Pictured, left to right are Jennifer Pippin, Mathilde Haugobo,Natalie Pippin, Camden Pippin, Matt Pippin.

The corolla virus pandemic has ended a very positive experience two months early for a Monroe County family. With only a few days notice Norwegian exchange student Mathilde Haugobo was directed to cut her year with the Pippin family short; she flew home Sunday, March 22. 

Jennifer Pippin, who teaches at Monroe County Middle School, said the abrupt departure of Mathilde was very disappointing for Mathilde, the Pippin family and the many friends Mathilde made at Mary Persons, First Baptist Forsyth and throughout Monroe County. However, Jennifer said the months Mathilde was able to spend with her family in Monroe County created memories and a bond that she expects to last a lifetime.

Pippin said this was the first time her family has hosted an exchange student. The family includes Dad, Matt, who is an owner of Middle Georgia Turf Solutions; Natalie, a Mary Persons senior; and Camden, a 7th grader at Monroe County Middle School. Mathilde came to the Pippin family through the EF (Education First) program, which sponsored 37 exchange students in Georgia this year. After reviewing profiles of students to match with one that would fit into their family well, they began contacting Mathilde and building a relationship with her and her family in Norway in mid-February. The EF representative in Griffin helped review profiles and begin the relationship. 

On July 27, just before the Monroe County school year began, the Pippins met Mathilde at the Atlanta airport and brought her home. The took her to the Forsyth square and showed her around on that first day. She was supposed to be with them until May 26, to give her a chance to finish the school year, attend Natalie Pippin’s graduation from Mary Persons and baccalaureate and have a few days before heading home to Norway.

Jennifer said Mary Persons welcomed five exchange students this year, three other young ladies and one young man. They hailed from France, Spain and Thailand. They all enjoyed being a part of Mary Persons soccer teams. The young man made the Varsity squad, three of the young ladies played on the Junior Varsity team and the fourth was the team manager. Jennifer said Mathilde particularly enjoyed being on the team because Norway doesn’t have school sports. Mathilde liked being a Bulldog, representing Mary Persons and getting Bulldog gear.

Some of the other things Mathilde found she liked were chicken tenders and sweet tea. She also enjoyed being manager for the Mary Persons volleyball team in the fall. The Pippins took advantage of school breaks to show Mathilde all of Georgia that they could. Labor Day weekend they visited Savannah and Tybee Island, in spite of the threat of Hurricane Dorian. 

On Fall Break they headed to North Georgia, visiting Ellijay, Blue Ridge and Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest point. They hiked at several Georgia state parks. At Thanksgiving, they headed even farther north, visiting the Big Apple and doing “all of the traditional things” for tourists in New York City, including grabbing a front row view of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. 

At Christmas EF held a covered dish meal and white elephant gift exchange for all the Georgia exchange students in Woodstock. There were monthly activities for the Georgia group, including a paint ball outing and a visit to the Stone Mountain laser show. 

Mathilde took advantage of a Discovery Tour for exchange students from all 50 states from Feb. 28-March 6. She wanted to see the American West and got to visit the Grand Canyon, Los Vegas and Los Angeles and dip her toes in the Pacific Ocean. The trip even included some other exchange students from Norway.

Mathilde went with the youth of First Baptist Forsyth on a ski trip to West Virginia. Jennifer said she participated in Bible studies and other activities with the group in Forsyth and appreciated how welcoming the members of the youth group were. 

On Spring break the Pippins planned to take Mathilde to Disney World and Universal Studios Park. Jennifer noted that Mathilde is a big Harry Potter fan. Mathilde and the Pippins were disappointed that they couldn’t take her to the Forsythia Festival as they had planned. Their list also included the Atlanta Zoo, Six Flags over Georgia, and Hot Golf. 

Jennifer said Mathilde has an older brother and sister and a cat at home. In the Pippin family she was the middle child and came to love the family dog and its kisses. Thanks to social media, Jennifer expects Mathilde to stay connected with the Pippins and her other Georgia friends. Many gathered to say farewell on the last night before she returned to Norway. 

Jennifer said the coronavirus has shut down everything in Norway as it has in the U.S. The Pippins hope to visit Mathilde’s family someday. They also hope to host another exchange student but will probably wait until Camden is in high school because part of the joy of hosting Mathilde was in her and Natalie being able to do things together and share adventures. 

“It was a wonderful experience,” said Jennifer. “We’re very, very thankful.”