A special series. Narvik, Norway – Immeasurable Hospitality — The North Star Reports – by Katherine LaFleur. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal
[A shot of the view from Marit’s family cabin, the scenery here was almost surreal it was so beautiful. Pictured is her family’s bunkhouse.]
In 2008 I gained the older sister I lacked biologically by way of my family’s participation in a foreign exchange program. She came to us from a town in the North of Norway, and since leaving she has returned a handful of times to the U.S. to visit. I was able to make the jaunt to New York City to meet up with Marit, my Norwegian sister, and João, another beloved foreign exchange student from the past, for last Thanksgiving break, spending an amazing week catching up and enjoying the city and each other’s company. After 7 years of saying “Someday I’ll come visit YOU” I was finally able to fulfill my promise, venturing up to Narvik to spend my last week in Europe with Marit and her beautiful family.
[Looking out from the interior of the family cabin. Ann-Irene and Knut-Erik have put so much work into this amazing getaway and it shows in the details.]
My flight was scheduled to depart 4 hours after my last final exam, poor planning on my part, but I was stranded in Barcelona’s El Prat airport for a number of hours due to heavy snow in Oslo, Norway. The airport staff began giving us updates both in Spanish and English and then as time dragged on the notifications were given only in Norwegian and I was forced to ask for clarification, unable to read the context from the faces of my fellow stranded peoples. Finally, we were able to board and leave for Oslo’s Gardermoen airport where I met Marit and waited for our next flight even further North to Narvik. I hadn’t eaten much at all that day, not intending to be stuck in El Prat for so long, and so upon my arrival Marit and I feasted on Lapskaus, a stew-type dish, and flat bread. In retrospect, this airport meal should have acted as forewarning to just how well I would be eating during my time in Norway.
[Martin’s family has cabins up in Riksgränsen resort in Sweden, and I had the opportunity to snowboard even though I was incredibly out of shape/practice!]
One flight and bus ride later; we arrived in Narvik, hoofing it up the ice and snow-covered hill to Marit’s family home with our luggage. I still don’t know why I bothered trying to pack anything more than a backpack since realistically few things I had brought for Barcelona’s winter would serve me well in Narvik’s spring weather. Marit borrowed me everything I needed; long johns, wool socks in every thickness, hiking gear, jackets, and even a pair of boots loaned to me by her boyfriend’s mom (Thanks a million!!). The hospitality was unending. I almost felt uncomfortable accepting so much from her family my first time meeting them, but soon realized that they had already accepted me as one of the family, and my hesitation dissipated. We spent the week hiking, eating, exploring, visiting the nearby Riksgränsen ski area in Sweden, and eating more. Did I mention eating?
[On one of the last days we took the gondola up to the top of the mountain in Narvik and hiked back down. The views were amazing.]
The meals I enjoyed in Norway deserve their own post, and I think I may dedicate some time this week to detail it all, but right now let me hit the specifics. Typically I eat like a bird, taking small portions if at all possible just so that I can guarantee no waste. The week I spent in Norway I had thirds of everything put in front of me. Everything. I don’t think my hunger grew in any way, the food was just so amazing and in the back of my mind I knew I wouldn’t be eating this well for quite some time. After my third plate of dessert one night, Marit looked at me and just smiled, commenting on how she had never seen me eat so much, I retorted that I never eat this much. Something about the company I held, the amazing food they prepared, and all the coffee and wine that I could ingest had me mesmerized, left in a food-consuming trance that I couldn’t – and didn’t want to – break.
[Snapping a quick picture with the reindeer! We may have them in our zoo, or even in the Fitger’s courtyard around Christmas time, but seeing so many in one spot in their natural habitat was pretty cool! (Fun fact, all the reindeer in this area are owned by the Sami people.)]
