MILLIONS of immigrants had come to the United States; people on business, special delegates, and tourists had visited here; but never had a group of foreign high school and college boys been headed for the Atlantic shore to be honorary guests of private American families. This privilege was reserved for a group of sixty-one Danish boys and their three leaders, who landed in New York in the summer of 1928; and it was granted once more to a group of sixty Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish boys and their two leaders, who visited the United States in 1929. In less than thirty six hours after their arrival they were scattered over the United States singly or in pairs. Cards and letters poured into the MY FRIEND ABROAD office, carrying the message "Safely arrived," and each gave the name of one of dozens of cities, towns, or villages. This part of the message, however, was the least important. It merely proved that the railroad-.service of the United States was good and that the office machinery for distributing the guests worked satisfactorily. More important were the comments about the people of the different places. Did they tell that everything was turning out as expected, or had optimism led the director astray? Would it have been better never to have undertaken the arrangement of hospitality visits to America? The six weeks in the private homes would tell.
The crossings from Copenhagen to New York had given the members of the parties time to prepare themselves for landing in America. First was the matter of language. Of course, every boy had taken English at school. Most of them had had four years of it, and the graduates of high schools had had six. But would their reading knowledge of Kipling, Jack London, and Shakespeare, and their ability to carry on classroom conversation on literary matters, do in dining rooms and at bridge tables? Their voluntary attendance at English classes on board proved that they had their doubts, and they were eager to learn useful words and phrases from the group leaders. The, attendance was good also at the talks which were given about American conditions. Two of the leaders were familiar with American life and were glad to enlighten boys who knew only what they had picked up from magazines, newspapers, and whatever rumors they had heard. Fellow passengers listened in on the talks---among them such distinguished people as Mr. C. Th. Zahle, the Attorney General of the Danish Cabinet, who was on his way to study American prison conditions. He may have wondered how the boys would represent Denmark. It is to be hoped that he was confident, particularly in view of the reputation which Danes have in the United States. "You can be proud of your fellow countrymen," an American once said to the writer. "The Danes are very good citizens; hardly any of them are in jail." This was meant as a compliment; but would this success in keeping out of prison insure the success of the boys in private homes? Many of them prepared short talks in English on special subjects, such as Schools Abroad, Danish Farming, Rotary Clubs, etc. The practice of community singing also added a little cultural touch to their make-up. It was more fun, however, to accept the invitation of Captain Voldborg to study the running of the liner from the bridge, and the invitation from the chief engineer to investigate the engines and lend a hand with the stoking. There was plenty to do, for the wielders of the pen put out a news sheet and wrote songs, while a bridge tournament occupied the sociable but less ambitious. The energy of some seemed unlimited, and the night steward had his hands full trying to calm down a group of the younger boys, who probably never imagined that they were disturbing anyone by roaming around the corridors staging battles with water and yells as their chief ammunition. "Bad boys," certain adults would say, because they are so ignorant as to judge young people superficially; but it may be well that the American families heard nothing about these nightly pranks or they might have regretted that they ever invited the boys.
The Statue of Liberty on the background of the New York sky line! It took their breath away and filled them with promises of wonders and adventures in a world of technical skill. They were trembling with excitement as the steamer slowly passed up the Hudson and landed at the Hoboken pier, marked with the big sign of the Scandinavian-American Line. The gangplanks swung into place, and they filed down and set foot on land. Finally they were in America!
Their first wonder was that so many people on the pier spoke Danish. Attracted by a great deal of publicity in Nordlyset, the New York Danish paper, American citizens of Danish descent had flocked to meet the steamer. They were curious and they were enthusiastic. It was the first time a group of Danish boys had come to the United States, and it was the largest group of visitors who had ever come from Denmark. Although the boys came as the guests of purely American families, the Danish-Americans felt that they brought a message from the old country, and they wanted to be among the first to greet them. Mr. Georg Bech, the Danish Consul General, accompanied by several newspaper men and press photographers, had already greeted them out in the harbor, and on the pier elated Danes rushed up to them, shook hands, and asked questions. "Was this America?" the boys might well ask, since the Danish tongue in its many dialects reminded them of the different sections of Denmark. America was right outside the pier, however, in the shape of three big busses lined by a squad of traffic policemen. What sounds as the sirens of the motorcycles cleared the way through Hoboken, piercing the silence of the Holland tunnel, and what sights as the procession emerged at the feet of the skyscrapers of Manhattan, dashing along one-way streets in the wrong direction and halting in front of City Hall! New Yorkers clustered around and saw the group file up the steps into the very room where Lindbergh, Queen Marie of Roumania, and other notables on their arrival in America had disappeared for the very same reason for which these foreign boys had come---to be received by the Mayor of the City. This was America--the ever-flowing traffic, the masses on Broadway, the canyons among mountains of buildings, the America which they had seen on the front pages of the papers at home; but they had never imagined that it would open up to them like this. After all, were they not just regular Danish boys, who had not done anything extraordinary? Mr. Joseph V. McKee, the Honorable Mayor of New York City, felt differently. In his message of welcome he pointed out what a fine example they had set by coming in search of friendships, and how happy the Americans were to receive them. Mr. John Larsen, the group leader, replied just as cordially, and the Mayor's surprise was obvious as the group followed his speech with the singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner." He had not expected to hear foreign boys handle his national anthem in such fine English.
"But how does your own national anthem sound?" he asked, and the tune and words of "There Is a Charming Land" echoed through the corridors and way out into the square, where curious spectators still wondered who the boys were as they came out and had their picture taken with the Mayor. "They are here to look for friends among Americans," was the reply, but it did not make the man on the street any wiser. He had never heard that regular foreigners came to America except to look for jobs.
At the MY FRIEND ABROAD headquarters at the Hotel Commodore a group of parents was waiting impatiently, and their eyes beamed as the boys entered. So this was what Scandinavian boys looked like! Then came the moment when, for the first time, American families extended their welcome to boy guests from abroad. Mr. Louis F. Reed, chairman of the American committee, could do that better than anyone else. From personal experience in Denmark, where his two boys had been entertained the previous year, he knew what he was talking about as he greeted the guests and assured them that they would find friends everywhere. So did Mr. Clayton H. Ernst, the President of the Open Road Publishing Company. The waiting parents, however, were impatient. They were the host families, many of whom had come from far and near to New York, and were eager to dash across the floor, grasp the hands of their particular guests, and take them to their homes. The office staff worked fast in distributing the group, and before long automobiles and trains were on their way to dozens of destinations all over America, with expectant boys in search of friends.
