during the all-school reunion in June....
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  • When Morten Reffhaug of Drammen, Norway left Redwood Falls in 1979, he knew he would be back. After all, his experience as a foreign exchange student was a positive one, as he learned about the Minnesota way of life as a student at Redwood Falls High School (RFHS) and experiencing life with the Schmidt family. “I had a great experience here in Redwood Falls,” said Reffhaug, who made a return trip to his home away from home in June. “I was able to live life in a different way than I was used to. “I learned the world is a lot more complex than I thought, and different people living in different places have different opinions.” Reffhaug made his return trip to Redwood Falls to take part in the all-school reunion held as part of the community’s 150th anniversary celebration, but this was not the first return visit Reffhaug has made to the community. In fact, he lived in the United States for a period of time as a college student pursuing a degree at what was then known as Mankato State University. “I came back two years after I returned home,” said Reffhaug, adding at the time the AFS exchange program had a requirement where students could not return to the country they had visited for at least two years. In Mankato Reffhaug earned a degree in computer science, which had its roots in his RFHS experience.
    Reffhaug said his first true exposure to computers was as a student in Redwood Falls, adding back home in Norway he had once been offered a chance to see a computer in person. “Things were so different back then,” said Reffhaug, adding technology has changed so much even in his country over the years. Today Reffhaug has taken that computer science degree and has established his own business called To Be More, which develops and manufactures digital displays for different venues. Reffhaug said what his company does is similar to what Daktronics would do but on a much smaller scale. The company is owned by Reffhaug and his wife, Toril. They established it in 2006 after Reffhaug saw the opportunity that existed while working for another technology company. “For the first year I was the only employee,” said Reffhaug, adding his wife officially joined in 2007. The company has grown dramatically, and now its products can be found in soccer stadiums, concert halls and train stations ac-ross Norway and in Sweden. Reffhaug has been a frequent visitor to the Redwood area in recent years. “This is my third visit in the last two years,” said Reffhaug. “This is part of my family. They are my brothers and sisters.” Reffhaug established a unique relationship with the younger Schmidt siblings including Laura Kohler, whose house he stayed at during this most recent visit. Kohler, who graduated in 1979, said it was a memorable experience having Morten at their home. She said it was her mom’s idea, as encouraged by Sue Tiffany – who was the local AFS contact at the time – to have an exchange student. Kohler, who graduated the year Reffhaug was visiting as an exchange student, said he set a great example. “Morten was involved in so many things,” she said. In fact, Reffhaug came in with the philosophy of trying as many new things as he could to truly take in the culture of America. He played football for the first time, played in the band (he brought along his own coronet) and was even on the debate team. “Morten came speaking fluent English,” said Kohler. While Reffhaug said there were some initial communication issues as he got used to the slang and Redwood Falls dialect, but being able to understand what was being said never was an issue. He began studying English in the third grade in Norway, and he said the visit to America really helped him take his English speaking skills to the next level. He agreed that has helped him in many ways in the years that followed. Reffhaug has brought his sons, Emil and Erik, to Red-wood Falls to meet his exchange family. In his visits, Reffhaug said he has noticed changes that have taken place in town. “The buildings really are the same, but the businesses in them have changed,” he said. “To me it seems like Redwood Falls has become more of a regional place.” Reffhaug earned a high school diploma from Redwood Falls High School, and when he returned to Norway he finished his schooling there. “It took me an extra year to finish, which means I did not graduate with my friends,” he said, “but coming here was worth it.” Reffhaug got a true Minnesota summer welcome when he arrived during this most recent visit, as he woke up and discovered water on the floor. Then he spent time helping the Kohlers clean up their basement which had flooded due to heavy rain. That willingness to get in and help is something Kohler said she has always appreciated about Morten. Reffhaug has returned home, but said he already has plans to make another trip in the not-too-distant future. After all, there is just no place like your second home.
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