Norwegian crosses Atlantic Ocean to attend WyoTech
June 22, 2017
The following article is from the Laramie Boomerang.
About nine years ago, Alex Kristiansen was sitting at home in Fredrikstad, Norway, watching Chip Foose rebuild a ’56 Chevy Bel Air on the TV show “Overhaulin’.”
“We don’t have a lot of car shows in Norway, but I loved to watch ‘Overhaulin’’ — when I saw they were at a school, I said, ‘I’m going,’” Kristiansen said.
That school was WyoTech in Laramie.
However simple the goal — the journey was not without obstacles.
“We don’t get (financial) support for coming over here for education like this,” Kristiansen said. “I had to save my money for five years and pay for my way over.”
But his hard work and patience were rewarded in 2016. He was accepted at WyoTech, obtained a student visa and set out for Wyoming.
“When I came here, I was alone,” the 24-year-old said. “I had two suitcases and Ken (Hill) from admissions. That’s all I knew.”
It wasn’t long before the young man from Norway started turning heads and raising eyebrows, WyoTech Campus Director and Academic Dean Caleb Perriton said.
“He didn’t come with a lot of experience — just a lot of passion,” Perriton said. “Anything we’ve thrown Alex’s way, he’s been more than capable of tackling.”
Kristiansen discovered a love for rubber, grease and wrenches early in life.
When he was 5 years old, his mother was out in the garage fiddling around with her Volkswagen Golf Mk. 2.
“All the sudden, it was winter, and my mom’s car still had summer tires on,” Kristiansen said. “She needed to go to work, and she didn’t know how to swap out the tires. I said, ‘I can do that.’”
And he did.
Kristiansen said he’d watched his dad swap tires many times, so repeating the process was no problem.
“She tightened down the bolts, but I knew the general way to go about it,” he said.
With his mom working as a career scout and dad employed in the oil industry as a graphic designer, Kristiansen said there was no guesswork about his own future career.
“It’s always been me and my dad working in the garage on motorcycles, cars and old (radio-controlled) cars,” he said. “I’ve always known this is what I wanted to do.”
When he turned 18, Kristiansen bought his first car.
“It was an old French car — a Peugeot 206,” he said. “That was a daily driver. It was something I could tear apart and rebuild.”
Unlike other European countries, Kristiansen said Norwegians drive on the right side of the street, so there was no initial road shock when he arrived.
But there were other surprises waiting in the new world.
“Everything is so big over here,” Kristiansen said, a sense of wonder perceptible in his tone. “Just going into Wal-Mart is like — wow! Even the soda is bigger.”
Although his hometown is more than twice the size of Laramie, he said Norwegian retail stores rarely reach the enormity of America’s super markets.
Philosophies like “you can be anything you set your mind to” are common on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, but Kristiansen said the honesty of the statement in the U.S. was refreshing.
“I was amazed at how much you could do here,” he said. “Back home, they talk a lot — ‘You can do this, you can do that’ — but they don’t really mean it. But here when they said I could do something, there was no catches to it. I was like, ‘Sweet.’”
Setting his mind to becoming an excellent student consumed a good portion of his time, but Kristiansen said he didn’t spend all his days with his nose stuck in a book or under a hood.
“I like to travel,” he said. “We’ve traveled a lot this last year.”
Making friends at the trade school came easy, and Kristiansen said they were more than happy to show him around the country.
“We went to California, Las Vegas and Pikes Peak, Colorado,” he said. “We even went to Omaha, (Nebraska), just to go. That was interesting.”
Rising to the occasion
Seeing the Norwegian’s potential, Perriton said he decided to put Kristiansen’s abilities to the test.
“I picked up a project for the school that I thought was a little too advanced for the school,” Perriton said. “It was a hybrid Chevy truck that had been heavily modified and set on the scrap heap.”
The 2012 Chevrolet Silverado needed a complete overhaul if it was ever to run again, he said.
“I really had low expectations, but I challenged Alex and his tool partner to see if they could get it partially going,” Perriton said. “Before I know it, I can’t keep up with Alex and his partner, nor can their instructors. They got that thing completely retrofitted back to a stock-running Chevy truck.”
Kristiansen just shrugged with a knowing smile.
“I had two goals when I came here,” he said. “Be the best student and meet Chip Foose.”
On the student side of his story, Perriton said Kristiansen is graduating today at the top of his class with the accolades to prove it. Kristiansen earned the Eagle Tech award, outstanding student, national tech honors and several manufacturer certifications.
“He’s checked all the boxes we could ever offer our students,” Perriton said.
Meeting Foose was another challenge altogether.
“That’s comparable to someone on a basketball scholarship saying ‘I want to meet LeBron James,’” Perriton said. “But we made a few calls, and our contacts came through for us.”
Kristiansen tried to hide his excitement as he nodded in affirmation following the campus director’s account.
“In March, that came true,” Kristiansen said. “I went down there and got to link up with him.”
With his degrees in hand, Kristiansen said he was headed home with plans to put his newly acquired knowledge to good use.
“First and foremost, my goal is to start a shop in Norway,” he said. “It will be fabrication and custom paint work on motorcycles and cars.”
Because Norway has strict automobile modification laws, there are not many custom shops, but Kristiansen said he’d like to give it a try.
“In Sweden though, you can do whatever you like,” he said. “So I’m going to start my shop in Norway, but I’d like to go to Sweden eventually so I can do what I want to do.”