The first lap of their many movements over a continent gave them merely a taste of what was to follow, though they felt it was a big mouthful to be headed for Philadelphia or Buffalo or Baltimore. One group was headed for Boston, and in ordinary American style; although it was little less than a wonder to six boys to glide up Fifth Avenue in a seven-passenger Cadillac among hundreds of automobiles, through Harlem's masses of colored people, and in a few hours' time to be dashing along the Old Boston Post Road at one hundred kilometers an hour. "Open it up wide," they gasped, as they stared down the straight cement road wide enough for six cars abreast, so typical of America's change from the colonial days of coaches to modern mechanical swiftness. They were already getting the American bug of speed into their systems. A stop at Yale showed them that an American university is not just one immense structure, but a whole maze of large buildings; and the ride along the shore, with glimpses of the ocean and dozens of cosy villages, recalled the days when Indians were a menace to the daring colonists. Both the Indians and the colonists were now of the past. Their places had been taken by vacationists having elaborate residences in the woods, and owning luxurious yachts in the bays and inlets. Their trip ended up in the Hub, as Americans call Boston; and when they met the host families who were there to receive them, they had already seen four hundred kilometers of America. Little did they realize that it was just a fraction of what was going to come.
Out in the Middle West one family was waiting to pick up its guest. He had started from New York City with a railroad ticket, and a little card with the words: "Change in Chicago, take train such and such, and you arrive at -----." Where? At a railroad platform in Omaha, :Nebraska, where the family was waiting for him, waving a small Danish flag which their son had brought back from his visit to Denmark the previous year. Who would ever doubt that a ticket and a few names and train times were not sufficient information for a bright fellow from Aalborg to make a forty-eight hours' trip across the American continent? Every single one of the one hundred and twenty-two boys and their five leaders found their way to the homes.
In 1928 and 1929, two hundred and thirteen individual families in 137 communities in 29 States entertained the boys for an average of two weeks each. It is no wonder that the impressions which were left with the individual boys were so varied that an account of them is like a chapter of American life at its best. It is hopeless to try to give all the individual experiences. The most one can hope to do is to sum up the general impression.
Mr. Marion Letcher, the Consul General of the United States to Copenhagen, had offered a prize for the best story by the 1928 group members. The stories were judged by a committee consisting of Mr. Axel Gerfalk, the Associated Press correspondent in Copenhagen, Mr. A. J. Poulsen, head of the press department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark; and Dr. Vincent Næser, president of the International Students Association. The winner was Christian Toftemark, student of medicine, whose story was printed in the Berlingske Tidende, the largest Copenhagen daily. In translation it is given here in part.
A DANISH UNDERGRADUATE'S STORY
"A dozen of us were headed for Philadelphia. We were in a hurry, and went on the double-quick down 42nd Street---no easy job during the rush hour. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry. People dashed home from work, probably dead tired, and minding their own business. The subway was still worse. There was no time to be polite; it was each man for himself. The only problem was to get your strap. We struggled as best we could and reached the marvellous Pennsylvania station, and with great relief sank down into the soft cushions of our train.
"This was a remarkable ride because of the peculiar manners of the Americans. As soon as they were seated, they took off their coats, unbuttoned their collars, and made themselves as comfortable as possible. This suited us perfectly, and we were not slow in adopting the custom. All along the tracks were manufacturing plants, and here and there clusters of dirty-looking houses. Nowhere did we see forests, and there were only a few fields.
"In Philadelphia we were met by our hosts and hostesses. After a delightful motor ride through Fairmount Park, I reached my home for the next two weeks, 'Rose Valley.' It took an incredibly short time to feel perfectly at home there. This was entirely due to the unique hospitality of my host and hostess. In spite of the difference in architecture, I was immediately charmed by the spacious, airy rooms without wall paper, but with lots of light and with free access from room to room. There were no doors, no heavy curtains. All the rooms formed a unit of friendly charm. And the fireplace was perfect on a rainy day. The kitchen and the breakfast room were a pleasant surprise, both so bright that I was tempted to spend most of my time there. There was nothing secluded about this American kitchen, as is the case at home.
"Everywhere I was met with the same hospitality that was shown to me in the private homes. As I am studying medicine, I was particularly interested in hospitals and their equipment. Everyone said: 'Come right in, put on the togs, and we will go down to the operating room.' The minute I expressed a desire to learn more about certain methods, I got a careful, patient explanation about what I wished to know. In the manufacturing plants, too, I found hospitality. There were signs of 'Visitors Welcome' everywhere. This is amazing to one who comes from a country where all industrial activities are guarded behind bars. I had an opportunity to visit a number of plants, paper mills, machine shops, dairies, and candy factories. In all places they were equally eager to explain the processes.
"After a couple of wonderful weeks, I was invited by the Rotary Club of Cincinnati, Ohio, to come there as a guest. Though I was sorry to leave the people whom I had learned to like so much on account of their straightforwardness and kind understanding of all that is so, difficult to a stranger, I was delighted to get an opportunity to visit in the Middle West.
"After a night on the train, I reached Cincinnati. A number of Boy Scouts met me and escorted me to the Rotarians, and the following three weeks I had the best time imaginable in their homes. I was shown hospitals, manufacturing plants, the university, and other places of interest. I had only to express a wish and it was granted. For a few days I visited a Boy Scout camp. It was a wonderful place. I became quite envious. I discovered that the parents look upon the Boy Scout movement as a real factor in the education of their boys, whereas at home many people look upon it rather as play.
"I visited churches, too. There is a big difference between church life in America and Denmark. There seems to be just as big a difference, though, between the various churches. At Philadelphia, I attended a most inspiring Quaker Meeting, and at another church the minister suggested that the men take off their coats on account of the heat, a very appropriate suggestion indeed.
"The days skipped by too quickly, The moment came too soon when I had to leave my new friends. By now I had learned a lot about Rotary. I had found that a great number of the members were idealists who worked for a great cause. I am sure that there are more excellent men within Rotary than in any other large organization. From the city on the seven hills by the yellow Ohio River, I moved northeast to Niagara Falls. Its greatness overwhelmed me completely.
"Our departure for home was drawing near. Again I was in whirling New York. This time, however, it was easier to get around. I had become accustomed to American ways, and I enjoyed myself thoroughly. Soon we were waving good-bye to our American friends on the pier, waving farewell to the Statue of Liberty, the last representative of American girlhood, and America was lost to sight.
"My expectations had been high, also my skepticism. You read so many things in papers; you meet so many tourists abroad who do not appeal to you; and you form a picture in your mind of the United States that does not attract you. I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did everything come up to my expectations but all my skepticism was dispelled."
This is just one out of one hundred and twenty-seven individual reports, and at that it is very short; but it led to the conclusion that the Americans were wonderful to their guests. A few words were enough to convey that impression, such as these from another boy (age 17) : "After a wonderful stay in Fort Wayne, Indiana, I have arrived at my next home in Chicago, and everything is fine"; or these: "The success is a fact, and it is even established by the public and the press. Our stay in Westfield, Massachusetts, turned out as successful as our visit in Hartford, Connecticut. The family were wonderful people, and I have, as in Hartford, found a dear friend in the son. We are now in our third home and we have had countless experiences--Atlantic City illuminated, a visit to the convention hall with 41,000 seats, the Graf Zeppelin at dusk over New York City and later in its Lakehurst hangar, the New York Stock Exchange when the confusion was at its peak, the big museums, shaking hands with the Governor of New Jersey, a military parade with a hundred-man band; and what is the best, every day we have enjoyed the cosiness of American family life." (Age 19.)
