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Officer Norway’s Corner – SRO shares memories of Norway

By Kjell Michelsen

It would be fairly easy for me to use my little corner here in The Erwin Record to only talk about various safety issues in regards to teenagers, be it substance abuse or the dangers of distracted driving, just to name a couple. Surely, I will write about those important issues too, but I would like in this column to write a little about my upbringing in Norway. Students and parents alike ask me about it fairly often, so I was thinking, “a little Norwegian cultural enrichment from my point of view would be in its place.”

One of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis is: “You are not from around here, are you?” Someone told me a few years ago, “just tell them that you were born and raised at the top of Hogskin Road in Flag Pond.”

I did not even know back then where Hogskin was. Now I know, and sometimes when asked, I will still answer the question that way. However most people take my bluff right away, but some, mostly people from out of state, just say, “Oh OK.” To be fair, I always end up telling them where I really am from.

Growing up in Northern Norway in the 1970s and 1980s was in many ways not too different than growing up here in Unicoi County during that same time period I can imagine. Yes, growing up above the Arctic Circle meant that we at times had rough winters. Snow usually hit the ground in late September and stayed until late May or early June. People also ask me about the weather that far north, I think it’s pretty much the same as it is on the upper northeastern coast here in the States.

As an SRO, I have to write a few lines about school in Norway. When I went to school, we had first to ninth grade that was mandatory. First to sixth grade was considered elementary school and seventh to ninth grade was junior high. In elementary school each class every morning, rain or shine had to line up in two or three rows outside, the teachers would walk out, do a head count and we would all march into the school towards our classrooms. We all looked forward to junior high, cause then we could walk in just like students do here.

We did not have a lunchroom or a cafeteria. We had to bring our own lunches, or for those of us who lived close by, we could walk home during the 30-minute lunch break. Those who ate at school would get a small carton of milk and an apple. Culinary arts in Junior High was mandatory, so once a week when our class had it, we would make our own hot lunch from scratch and eat it in the culinary arts classroom.

Norway has a state-sponsored religion, which is the Lutheran Church. Because of this, we had one hour of Christian teaching every day in school and every Christian holiday, like Christmas and Easter, the whole school lined up and marched off to church. With the influx of immigrants from other nations and religions, they did away with this practice years ago. Now they teach about all major religions, not just the Christian faith. 

The schools in Norway, at least back then, did not have in-school suspension, or ISS as we call it. For those students who got in trouble, was given something we called “parade.” Parade meant that for a number of days a student had to come to school one hour early and do whatever school work their teacher had assigned to them. We did not have school buses either, students had to walk or ride their bicycles to school. Because of this we never had snow days, we would go to school in an outright blizzard, and some would even ski to school. 

Our town did not have a high school (they do now) so after junior high, those who choose to enroll had to travel to the nearest city, which back then was around a 3-hour drive away. Because of the distance, high school students had to rent a small apartment in the town where the high school was located. Can anyone imagine today sending off your 15- or 16-year-old son or daughter to another town or city, living on their own while attending high school? Me neither. But times were indeed different back then.

By the way, some students still do this in Norway, although most towns, even the smaller ones now have their own high schools or “gymnas” as it is called in Norway. I have talked to some classes about the Norwegian version of high school graduation, which is pretty wild, and I might write about that another time.

In my next column, I am planning to write about a few exciting upcoming events that our school in partnership with a few other high schools and the SADD clubs in this area will have as part of the upcoming Teen Driver Safety Week and Red Ribbon Week which takes place in October. Our SADD Club is also planning to have a small stand at the Apple Festival this year, and we were lucky enough to reserve a traffic safety awareness trailer which was donated to SADD Tennessee from the country band, Little Big Town. Until then, enjoy life and stay safe.