Many citizens of Minnesota can trace their roots to Norway. Recently guest speakers, Leif and Bjorg Marit Grastveit, from Stavenger, Norway, visited Minnesota School of Business-Lakeville (MSB) to speak in Joel Bisser’s Global Citizenship class.
Leif and Bjorg Marit have been exploring the United States to research family genealogy and drove throughout the U.S., travelling from New York to Wisconsin, Minnesota and North and South Dakota to find relatives.
Joel first met the couple in Frederic, Wisconsin, and soon learned that Leif is a second cousin of his mother. Chatting by the campfire about geopolitics, Joel thought that the stories that Bjorg Marit shared about Norway’s culture and European’s perceptions of the United States would be a perfect fit for Global Citizenship.
Students had an opportunity to ask questions about Norway’s government, culture and geography. Students found it fascinating that Norway has a king, queen, prince and princess (and no, none appear in Frozen), but the monarchy has no political power.
MSB-Lakeville massage therapy student Brittany DuPay was surprised that both Bjorg Marit and Leif pointed out how “big” things are in the United States: “In Norway most people just have a piece of toast, maybe with some cheese, but here, we sometimes have a stack of pancakes the size of my plate for breakfast!” Brittany said.
Most people don’t know that a large part of Norway is north of the Arctic Circle, and temperatures in the winter can reach as low as 50 below zero. Because of its latitude, the sun never fully descends May-July, and some parts of the country experience 20 hours of daylight, giving rise to the moniker, “Land of the Midnight Sun.” Whereas from late November to late January, the sun never rises above the horizon and day light only lasts a few hours in the north.
Despite harsh, dark winters, Norwegians enjoy one of the highest qualities of life in the world; Norway has the fourth highest per capita income in the world, and other than the Middle East, Norway is the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas. As a result, Norway has become quite wealthy because of vast oil and gas reserves in the Norwegian Sea and Arctic Ocean, wealth that has been shared with Norway’s citizens in the form of social programs.
Bjorg Marit also spoke about the high taxes in Norway, taxes that help fund Norway’s interesting economy that is both an open market and welfare state. All of Norway’s citizens benefit from universal health care and social security. In fact higher education and health care are free! Despite being known as “socialist,” Norway was ranked as the most democratic nation in the world 2010-2012, according to the Democracy Index.
A nation of just over five million people, Norway is one of the few European nations that is not a member of the European Union (EU), a decision made by a vote of Norway’s parliament and citizens. According to Bjorg Marit, people of Norway are independent and felt that inclusion into the EU would limit some freedoms to make economic decisions. Still, Norway possess “billions of dollars in European banks and we help the continent [Europe] when they need it,” Bjorg Marit said.
After the discussion and picture taking, Sara Boothe, MSB-Richfield student, talked to Bjorg Marit about her own Norwegian relatives in North Dakota where Bjorg Marit and Leif had just been a few days earlier. “Wow, maybe we’re related; it really is a small world!” Sara said.
Written by Joel Bisser, service learning coordinator and general education