From Salisbury, North Carolina, came this report: "I have had a wonderful time so far, and it is still better here. Never in all my life have I met so much kindness, helpfulness, and hospitality as with Americans. At my host's in Vineland, New Jersey, it was wonderful. At first I didn't like the food, which was the case with many of the other boys, I suppose. The family and their friends were overwhelmingly nice. There wasn't much to the town itself, and the surroundings were flat and uninteresting, but that didn't matter, because most of the time we were away at different places. We were on motor trips to Baltimore; Washington, D.C.; Atlantic City; Philadelphia, and to other places in Maryland and New Jersey. At present I am in Salisbury, North Carolina. If I had a good time in Vineland, I don't know what words to use about Salisbury. People are fighting about us, and we are not allowed to stay with one family. We are going to be with all of them. Today we moved to another host, and Saturday we are going to move to a third family, who have a home up in the mountains, and Monday to a fourth family, and so on until we leave. We are entertained at parties, picnics, theaters, motor and boat trips every evening. All day we run around in automobiles, go swimming, and play golf and tennis and so forth. I suppose you want to know what 'and so forth' means. It means chiefly drugstores, where we spend a great deal of time. And the other day we met a man who owns a laundry, and now he is taking care of our washing free of charge!" (Age 16.)
These comments from another boy are very personal: "Everything is tiptop, and I am exceedingly satisfied with my visit with the family here in Allenhurst, New Jersey. If I am going to be just as happy about my third family as I am with the present one, and was with my stay in Pennsylvania, my trip to America is way above expectations. The change from the Pennsylvania home is striking. It was, as my host expressed it, a typical American middle-class home, and as the family were Quakers their home was simple but comfortable, and they had a definite aim in life. My present home is bordering on the realm of millionaire life. The host is of Latin-American ancestry and his extremely attractive wife of old English nobility. Consequently, there is a flavor of old culture about the family. The surroundings are extravagant, with elaborately furnished residences, and it is a treat to be able to take a dip in the ocean two or three times a day." A week later his comments on his last home in Waterbury, Connecticut, said: "In this our third home my brother and I are just as happy as we were in the former two homes. The family are doing everything to entertain us in the finest manner, so we have very little time for writing letters" (age 20).
If ever guests did, these boys got close to American family life. Their experiences put together would give a composite picture of up-to-date Americans at home and at work, expressing all their individual variety and differences. It might easily have confused the boys and made their stay embarrassing, if their tact had not carried them over many difficulties. This was put most intelligently by one of the boys;
"I am very happy that I have seen three different sides of American culture. I have been in a very rich home---as far as I could judge---in Massachusetts, which was fully and pleasantly cultured and comfortable, although it happened that we had luncheon in shirtsleeves. Then I was in a physician's home in New York State, the most cultured home I have ever seen, either in Europe or the United States. I shall not forget how I appeared at the breakfast table in shirtsleeves one of the first days. I dare say that I rushed up and put on a coat. One was the recognized business man and the other the esteemed doctor. But as you say, it is necessary to get to know the contrast, and I regret the nonsense which I wrote in my last letter, because my present host family is doing everything to entertain me and I enjoy it, but it isn't unusual that daddy appears at dinner without even a collar. On the other hand, they have introduced me to one of their friends who is a financier and somewhat of an author and who is most interested in literature. I stayed overnight with his family at their lake cottage and had an extremely enjoyable time---and with coats on" (age 18).
Crisscrossing America, singly or in pairs, they got into almost every nook and corner. Two were dropped from the steamer at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and got into a summer home in the Canadian woods, with canoeing, fishing, camping, and mosquitoes. Their next stop was at a fashionable summer resort on an island off the coast of Massachusetts, and they finished up in an industrial city in New England. Two stayed in a home in Jewett City, Connecticut, where the family program included a motor trip to Chicago and a return ride by Cleveland, Ohio, to Niagara Falls, Canada, and along the Hudson River back to the Connecticut fireplace, a distance of almost four thousand kilometers. A couple started out in a Long Island residence with riding horses and speedboats, turned south to Macon, Georgia, with cotton plantations and Negroes, and continued to West Palm Beach, Florida. Two others began their migrating in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, moved .to Oblong, Illinois, and finished in Tulsa, Oklahoma, way out west beyond the Mississippi River.
Their movements acquainted them with the ordinary means of American transportation, the railroads and the busses---and what quaint experiences! Just think of the Pullman sleepers, and the custom of having men and women sleep in public, as one of them put it, with only a curtain to protect their privacy! And the busses, with their sign: "From Coast to Coast"! No wonder that the flow of traffic confused them a little and made them think that it was an easy matter to reach any place, particularly because distances looked so short on maps. An otherwise sensible seventeen-year-old boy one day said to his host in North Tonawanda, near Buffalo, New York: "Why don't we run over and see the Rocky Mountains over the week-end?" The big family cars were in the garage, and they dashed everywhere; so why not the Rocky Mountains? They became crazy about motoring, and many a boy who had never been at a wheel before learned how to drive, or almost to drive. It is said that a young tree is missing in a certain garden because a certain Danish boy was at the wheel. It struck them as unusual that no one used bicycles---that is no one but messenger boys, and kids pedaling around on the sidewalks. The funniest thing was to find a newspaper item about a college girl who had made a six-hour trip on bicycle. There was not one among the one hundred and twenty-seven Scandinavian guests who did not own a bicycle at home, and spend days and weeks on it. One thing was entirely out of the question during their stay-walking. As one boy said: "Even when I wanted to run down to the corner to mail a letter, my host said: 'Let's take the car!"' Everything was within their reach in motorcars, and everything could be seen from them, although this statement was contradicted by one of the leaders. His host family whisked him to all kinds of places, most often with the son of the family at the wheel. "We went out one way and came back another; but what difference did it make? They all looked alike to me at seventy kilometers an hour," he said.
To younger eyes, however, America unfolded in all its variety and its scenic splendor, spread out before them from the Atlantic coast to the plains of the Mississippi, and from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico; and after six weeks' stay, when they studied the map of the United States, every one of them could point out the high spots. One would describe the old slave market of New Orleans, another the wheat fields of the West, a third the lakes and rivers way down East, and a fourth the virgin forests of the great Northwest. America was no longer just a map, but a living geographic organism, and all the black dots were so many bustling cities with industrial plants, skyscrapers, and miles of roaring streets. Above all, in all these cities were homes, with people whom they knew intimately and who created living values for what before had been just so many indifferent geographical names.
