Alesund, NorwayThe saying goes that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. And my journey began when I pushed my shy and insecure 15 year-old self into the zone of the unknown by deciding to become an exchange student.

But I must admit that the idea was not mine since the concept of becoming an exchange student was instilled in me at a very young age, by none other that my amazing mom and with full support of my sweet daddy, too.

In 1958, at the age of 16, my mom traveled from the small, rural town of Osseo, Minnesota to New York, New York where she met with the other American Field Services students who traveled from around the United States boarding a ship and making the trans-Atlantic trip to Rottendam, Netherlands. From there, she traveled by train and coastal steamers to the northwest coast of Norway arriving in a small town near the Artic Circle.Cabin

Spending the summer in Norway between two different host families, my mom was a “pioneer” exchange student in every sense of the word. Years later when I was around 4 years old, she was instrumental in establishing the American Field Services (AFS) program within the New Ulm, Minnesota high school. She guided prospective students during their application and selection processes while also interviewing American families to serve as host families for European students. Her involvement with the European students and sending American students abroad is when my interest began in doing the same began.

Mor Mor & Mor FarBy the time I was a sophomore in high school, applying to be an exchange student seemed the inevitable thing to do. And that I would be an exchange student to Norway, no less.  Despite my school not having an exchange program in place, one of my friends and I connected with a Minneapolis-based Youth For Understanding (YFU) representative and established the exchange program for our school since I wanted to go to Norway and my friend wanted to go to Germany.

1002413_10200682678341097_1969309584_n 1017205_10200682675421024_1820090146_nAnd in June of 1984, I flew from Minneapolis to New York where all of the U.S. students met prior to departing overseas from JFK. Arriving 8 hours later, I landed in Oslo, Norway and boarded a train heading northwest to the coastal city of Alesund where I spent the next three months living with a generously kind family: the Halkjelsvik’s.  Fride

Being an exchange student taught me a myriad of life-skills, the most important of which were diplomacy and a sense of humor. As I had studied the Norwegian language since I was a child, I thought I would try to impress my host family after one of our first meals together. Speaking in my best Norwegian, I thanked them for dinner and expressed that I was full (a diplomacy trait I had been taught during the exchange student on-boarding process). Waiting for what I expected as the standard reply, my host family laughed at me. Feeling embarrassed and completely alone, my oldest host sister told me, in English, that instead of saying I was “full”, I said I was “drunk”.

The ice was broken and the summer began-the summer that created the foundation of life-long friendships.

After an summer filled with living the Norwegian life of laughter, hiking in the mountains or catching crabs in the North Sea, I tearfully bid my host family good-bye. We kept in touch for a number of years after but slowly drifted apart, as what happens with the events that life brings.

Several years ago, I reconnected with my host sisters through email, then through Facebook. And now, we keep in touch on a regular basis. I have since been back twice, the most recent of which was June of 2013 when I celebrated my birthday with my host mother, Astrid. But when I returned in November of 2011, 27 years later, I walked back into my “room” to find that a picture of my host grandmother and grandfather with me remained on the wall.   Birthday Cake

Kissing a TrollBeing an exchange student taught me that the world is a big place but that humanity is so similar, despite different cultures, languages or geographies. It taught me to get comfortable with the uncomfortable and to take chances. It taught me that relationships form and that friendships last. And it taught me that we are lucky to get second-chances but to celebrate those second-chances as opportunities to be grateful. And most importantly, it taught me to laugh at myself.

As someone who is a victim to fashion, I am equally a victim to comfort.  So,  when I was AOPA’s trade show last week-end and discovered this new line of Silipos GeLuscious products, my creature-comfort interest was beyond piqued.

Silipos?  I know you’re curious about it, aren’t you. They are an American company that manufactures silicone products primarily indicated for the orthopedic medicine market but everyone should know about Silipos because they manufacture medical-grade silicone gel that cure a thousand ills (and then some).  Personally, I absolutely LOVE Silipos for the one product that I have used for years:  their adhesive gel squares.  One little piece of it provides hours of much-needed relief and allows me to walk pain-free for hours and miles, on end.  But they’re not only good for me as I can imagine the wonders they’d work for people dealing with bony prominences, bone spurs, or similar orthopedic-related issues.  Seriously, these things are little silicone gel pieces of heaven so much so that  keep extra supplies in my suitcase when I travel the world.

Brandeburg Gate, BerlinIn fact, I discovered just how fabulously multi-functional these things were when I was on a recent trip to Berlin.  Although I know better, I decided to wear some relatively new boots while traveling across the pond and hoofing through Schipol.  And by the time I got to my hotel room in Berlin,  I had developed one of those, I-know-I-shouldn’t-have-have-worn-those-boots blisters.  You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?

With the next day being my only day to explore before my work-week began and it Otto Bock Science Center, Berlinbeing my first time to Berlin, I desperately wanted to explore the city.  While band-aids weren’t doing anything to help reduce the nauseating blister pain, I immediately thought to try a piece of the extra Silipos that I had in my travel-kit.  Prepped with pain-numbing Neosporin (another travel-kit mainstay, by the way), I carefully taped the Silipos pad on my heel; donned my well-worn Tod’s walking shoes; borrowed an walking-stick type umbrella; and set off to see the sights of Berlin.

American Sector, BerlinAnd low and behold, it worked!  It didn’t completely relieve the pain but it do so enough that I was able to spend the next 4-5 hours walking from the Brandenburg gate to Check Point Charlie to the remains of the Berlin Wall, albeit with the use of a hop-on-hop-off bus.

Check-Point Charlie, Berlin

So, knowing how well the Silipos pads worked for my blister, I was THRILLED to see these little ditties: the GeLuscious Heelmate pads.  Of course, I already put a packet in my travel-kit and am ready to set off on my next adventure knowing that, should I need them, they’ll do the trick.

Sometimes, being fashionable really means being functional and comfortable, at the same time doesn’t it?       530999_3364845771679_923101186_n