The time I spent with Marit and her loved ones was nearly indescribable. I can’t thank them enough for their overwhelming warmth and hospitality, opening up every corner of their lives to me and even going so far as to re-tell jokes in English after they flew over my head in Norwegian. As my time with everyone came to a close I naïvely believed that maybe this time saying goodbye wouldn’t be so hard: that after receiving so much kindness and generosity and feeling like the world had maybe shrunk just that much more, maybe I wouldn’t feel so far from my big sister this time. I learned at the security check, as we hugged one more time, that I had thought wrong. Even typing this all up a week later I’m flooded with emotion; gratitude, love, longing. But mostly gratitude. No matter how many languages I learn I won’t be able to say thank you enough. Takk.
[From left to right: Knut-Erik, Marianne, Erik, Marie, Ann-Irene, Martin, Marit.]
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30 responses to “Narvik, Norway – Immeasurable Hospitality — The North Star Reports – by Katherine LaFleur. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal”
Reblogged this on The Middle Ground Journal.
It was great to read about Norway and some of the things(especially food) you experienced while there! I have family in Norway (Skabu area) that I hope to visit one day.
Is amazing that after so many years you could go visit your friend! Also, is very interesting how other families can make you feel like part of their family. Is always very comforting to think that no matter the distance between your friends, at the time you get to see then it is like nothing can change. Besides, I think is amazing that you had the opportunity to meet the genuine people from Norway. Sometimes as tourists we only go to some places that do not show us the real people and the real customs of the native people.
Thats is awesome you can share this amazing experience! I like hearing about how you got to be a with a family that was so welcoming. I like the part about the wonderful food, that you got to try.
It’s amazing how much of a bond you made with your Norwegian “big sister.” It sounds like being able to see her again was a wonderful experience to be able to visit her in Norway. The hospitality that their family showed you was great. People don’t always show guests hospitality like that nowadays. Wonderful article, as always! 🙂
I am deeply moved by the hospitality your “big sister’s” family showed you. It is like you have become part of their family too, which you already are. I am glad you got to meet her again after such a long time. It is great to cherish some of these moments with our loved ones. Thanks for sharing!
This trip sounds like it had a lot of meaning to you and that you learned a lot from it. I’ve been on a trip like that and it’s not only fun to see another part of the world you never knew existed, but you also learn so many new things about not only the world but yourself as well.
There’s no bond like the one between two sisters. It’s unbelievable that your family opened their home through a foreign exchange program and years later, the same would happen with your sister’s family. Sometimes, we think by now that we understand the love and hope for humanity but the truth is, we learn every single day and I appreciate that you gave in when they treated you as a part of their own family.
In terms of the food, it’s crazy how food is easily wasted in the United States and you had to consciously eat the bird you had for one of your meals. That’s definitely an experience worth remembering out of gratitude!
It is nice to see familial bonds grow across borders. Good food, and good company will do more for international relations, than any sort of formalized institution. Hope you enjoyed the snow!
First of all, amazing pictures! Secondly, what an incredible opportunity to be able to go to Norway from Spain! It’s great how such strong relationships can be built through foreign exchange programs and how a single semester or year of living together can transfer into an entire life of shared experiences.
This is an awesome story and really great that you were able to bond so well to become sisters. The pictures you were able to take are breath taking. I can’t imagine seeing this in person. Hopefully you are able to make your way out there again in the future!
This is written very well and is a fantastic story! It’s awesome that you were able to keep in touch for so long. The pictures you took are beautiful, but I’m sure they don’t do true justice to how wonderful everything really was.
These photos are incredible! Norway is now on my list of vacation destinations. It is great to hear that you were so welcomed by a different family, that could be such a scary experience!
The impression I have of Norway has always been of hospitality, much like you’ve described. I’m wondering why I might align the country with this more so than other countries (which is likely entirely untrue, and I must admit is an unfair prejudice that I have not yet explored). That being said, I wonder why some countries hold the image of being hospitable while others lack it. What causes that?