Every one of them could relate incidents which made the places unforgettable. There were the two boys who were called to the telephone and ----. Let us begin, however, with what happened at the other end of the line. It was in Copenhagen, where the writer one evening was called up by the leading oil magnate of Denmark, who in a somewhat worried tone asked what could be the matter with his boy. A telephone call had been announced from America. Imagine his relief when the call came through and a voice said: "Hello, Dad, it's me in Kansas City, Missouri. How are you? I'm having a grand time!" The connection was arranged by the Rotarians right at their noon luncheon, at which the lad in question and another Danish boy were guests. It should be added that while he had luncheon in Kansas City, his Dad had supper in Copenhagen. That smart Rotary stunt certainly added a great deal of excitement to both meals, but for a while it had a big business man worried.
At present there are two boys in Denmark who live in great hopes that they will strike oil in a certain place in Oklahoma. They were guests of the Tulsa Rotary Club, and each of them was presented with the deeds for ten acres of prairie land. If oil is struck there, they will probably dash right back and revisit the Indian tribe, and shake hands with the great chief who received them with feathers and moccasins and all his other paraphernalia. They had better luck than the boys in the East. One of them did meet an Indian, but the Cooper romance disappeared when the good Redskin was found fixing a flat tire on his old Ford.
If big Indian chiefs were "the thing" out West, the big white chiefs were in the path of the boys in the East---that is, when they were as fortunate as the four boys who were entertained in Springfield, Massachusetts. Their big day was when their hosts took them to the home of ex-President Coolidge, where he was waiting for them on his front porch. The newspapers reported that Mr. Calvin Coolidge chatted with them for fifteen minutes and appeared greatly interested in the hospitality trip, and at their departure not only wished them an enjoyable time while in America, but also posed with them for a picture and wrote his name in their autograph books. One paper added that the boys showed none of the shyness that might be expected at meeting so famous a man. The reason may be that boys in general have little awe for political fame and do not grasp the importance of statesmanship. Give them an hour with an inventor, however, and you will see them in their real element. Imagine the thrill when four boys were taken to the greatest of the great, Thomas A. Edison. With awe and reverence they crossed the threshold to his inner sanctum, the very workshop where he was occupied with the invention of synthetic rubber, and yet found time to chat with foreign boys whose eyes were glued to his lips! His words sounded to them like a voice from heaven. Here was something to brag about in the group. Who could beat that luck? They thought that they had had an even greater privilege than Mr. Henrik Madsen, one of the leaders of the 1929 group, who in honor of the boys and their nation was received at the White House and was asked by President Hoover to explain about the MY FRIEND ABROAD hospitality interchange.
Everything opened up to the foreign guests. After all, they were foreigners, although their hosts and hostesses and their friends treated them like long-lost sons. From reports of their own sons who had been in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden as guests the previous years, they knew, of course, that they could expect educated boys with manners, but that foreign manners differ from American behavior. How would they fit into social life? The Scandinavian boys would, for instance, constantly lift their hats, click their heels, and shake hands with every person they met. This amused the Americans, used as they were to raising a finger to their hats, saying hello, and leaving their hands alone. Others, and particularly mothers, took it seriously and liked it, as one hostess who said: "Aren't they polite? They lift their hats even to the Italian in the market. They are charming!" Who would ever expect to hear such words about foreigners in the United States? The same mother, of course, thought that the politeness was a little awkward when the boys stepped up after meals and shook hands with her. She did not know that it was simply an old Scandinavian custom. Another little difficulty came from the fact that the boys were used to taking everything literally. To them a word was a word, and not just an expression of politeness. And had they not reason to believe that the same was the case with Americans? Many of the American boys abroad had said: "You must come over and visit us next year," and here they were, right in their homes. Of course the Americans meant what they said. But just the same, at times the language would fool them a little. There was the boy who stepped down from a trolley car and was unfortunate enough to step on the toe of his hostess. Of course, he lifted his hat, bowed, and in his very best English said; "I beg your pardon." "Don't mention it," replied the hostess, whereupon the boy immediately answered, "I won't." Another polite idiom played a trick on them. It was the phrase, "You must come and see us again." Little did the boys know that customarily it means just a very polite good-bye. They took it for an invitation, and many of the hosts and hostesses meant it as that. Consequently, the MY FRIEND ABROAD staff had quite a time moving the boys around to the different homes. Every so often the office received this message: "Our family wants us to stay or come back later," and the inevitable reply was: "You must go on; your next family wants you just as much."
Time after time the boys were interviewed by newspaper reporters, and their comments in print were just as boyish and frank as in their letters. A woman reporter in Buffalo got hold of two boys. Her conversation with them is typical.
"Two Danish boys---young, lively, full of curiosity---are visiting America for the first time. What things here please them most? 'Your ice cream,' answers Mogens Pedersen the younger of the two. 'It is much better than ours.' 'Niagara Falls,' says Ole Eberth, 'it is finer than I had ever expected it to be.' Both Ole and Mogens are pleased at the opportunity of viewing this strange place---the United States---for themselves. Word had reached them of fantastic goings-on hereabouts.
"Was not every person in ten, for example, a member of that peculiar order, the Ku-Klux Klan, and wont therefore to appear in the streets in sheet-and-pillow-case attire? And what about these monkey trials, these marathon dances, these mammoth murder trials? Were these not America? But they had not the idea that Indians and cowboys customarily cavort in the streets of New York City.
" 'Oh, that!' retorted Ole when such a question was put to him. 'That .is what we call an American newspaper story. We know better than that.' Mogens had his answers to questions all ready. They were simple, direct, and evidently heartfelt. He likes the United States 'very much.' He agrees with Ole that it looks as he had thought it would. 'The tall buildings in New York are just as tall as in moving pictures. The things I had not heard about---well---.' He is enthusiastic about ice cream, watermelon, and American neckties. Social life here is the same as in Denmark. The dance steps, for example, and the way dances are conducted, are no different. He had been playing tennis and riding horseback, just as he does at home.
"Ole's reactions are not so simple. He is too courteous to criticize American things and too candid to praise them. 'Your countryside is beautiful---but not the cities,' said Ole. 'Is not New York a beautiful city?' 'I think it is a dirty city. But the energy, the vitality, the life that is there---I feel it when I go into the city---that is beautiful.' What impressed them most in New York City? 'The museum---the Metropolitan museum,' answers Ole. 'Fifth Avenue,' says Mogens. 'Oh, on Fifth Avenue the traffic is too slow,' argued Ole. 'I could have walked down it quicker than we drove.'
"Ole's father is a lawyer in Copenhagen, and Mogens' father is a business man---an importer of feed---in Aarhus, and has a branch in New Orleans. Mogens says: 'I think I would like to come back here for a while, maybe to stay.' Ole, too, would like to come again, either to take postgraduate work in law at a university or to work in a law office. But Denmark is the place of his affections. It is so old, so serene and well ordered. 'There is so much that is nice in Denmark,' he says, not boastfully, but apologetically, because he cannot, like Mogens, wish to remain here always.
