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From stranger to family member

Mathilde Elvestad now has two countries to call home. The Norway native now refers to America as her second home after having spent nearly an entire year, from August to July, in La Cañada.

“I have started preparing myself for going home [to Norway],” said the 18-year old Elvestad, who came to La Cañada through AFS Intercultural Programs. “I’ve tried to picture myself going home, and it’s going to be hard because I have my life back in Norway and my life here.”

Since 1919, AFS Intercultural Programs, formerly known as the American Field Service, has been sending people on journeys they will hopefully remember for the rest of their lives. Every year, the nonprofit organization sends more than 13,000 people to more than 50 countries.

The Moore family (Kelly, Howard and Janna Johnson), who reside in La Cañada, has hosted Elvestad for the past year, and they’re anxious about how their lives will change when Elvestad leaves.


“We are starting to prepare ourselves for [her departure] too,” said Kelly Moore, Elvestad’s host mother. “The house is going to be really empty and really quiet, deafeningly quiet, when she’s gone.”

Elvestad seems to not only have two homes but two families as well after living with the Moores since August. She spent her 18th birthday, what she calls “the best week of her life,” with the Moores.

Kelly said Elvestad has become like another daughter to them during her stay. To the casual observer, it’s hard to tell Elvestad isn’t a Moore. Whether she’s asking her host parents if she can spend a Friday night in Pasadena, seamlessly joining a family trip to church or Starbucks or cracking inside jokes with Janna, her host sister, she just seems to fit in perfectly.

“[Elvestad] just decided she was really going to be try to become a member of the family,” Kelly said. “She was just open to experiencing a new family environment and that’s so rare for an 18-year-old.”


It was Janna’s idea, a 16-year-old sophomore at La Cañada High, to start hosting foreign-exchange students through AFS. She was starting to feel like an only child after her brother and sister had moved out of the house. Janna wanted another sister, and that’s just what she got.

“It’s just like adding a family member, and you get to build a new relationship,” Janna said. “At first, you might think it’d be uncomfortable, but after awhile it’s just normal. When all my other siblings have gone on to college, it’s nice to have someone next door to talk to, complain to or hang out with if you want to go catch a movie or something… It’s like having your best friend be your neighbor.”

The whole experience has made the world, from Los Angeles to Norway, much smaller for the Moore family.

“We’ve been able to see our community and the greater Los Angeles area through the eyes of someone new,” said Howard, Elvestad’s host father. “You kind of get to see it all over again.”

For more information on AFS Intercultural Programs, visit the website at To learn more about hosting a famil,y call Mardi Breckheimer, (818) 790-5938, or go to