Beautiful photos of the landscape! Winter is my favorite season even though it drags on in Duluth. I can completely relate to saying someday I’ll visit, as I’ve been doing this with my High School host brother from Germany. Thank you for the motivation and inspiration to get the ball rolling for future travel plans. Sounds like you had a blast rekindling a friendship and meeting lots of family members.
LIfe is to short not to experience everything that you want to! It sounds like you had a lot of fun and will never forget the memories, one of the best things about life. I hope to travel to another country one day and experience lots of foods like you did. Thank you for sharing!
It’s amazing how much they welcomed you, and I’m sure you felt like part of the family immediately! I do wish that I could have tried all the food you did, you made it seem so fantastic! I have had a foreign exchange student before, and I hope she has felt the same way towards my family! Thanks for sharing your wonderful story.
“Something about the company I held, the amazing food they prepared, and all the coffee and wine that I could ingest had me mesmerized, left in a food-consuming trance that I couldn’t – and didn’t want to – break.” This quote especially stuck with me and I thought it was really cool how inspiring this experience was for you. Your experience of seeing the reindeer in their natural habitat was also interesting because you noted that you have seen them in zoos, but seeing them in the wild was a different experience. Thank you for sharing and I’m glad you had such memorable experience.
What a cool experience! It’s incredible to see that there was so much snow left over – I feel so lucky even being in Minnesota. (I never thought I would say that.) Glad to see you had fun, and are experiencing all of these new and exciting things!!!
I am sorry to hear about your troubles with your flight getting delayed but glad that you were able to make to Norway ok! It was very interesting reading about the different types of food you had and things you did. Thank you for sharing!
I love that your family is part of the exchange student program where your family is a host to foreign exchange students. In the future, I hope to open my home to host foreign exchange students. I believe it is a great way to open an individual’s knowledge about other cultures and countries. It is amazing to see that you keep in touch with them and even have the change to go study aboard in their country as well. Thank you sharing your story and hope to hear more about your experience!
What amazing pictures! Norway is definitely a place I want to visit in the future. Its great to hear that you are welcomed by your host family in Norway.
After reading this article, I find myself very jealous of your experiences! The fact you had a foreign exchange student and were able to become so close that you visit each other often is great. Also, how you got the chance to go to Norway and see the beautiful country for yourself, leaves me very jealous. Very great article and loved the pictures!
Wow, they say Minnesota nice, try Norwegian nice! That is so cool how Marit’s family invited you in like that and treated you like their own. Its great to see that level of kindness in the world. Looks like a cool place and hope you had fun.
It sounds like it was an incredibly lovely experience, and a perfect way to end your semester abroad! One of the things I find most enjoyable about traveling is meeting wonderful people that truly make the memory of countries or cities that more special. I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts on Norwegian food 🙂
I really love this post for many reasons. First it is just beautiful how you could visit your “sister”. Second the way you describe your visit just goes to show everyone how this world is smaller that people would believe. People can get along so well from completely different cultures that it does inspire us as a whole.
Thank you for sharing! I hope that one day I will be able to travel abroad so it was nice to read that you had a good experience! I hope to travel to Norway to because the people sound very nice.
I have lot of friends who came over to study in the USA and most of them have host families. After reading through your story, I am going to suggest that my friends also do the same: invite their hosts to visit. Thanks for sharing.
Saying goodbye is never easy and the words are almost always joined with plans to see the person/place again. It bring joy to my heart hearing that you were able keep your promise, and it bring hunger to my stomach to imagine the quality of food you enjoyed. I look forward to reading about the many dishes you had the pleasure of trying
Just from reading your article, I can feel the hospitality that you felt from Marit and her family! I was mostly drawn into reading this article by your picture of the red bunkhouse, which looks like it should be on display or on a calendar somewhere–it’s so cute! Norway looks absolutely beautiful, and I would love to go there someday. It is so wonderful that you have been able to keep up the connections made through foreign exchange programs–those types of relationships and connections are amazing. Do you think you’ll be able to go back to Norway again someday? Thank you for sharing!