"With Mason Smith, who is a popular and likable boy, these two have been sharing as guests of Mason's parents all the excitement of summer amusements, as youthful American boys enjoy them. There have been dances and parties aplenty. And flappers, of course! But on the subject of American girls, even the open Mogens refuses to speak for publication. The subject was tossed like a ball among the three of them, Mason, Mogens and Ole, each accusing the other of being the sheik of sheiks!"
Discussions like this conversation were carried on wherever the boys visited, particularly in the homes, where they could be still more intimate. The more they came to know the people, the franker they could be, and they could, have many ideas corrected. Gradually they found out that the Eighteenth Amendment meant prohibition of manufacturing and transport of liquor, but not of having it at dinner; that the emancipation of the Negroes did not mean equality between the white and the colored races, as they had been taught in schools abroad; and that few Americans were like "Mr. Babbitt." But how could they have known if they had not come to see for themselves? They would have been like a certain attorney-at-law in a provincial Danish town. He was well read and followed what was going on in the world through the newspapers and in books. The Sacco-Vanzetti case, the Tennessee monkey trial, Sinclair Lewis's "Main Street" had shaped and confirmed his opinion of America and Americans. Then he became host to two American boys and stated his opinion about America, much to the surprise of his two guests. And one of them said: "If that is the way authors describe my country, I am going back to kill all those guys who write books." "I'll go with you and see you do it," said the host, who simply had to see with his own eyes that there was another America than the one which he had found in literature. He accompanied the boys back, visited their homes, met their families, and learned that America on paper is different from the real America.
But what is the real America? Does it consist of the public problems of prohibition, differences in race, incidental murders, squabbles between different religious denominations, or certain manufacturers' unscrupulous treatment of their employees? Is it the description which sarcastic authors give of organizations of "joiners"? If that is America, then Denmark is a bunch of butter-and-egg men, Norway a nation of sardine-packers, Sweden a people ruled by a match king, Germany an army of militarists, France a mass of tip-getters, Italy of subway diggers, and England of funny jolly fellows with monocles. Only the most superficial people will ever accept such generalizations, however often they are presented in print and repeated in flippant conversations; and the more the boys saw of America, the more they discovered what they had never known. This is evident from the sights and happenings which impressed themselves most deeply upon their minds. Half-a-dozen samples are sufficient to indicate the pleasant variety of their experiences, as a contrast to the stereotype picture:
"Among my numerous interesting and educational experiences in America, it is difficult to prefer one to another without being unjust. I must, however, mention my climb of Mount Washington. Three Americans and we two Danish boys started from the Appalachian Mountain Club, two thousand feet above sea level. At a height of about three thousand feet we came into the clouds, which rushed by at a terrific speed. The temperature got below the freezing point, and at five thousand feet we found the first snow. The wind shook us so that we could hardly keep erect; the cold was biting our noses, ears, and hands, and rain and hail soaked us right through, while the fog clouded our view. Finally, after four hours' struggling, we reached the summit house---at an elevation of 6,293 feet---a veritably luxurious hotel, covered by snow and ice and chained to the rock." (Age 18.)
"My two most outstanding experiences, I suppose, were my airplane flight around Graf Zeppelin, and my visit with Thomas A. Edison." (Age 19.)
"It is hardly fair to give preference to a single experience, but I shall choose my boat trip along the Atlantic coast. It started with a meal, and I shall never forget my first shore dinner. My first thought was that 'there ain't no such animals,' or anyhow not so many at one meal. There was clam chowder, steamed clams, hard-shell clams, and soft-shell crabs, and then oysters and lobsters. Even with a good cigar as dessert, it was too much for an ordinary stomach. On the ocean we saw the catching of swordfish. It is a regular game of art, and is undertaken from specially built boats and with harpoons. On the return trip a gale came up, and the Atlantic waves forced the ladies of the party to pay tribute to Neptune. We passed islands which reminded one of Treasure Island or a stretch of the Swedish shore, all according to one's imagination." (Age 16.)
"I spent a whole day with the highway superintendent on road inspection, and on this trip I saw most of the State of Connecticut and at the same time studied American road-building. My host and hostess and their three sons made my stay one continuous glorious experience, full of wonderful motor trips. One of them was along the Hudson to West Point, the American military college. We were ferried across the river, and when we returned to Windsor we had covered 450 kilometers; and my host, who was an excellent driver, had been at the wheel all the time." (Age 18.)
These incidents are not any more real than what is recorded in newspapers and books. Are they more typical? Unquestionably, because it must be remembered that back of each of them was an American family, that two hundred or more families were giving their guests similar experiences, and that there were thousands upon thousands who could have presented America in like manner if they had had the opportunity. No sensible person will deny that such incidents in daily life represent American activities more fully. It is granted that they are not so colorful as newspaper stories, nor so amusing as sarcastic novels; but nobody will blame America for having millions of good people for every Al Capone and thousands of equally good streets for the one well-known Main Street. The public must be satisfied with having a couple of hundred gangsters for its front pages and being given a few amusing characters as heroes of novels, but can hardly expect to hear much about the one hundred and twenty-five million normal Americans.
In view of this, it is so much more interesting that the visit of the Scandinavian boys should become "front page stuff." Even the largest papers carried long stories about their visit, particularly in towns where larger groups happened to gather, as in Boston, Philadelphia, and Portland, Maine. Naturally, it flattered the boys a great deal that they attracted so much attention, and they overlooked small errors in interviews. One of these stated that they took five foreign languages at school---which was correct; but when it said "and they are able to talk French and Latin," the boys were relieved that there were no Ciceros on hand to test them.
In Boston, the Rotary Club's extensive program for twenty boys was spread through the daily papers. Some of the guests lived near the city in private homes; others were put up in a twenty-story hotel, and every day there was something on. Big busses took them to gigantic manufacturing plants like the General Electric Works, and to immense ice-cream factories. A visit was paid to Gloucester, one of the old Atlantic fishing villages, with its fish-freezing plants, and evenings were spent in the luxurious movie theaters. They were taken to the place where the Mayflower Pilgrims stepped ashore on the famous Plymouth Rock, now behind an iron fence and visited annually by tens of thousands of Americans. They were received officially by the Mayor of Boston and even by Mr. Alvan T. Fuller, the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, who was so pleased by their first short visit that he invited them to visit him at his private estate. They were treated with all the honor and esteem which is due the most distinguished guests, but it did not go to their heads at all. On the contrary, it corrected whatever distorted opinions they had of Americans, and this in spite of the fact that they were in the state of Sacco and Vanzetti, the only two citizens of Massachusetts they had ever heard of. In spare hours they roamed about and found places familiar to them in their study of American history---the scene of the Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and the Old State House. They even discovered that Boston was different from other American cities when they got lost in its crooked streets, but that its present citizens were so pleasant that it seemed impossible that their ancestors could ever have been unfriendly, even to Englishmen. Were the Rotarians not cordial when three hundred of them, business and professional men, greeted them at their luncheon, and treated them as if they were so many celebrities, although they were just ordinary Danish boys? And were the families not kind when, after a day's full program, they took them to dinners and parties or to the beach resorts, with tens of thousands of men, women, and children in bathing suits gasping for a breath of sea air under the burning sun?
