Nearly 3 decades later, former HTHS exchange student maintains close ties with host family
By June Mathews
TRUSSVILLE — A few days before classes began at Hewitt-Trussville High School in the fall of 1987, Student Council member Ginger Prewitt (now Wallace), attended an orientation session for incoming exchange students. There she met a Danish girl named Mette Hald (now Hoffmann), and the two became fast friends.
As Ginger learned more about her new friend, she became concerned that Mette might not be in the optimal situation to experience a typical American girl’s school year.
“Her host family had two boys – one off at college and one in junior high – so I thought that was an odd spot for her to land,” Wallace said. “I didn’t think it was going to be a very fun year for her, and she was going to have to ride the bus to school with all the younger kids.”
So taking matters into her own hands, Ginger approached her mother, Linda Prewitt, about asking Mette to come live with them.
“Mette was already experiencing some anxiety about the home she was in,” said Prewitt. “But I told Ginger we didn’t apply for an exchange student and that we couldn’t take somebody else’s. But what it boiled down to later was, Mette wasn’t happy in that situation, and if we didn’t take her, she was going home.”
Thanks to Ginger’s connection with the exchange student representative, the Prewitts were able to cut through the red tape and become Mette’s new host family in record time.
“That way, she was able to experience high school in Alabama with a girl her age,” Wallace said.
So for the 1987-1988 school year, Ginger had a Danish “sister,” and the girls were inseparable. And even though host homes were required to provide separate bedrooms for exchange students, the two huddled together in Ginger’s room night after night, talking about all the things teenage girls have talked about since time began, until they fell asleep.
And all the while, Mette felt as if she were living in a fantasy world.
“I remember getting off the plane and thinking it felt like I was in an American movie,” Hoffmann said during a recent visit to her long-ago host family’s home in Argo. “Denmark is a very small country, and everything is close together.
“Starting at the high school was like a movie, too, with the lockers down the hallways and walking from class to class. At home, we stayed in one room all day with the same people. You didn’t change classes like you do here. It really felt like a movie.”
With Ginger as her guide, Mette was able to enjoy the full Hewitt-Trussville student experience, including social and sporting events, as well as other extracurricular activities. She competed in the Miss Hewitt Pageant, placing in the Top 10, and she starred as a gum ball machine in a Christmas program. And oh, yeah, she managed to work in a little study time, too.
“They let me be a part of the graduation, but I don’t think I really had all the classes that would have been required to graduate in America,” she said.
Now a nurse, Hoffmann lives in Arhus, Denmark, and is married to Henrik, owner of a landscape and gardening company. The couple has three children: Anna, Anton and Asger.
What Hoffmann remembers the most about her HTHS experience is the friends she made, and she now enjoys Facebook friendships with some of them. But she maintains a close connection with the Prewitts. She has returned for visits three times over the years, most recently visiting earlier this summer, and the Prewitts have visited Hoffmann and her family in Denmark, too.
And even though a lot of time has gone by and their lives have changed in many ways, she and the Prewitts still look fondly back on the school year during which their family-like ties were formed.
“It was a wonderful experience for our family, and I think it was for Mette, too,” said Prewitt. “We adopted her, no holds barred, and I think she did us, too.”