Local couple marks 50th with foreign enchange student’s family

June 29, 2016

Steve and Nancy Markham celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on June 18 with their foreign exchange student, Bertil (Kjell) Idarsson, and his family. The Idarrsons live in Sweden and traveled to Idaho to celebrate the milestone anniversary with a family they dearly love.

The couple sat with their oldest son, Rhett Markham, and the Idarrson family to share stories of the past, tales about recent trips in Idaho and even discussed the current political situations in Europe.

Grandparents and grandchildren, father and mother, son and daughter-in-law, Bertil Idarrson and the Markhams are quite clearly enamored with one another. It is a relationship of 28 years with travel between two countries, letters, family photos, and notable moments, meeting extended family members on both sides, and Facebook updates to keep in touch.

Raised in Eslöv, Sweden, a town of less than 15,000 people, the 16-year-old Bertil (who goes by Kjell — pronounced in Swedish as Chell) made the choice to leave his home country and travel abroad as a foreign exchange student to come to America. He wanted to study and learn English.

He had no idea where Idaho was and had to buy a map when he learned of his placement as an exchange student. He said, “I heard Idaho had lots of malls. I did not know what a mall was…” He arrived in Pocatello and was placed with another family.

Kjell attended Pocatello High School where he met Eric Markham. He and Eric formed a fast friendship. When Kjell needed a place to stay, the Markhams easily offered their home and friendship to the 17-year-old Swedish exchange student.

While at Pocatello High School, Kjell participated in several clubs, including the Wilderness Club and the International Club. He ran cross-country track and really enjoyed classes such as Speech and English.

Kjell, Eric, and a German foreign exchange student named Sabine (pronounced Zub-be-na — who later married Eric) were inseparable. When Kjell graduated from Pocatello High School in1989, his parents traveled to Idaho to watch their son receive his diploma and to meet the Markhams.

After graduation, Kjell returned to Sweden and credits his time in the U.S., learning about the American government and capital punishment, for his love of the legal system and his career as a judge in the Swedish Judiciary Administration Court System for Migration.

He handles refugee cases in Sweden. He says of his job, “it is hard to make decisions as people always have a reason to leave their country…” Kjell also discussed his concerns about Sweden and the latest news updates about “Brexit.”

His wife, Viktoria, is a teacher in early education. She loves her job because “it gives so much back you… To see the kids learn and to watch the parents interaction is the best part.”

Kjell and Viktoria have three children, Ellinor (18), Johannes (15), and Amanda (11). As a family, this is their second trip to visit the Markhams in Idaho. They traveled to Lava Hot Springs, Bear World, and several other locations on their vacation this year.

Ellinor loves coming to the U.S. and has the desire to become a journalist. She is excited to learn to drive, as Swedish law requires a legal age of 18, and is involved in several community service projects.

Ellinor also keeps in close contact with the Markhams via Facebook and loves One Direction. She is bubbly, bright, and well-spoken about her passions. Johannes is a typical 15-year-old young man. He enjoys his favorite American beverage of Coke, playing online games via the computer, and spends most of his time on school projects as he prepares to make a decision about a career path in life.

Amanda wants to “be a mom” and loves animals. She rides horses, is teaching the Markhams Swedish, and is absolutely delightful. The kids enjoy visiting their “grandparents” and are excited to travel to Las Vegas and then on to California and the beach.

The Markhams described their visit to Sweden in 2008 and said “the people are remarkably nice.” Steve affirmed his love for his Swedish foreign exchange student as he stated he is, “tickled about 27+ years of friendship” with Kjell and his family.