Here in Boston they made the same discovery as on the pier in New York---that there are others than Americans in the United States. For weeks they had been living with regular Americans and heard nothing but English spoken, but for one evening they were removed from that atmosphere. The Harvard Lodge of the Danish Brotherhood No. 87 took the occasion of their visit to Boston to invite them to a banquet. On this occasion they got a true impression of what Danish immigrants are like---how fond they still are of their native land, although all their energy is centered around their work as citizens of the country which they have chosen as the future home for their children. It gave both the boys and the Danish-Americans a chance to realize what unites and what separates immigrants and the modern Danish generation, and it contributed greatly to the visitors' picture of America.
The group in and around Philadelphia was entertained in a similar way. Here, again, everyone cooperated---the big concerns, the Rotary Clubs, the host families; and even the port officials contributed to the program, while the papers wrote it up. Hosts and guests together were taken on a trip down the Delaware River, and in their honor the harbor fire department gave a display. All kinds of big plants were opened up to them---locomotive works, radio factories, and textile plants. In a modern bank they inspected the underground vaults with their five-ton steel doors, and from its roof thirty stories up they looked out over a city of two million. With a great deal of reverence they gazed at the Liberty Bell in Independence Hall, now so old-fashioned, nestled in the midst of modern skyscrapers; and even the forty-foot statue of William Penn on top of City Hall looked tiny among gigantic structures. The only confusing thing was that Philadelphians called certain buildings old because they dated back a century or two; but nevertheless there was a certain historical atmosphere surrounding places where the Declaration of Independence had been signed and where Benjamin Franklin had started the Saturday Evening Post in 1728.
We could go on telling about similar programs for smaller groups in towns and cities all over twenty-eight states---in Macon, Georgia; in New Britain, Connecticut; and in Portland, Maine; about pairs in Cleveland, Ohio; Baltimore, Maryland; Newark, New Jersey; Albany, New York; Birmingham, Alabama; and New York City; about single boys in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Des Moines, Iowa; Ferriday, Louisiana; Vicksburg, Mississippi; Nashville, Tennessee; Racine, Wisconsin, and Greenville, South Carolina. History was mingled with business, geography with politics, and scenery with architecture; but whatever would be told would be alive with the activities of human beings---fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, relatives, friends, and all those people who make the wheels of a continent go round, the honest-to-goodness citizens who make America the beloved home of millions of patriotic inhabitants, as proud of their country as Danes and Norwegians and Swedes are of theirs.
Before leaving America, let us get away from the cities and home life and follow the boys on a path which rarely is followed by ordinary visitors, but which leads to parts of America which above all belong in the picture of the continent---the wilderness. On special invitation from twenty-one educators, it was made possible that the guests could spend on an average of two weeks in an environment which is as typical of modern American boy life as any feature---the boys' camps. Report after report proved how amazed the visitors were at the activities there. In each camp, from fifty to three hundred boy campers spend a whole summer in the open. Under the management of modern educators, the camp directors, they live in tents on the shores of lakes and rivers, learn to swim, handle canoes, follow trails through the woods, make bivouacs, cook, read the secrets of nature, and to survive without the tender care of overindulgent mothers. Many a boy who never has known that you can move except in automobiles over concrete roads or in Pullman cars discovers that the winding course of a river is the only way into the wilderness and that you do not move any faster in a canoe than the current and the rapids permit. Of course, this organized summer camp life is not as hard as the struggles of the colonists used to be; but it is a reminder of days when the main fight was against nature and only the strongest and hardiest survived. It is a call from the past, and a boy with any imagination can easily picture the days when the last of the Mohicans paddled away across the lakes in search of new hunting grounds unknown to the conquering whites. In these surroundings it is almost impossible to realize that, only a hundred miles away, there is the turmoil of traffic in the shadow of skyscrapers and the toil of laborers in the whirl of machinery. This is the land of the lonely settler, now turned into the playground of city boys. What schools can never hope to give the boys, the life in the open instills in them; and what teachers do not even dream of teaching, the camp directors and their young athletic assistants give them to enjoy---the appreciation of what Nature has given America.
It was a changed group of boys who gathered in New York to return to their homes abroad, changed in mind and in appearance. Six weeks ago they had arrived with their many notions, and not a single one had survived. Then they had been reserved, cautious, and on guard; now they looked free and easy, and almost smiled at their former selves. How had they ever believed all that they had heard about America, when it actually was so entirely unlike its reputation? How had it become a fable, when it was so much like other countries, and how had Americans come to be looked upon as a type when they were pronounced individuals? And whence came the idea that America had no family life, when they had been in hundreds of homes where people lived much as they did in their own homes? Every rumor seemed so ridiculous, viewed in the light of reality.
This was worth telling at home. But what if they were heard with the same doubt which meets most reports from America---except the bad ones---and people said: "That's just another American story," or "You have probably met with the exceptions"? Their only reply could be that, if so, one hundred and twenty-seven guests had met with exceptions in two hundred and thirteen private families, in twenty-one camps, and in twenty-one Rotary Clubs, in addition to hundreds of other places.
The send-off from New York was as cordial as the reception. This was primarily due to the Danish Americans. For the 1928 group, the New York Chapter of the Scandinavian-American Foundation even arranged for a special Farewell Party. The untiring and ever charming Baroness Dahlerup had made elaborate arrangements at the Hotel Plaza, and a distinguished number of former fellow countrymen and women gathered with the boys. Once again the Danish tongue was heard in all its dialects, though mostly in conversation. The committee had been smart enough to have all the formal speeches printed in a special newspaper, The Mid Nit Sun, Final Edition, Extra. There were cordial words from Baron Joost Dahlerup; James Creese, the Secretary of the Foundation, and Mrs. Estrid Ott, the popular Danish authoress, aside from column upon column of sketches about the boys' experiences. There was even a column with answers to a rather personal question. It read: "If given the choice, what would you take home with you in remembrance of your stay in America?" One answer was: "I have had my choice already. She is sailing on the next boat. Thank you! Børge Madsen." Which goes to prove that the boys had an eye for more than skyscrapers and automobiles. The particular "she" may even have been present among the leave-taking New Yorkers. Who could tell if she were in this crowd of lovely girls, who never before had had young Danes for partners on an American dance floor? It was a grand farewell, filled with joy, happiness, and also mutual gratitude for old and young. As it was expressed in an editorial in the paper: "You have countrymen in America, thousands of them, who somehow feel the same gratitude as you do, not only to your American hosts and hostesses, who so lavishly have entertained you during your visit, but also to the entire American nation for its hospitality and friendly feeling towards Denmark, a gratitude which will reach over the whole country from coast to coast."
It was difficult to tear themselves loose from a country which had taken such a hold on everyone, but the time was up and the steamer was waiting, and there is always a limit. This was realized by a certain boy as he saw the liner disappear down the Hudson while he was left behind on the Hoboken pier. Certain Danes may be slow and get there late, but they will catch up---he took the next steamer.
With the boys gone, only memories of them were left in America. Without mentioning names, a glance at the personal letters from the host families about their guests will show what kind of thoughts lingered after the visit was over. A few samples are typical:
"Entertaining the two Danish boys was a privilege that all of my family enjoyed thoroughly. Their visit was of real interest to us, and I feel that my children not only enjoyed but benefited by the association. The boys themselves were attractive and interesting and all of us took sincere pleasure in being with them." (Boys 18 years.)
"Now, about our own guest, I discovered that he was just a normal boy even as my own, that it was just as hard to get him up in the morning and to bed at night. He thoroughly enjoyed everything we did for him and was deeply appreciative. At the camp which he attended with my son he was made a member of the secret society, which I considered a signal honor, inasmuch as it takes a unanimous vote to choose a candidate. The campers worked overtime to give him what the boys call a postgraduate course in 'slanguage,' and when I went to get him the air was full of cheers and good-byes for John. He is now on the other side of the Atlantic, but we still feel that he is our 'Danish son'." (Boy 17 years.)
"My impression of the Danish boys' visit in general is most favorable and is based upon my frequent presentation of the idea to other men and their immediate and favorable reactions. The two boys who visited me made a real, permanent impression upon my family. They were choice young men, whose attitude toward everything was most delightful. They were keen and appreciative of any thought for them. We are having a most delightful correspondence with them and we value the friendship which exists by reason of their visit. I trust that other parties of Danish boys will be invited to America." (Boys 17 and 19 years.)
"Our own two guests we enjoyed immensely; in fact, I cannot remember a single point on which we felt disposed to criticize them. They were gentlemen in the fullest sense of the word, and our family became very fond of them. We have heard from them since their return home and they seem to feel that they had a profitable trip." (Boys 18 and 19 years.)
It would be difficult for the boys to convey to their parents at home, let alone outsiders, the amount of good will which was behind the sentiments with which their American hosts and hostesses saw them off and which they expressed in their letters to the MY FRIEND ABROAD office. So it may be fitting to quote just one letter which was received by a Danish family from their son's American hostess. It is given here in part:
"Dear Mrs. S.: Last summer my son went to Denmark and we watched eagerly for letters, and I know with what interest you look for your boy's return. Denmark has shown her good will by sending her boys here, and the United States her good will by receiving them. There is a deeper object in this exchange than that of one pleasant summer. There is a wish to establish a kindly understanding between our two countries, and I know of no better way than the one which has been taken. Parents of sixteen-year-old boys don't have to wait long to be parents of grown men. Dr. Knudsen probably realizes that when he chooses his boys, and he must see that we cannot become interested in the boys without developing a like feeling for their parents. So across the ocean goes to you and your husband this message of good will from Mr. N. and me."
There have been many remarkable receptions staged on Copenhagen piers, but few so lively as the one which was accorded to the groups of Danish boys, particularly the 1928 group. It happened that three hundred American boys were being entertained in the city, and they were all on hand at the arrival of the liner, besides several thousand Danish citizens and, of course, most of the parents whose boys were returning from the States. The city papers had reporters and photographers on the job, and Politiken, the leading liberal morning daily, had arranged a very clever stunt. It had announced the donation of a silver cup to the Danish high school boy who wrote the best account of the reception. Scores of stories were handed in, and the prizewinning one was printed the following morning and is given here in translation:
"Copenhagen yesterday was under the sign of happy returnings. Even the sun had returned from its summer resort way behind the rain clouds and afforded the home-coming students a glorious reception. When S.S. United States approached, a couple of thousand people were on hand. While the tug turned the liner, I threw a glance along the pier. The Copenhagen high school population, lovely blondes who had dressed with care in white and red, and young gentlemen in baggy plus-fours, were on the spot. The whole pier was filled with parents and their youngest offspring, whose eyes were beaming at the thought of the adventure from which their big brothers were returning. I noticed Sven V. Knudsen heading his American boys, who had lined up along the gangway.
"The ship's band was playing and the Americans gave their cheers: Rah, Rah, Rah---Rah, Rah, Rah---Rah, Rah, Rah---U. S.---U. S. ---U. S. A.! Fathers started a contest to see who could yell his boy's name the loudest. Kai's father won! Following 'There Is a Charming Land,' the group leader, Mr. John Larsen, led a cheer for the parents, their homes, and Denmark, and after a broadside from the press photographers disembarkation could begin; but Sven V. halted it and said:
'So many of us are gathered here that there is a reason that we unite in hope. It has been said about this idea of international hospitality which has now been carried through that it would never materialize. But it did, due to the faith of parents in boys. Let us hope that thousands of other boys will follow in the wake of these sixty-one and represent Denmark abroad just as well!'
"The procession filed down and parents and boys met. 'Have you received all our fifteen letters ?' 'No, only five.' 'Has it been a good trip ?' 'Sure!' I dashed forward and shook hands with my school chum, the correspondent to Politiken, and added my welcome home. The cars disappeared, the crowd scattered, and no one was disappointed except the ones who believed what conservative pedagogues maintained---that the boys would return completely demoralized!"
If they had been "demoralized" in America, it would have been noticeable in the newspapers, which were flooded with stories by the boys. Column upon column was published, excerpts from their diaries, personal letters, and feature stories. The city as well as the provincial papers ran them for weeks. There was not a phase of American life that was not presented exactly as it had been found, and not one particle of it was in line with the usual sensational reports.
But did they in their own homes show the bad effects of America? Letters from parents to the MY FRIEND ABROAD office can tell:
"It is our impression that our son has enjoyed a unique and grand hospitality in lovely and cultured families---a hospitality for which our gratitude has no words., Our boy has profited greatly by the trip and has returned matured and enriched." (Boy 18 years.)
"We feel that the trip and the arrangements for it were simply ideal. To our boy it will for the rest of his life stand out as a wonderful adventure, but maybe he has been particularly fortunate." (Boy 18 years.)
"My boy returned loaded with impressions, overwhelmed by what he had seen and by the grand hospitality with which he was met. He is filled with. admiration for the American people, and I have no doubt that even on a background of two years' previous stay in London, he has been enriched with knowledge and information which will be of inestimable advantage to him in the future." (Boy 20 years.)
"We sent off an overworked and tired school boy just after graduation, and an alert and enthusiastic young man was returned to us. The appearance of a boy had gone and a young man full of purpose stood before us. In letters of more than a hundred pages which we received from him from America, we noticed that he had developed and that he had been received by kind and wonderful people." (Boy 18 years.)
"If the other boys have had as excellent a host as my boy was fortunate enough to have, they have been lucky, indeed. He was entertained by a professor in Philadelphia in an extremely cultured family, where he felt at home at once, due to the loveliness of the whole, family, and he was adopted by them and by their friends as if he were one of their own. He has learned a lot during his visit, not only the language and other people's ways of living and thinking, but he has widened his horizon considerably through all that he has observed." (Boy 18 years.)
"Upon his return it was quite a change for him to be placed at once as an apprentice and to be required to do all the errands, according to the old-fashioned custom in a general store, but he has taken to this in a spirit which has amazed us. We were worried that all the comfort which the boys enjoyed in America might make it more difficult for him, but this seems far from the case." (Boy 16 years.)
The first thought of a return visit of boys from abroad had come up in the fall of 1927. American parents insisted that they should have an opportunity to reciprocate the hospitality which their boys had enjoyed in Denmark. It must have sounded peculiar when the leader of MY FRIEND ABROAD answered that it was hardly possible. It may have been a paradox, but it seemed a fact up to a few years ago that America was further away from Europe than Europe from America. To be sure, millions of immigrants had covered the distance, but to their relatives at home they had gone almost beyond reach and disappeared in a world outside the limits of steady, home-loving people. And who, aside from immigrants, ever went to America, except a few business men or special delegates to conventions and athletic contests? It was not the goal for ordinary citizens, not to mention educated sons of families who had their path in life mapped out within their own nations. Of course, once in a great while a young man would suddenly and secretly go off to America, and. everybody would ask questions about him, as happened with a young relative of the writer who came over from France. His acquaintances did not know that he had left only for a half-year's visit, and they immediately began worrying as to what could be the trouble with him. The "black sheep" of many a fine family had hurried off for America. What a pity that Fred had gone bad!
It was all very well to have American boys as guests abroad, as a member of a Swedish committee said, but there was just one thing he wanted to ask: "Would Swedish families have to send their boys to America in return?" He was not going to take any chances with his sons. Of course, he may have been thinking also of the length of time involved for a trip to America, for which the six weeks' summer vacation of Scandinavian schools would not do. He may have been thinking of the expense, which sounded reasonable enough when given in dollars, but looked different in native currency. Moreover, why go to America when there were so many wonderful places within easy reach on the European continent and in Great Britain ?
Is it to be wondered at that the leader almost invariably met American enthusiasm for a return visit with hesitancy. Of course, Scandinavian families would be most grateful for the kind thoughts behind invitations to visit America, but it was practically hopeless even to think of arranging for a trip. "But I shall lose my job if it isn't arranged," said the Consul General at Copenhagen, jokingly. "Don't you see, you must give the American parents a chance to reciprocate." It was a real problem, but it was solved by the perfect cooperation of the right people. In America all the preparations were in the hands of men who had been closely connected with the first visit to Denmark of American boys, primarily parents whose sons had been on the trip.
Mr. LOUIS F. REED, lawyer, New York, New York (chairman). Mr. CLAYTON II. ERNST, President Open Road Publishing Company, Boston, Massachusetts.
Mr. DONALD E. RUST, Vice-President Rust Craft Publishers, Boston, Massachusetts.
Mr. MASON M. SMITH, President Dock and Mill Wholesale Lumber Company, North Tonawanda, New York.
Mr. FRANCIS R. STRAWBRIDGE, President Strawbridge and Clothier, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Dr. SVEN V. KNUDSEN, Director, MY FRIEND ABROAD, Boston, Massachusetts, and Copenhagen, Denmark.
From this committee were extended, on behalf of the American parents, invitations for one hundred Danish boys to be entertained by private families in 1928, and for three hundred Scandinavian boys in 1929. The invitations aroused great excitement in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden; but the question was invariably how it was possible to accept them. It speaks highly for the ability of three small countries to organize even the most difficult matters that each year a group of over sixty boys did accept and made the trip. In 1928 all arrangements abroad were made by the people in whose hands the invitations were placed, the Rotary Clubs of Copenhagen and Aarhus, and the headmasters of the Danish Preparatory Schools. They cooperated closely and appointed a committee which took charge.
Hr. Rektor (headmaster of Government Preparatory School)
EINER ANDERSEN, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Hr. Dr. phil. Undervisningsinspektør for Gymnasieskolerne (Chief Supervisor of Government Preparatory Schools)
A. HØJBERG CHRISTENSEN, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Hr. Tandlægekonsulent (D. D. S.) (President of Rotary Club)
ERNST HADERUP, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Hr. Grosserer (wholesale merchant) (Rotary Club)
POUL HAMMERICH, Aarhus, Denmark.
Hr. Speditør (broker) (Rotary Club)
AAGE LARSEN, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Hr. Adjunkt, cand. mag. (master of Government Preparatory School) (Leader in charge of the group)
JOHAN LARSEN, Tønder, Denmark.
They selected boys from among sons of Rotarians, from families who had entertained American boys, and from among students of preparatory schools; and to everyone's surprise, matters were facilitated in the most extraordinary way. In the first place, an official notice was sent to all headmasters from the Chief Supervisor of Preparatory Schools that it would be agreeable to extend the summer vacation for the students who were selected for the invitations. In the second place, public opinion, as expressed in the newspapers, favored the trip; and in the third place, it was soon found out that a greater number of parents than had been anticipated wanted to and were able to give their boys the wonderful experience. The MY FRIEND ABROAD leader's remark to American parents that he would be pleasantly surprised if as many as ten Danish families would be able to accept the invitations was put to shame when sixty-one boys and three leaders were enrolled for the 1928 trip. In 1929 everyone was more familiar with what to expect, and the MY FRIEND ABROAD leader could handle all arrangements himself, organize the selection from Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish families and schools, appoint the leaders, and send a group of sixty boys and three men across the Atlantic.
It is doubtful, however, whether any boys would ever have visited from abroad if the Honorary American Committee had not arranged it so that the guests had only to pay their passage across the ocean to New York and back and a trifle for overhead expenses. Friends of the interchange, the parents, and Rotary Clubs donated thousands of dollars with which to defray all the expenses of transporting them while in America, and did so gladly, without putting the stigma of philanthropy upon the donation.
Of course, there remained the worries of the individual Scandinavian parents whose boys were going, and they were no less than the worries of American parents in sending their boys abroad. As had been the case in New York, farewell gatherings were arranged in Copenhagen, the first year in one of the schools and the next year in the University Club. Here they were soon put at ease by speeches, songs, and conversations---more easily, in fact, than the American parents, because most of the boys would be going directly into the families whose sons had been entertained in Scandinavia. This personal contact increased the feeling that, after all, America was not so awfully far away. Now it is very close---as close as friendship can bring it, and the boys who enjoyed the hospitality and their parents look upon it and talk of it as did the boy who stated to a newspaper reporter the difference between his native country and America, in these words: "Denmark is a small wonderful country, and America is a big wonderful country!"
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