Sunday, June 30, 2013

Chamber Chat With Peter Russell

Viking Associate Editor Anya Britzius recently talked with Peter Russell, President of the Upper Midwest Chapter of the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce. The interview appears in our July issue. Want to know more? Here's the full interview.

Viking: What are the goals of the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce? 
Peter Russell: The goal is to foster bilateral commercial trades between the United States and Norway. The organization was founded by Norwegian businessmen who settled in the upper Midwest to foster and create relationships between each other and with their suppliers in Norway. Our Midwest chapter covers Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana. We have a wide variety of businesses: law firms that focus on international trade, import/export companies, the Sons of Norway and business executives that do mergers and acquisitions.

V: How many members does the NACC have? Who are the members? 
PR: Nationally we have about 650 members and 65-70 in the upper Midwest chapter. We want to grow that fairly aggressively. There’s a lot in New York because that’s where a lot of Norwegian corporate headquarters are located. There’s also a lot in Houston, which is an oil capital here in the United States. A lot of Norwegian oil exploration companies and oil related organizations have their U.S. headquarters there. It’s more than networking relationships with Norwegian businesses. Traditionally, it was Norwegian organizations that join to foster interrelationships between their businesses. They celebrate social occasions together. In some areas, it’s very focused on business. There’s a new national strategy that’s underway. We’re seeking to promote more organizational benefits to our members as a whole.

V: Tell me about your role as the President of  the NACC’s Upper Midwest and your future goals.
PR: I’ve had my current role since the end of January. I served as vice president for three years. My goal now is to start a concerted outreach programs with chambers of commerce in some of the medium to large cities in Norway to advertise Minneapolis as a great business hub, instead of going to New York, Atlanta or Houston. This is fairly new, but we’re working very closely with the Norwegian counsel general in Minneapolis to put together a packet of information that we can send electronically to potential members in Norway that highlights the upper Midwest as a place with a great standard of living, good education and good infrastructure. We’re also highlighting other Scandinavian businesses that have found a national home here. With the new national projects that are going on, I’m confident that we will become an even more dynamic organization with current discussions on trade relationships and being able to grow businesses bilaterally.

V: What are some of the top reasons people join NACC?
PR: They join because they are interested in exploring business opportunities in Norway. And conversely, there are Norwegian chambers that are interested in foreign opportunities in the U.S. We get contacts from trade delegations in parts of Norway that ask for help in setting up a trade delegation here in the U.S. We want to be the gateway of helping Norwegian businesses do commerce here in the upper Midwest.

V: NACC has partnered with the Sons of Norway website How will this partnership benefit NACC? 
PR: It’s a wonderful thing! It’s a great way for people to become interested in our organization, but also a great way for Norwegian students to learn about all of the educational opportunities and business opportunities here in the U.S., especially where the Sons of Norway has a strong footprint. We’re hoping SON members will join our organization. It’s a great gateway for new membership for us. It makes it easier for Norwegian people to have one portal where they can find information about schools over here, financial aid, immigration issues they may face, visa requirements. Members can post job openings. I think that American business has a lot to gain by hiring Norwegian employees. There are great educational opportunities both here and there.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Destination: Svalbard

Happy huskies
The last stop on Viking's Nord Norge journey was the Svalbard archipelago. This is the point for me when the trip went from just plain amazing to full-blown "pinch me!"

Where and what is Svalbard, you may ask? It's a group of islands that are pretty much at the top of the world—about halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. The region has a colorful history. A whaling base from the 17th century, Svalbard has actually been an Arctic tourism destination and a launching point for further polar expeditions since the late 19th century. The first coal mining began in 1899 and it was a driving force in the area's development throughout the 20th century. At various points in history the Dutch, Norwegians, Brits, French, Russians, Danes and even the Americans have had interests in the area before it formally became part of Norway in the 1920s with the signing of the Svalbard Treaty. (Longyearbyen, the area's administrative center, was named after American John Munro Longyear, president of the Arctic Coal Company.) Today scientific research is an important activity in Svalbard, as is tourism.

Team Viking suits up
for a RIB safari
Our flight to Svalbard took us from Tromsø to Longyearbyen, which is as far north as you can fly on a scheduled public flight. I was half expecting a small, propeller-style plane like we had flown in throughout northern Norway, so I was a bit relieved to board a Boeing 737 for our 90-minute flight across the North Sea. As we began our foggy descent into Longyearbyen and dramatic mountains appeared on both sides of the plane, I was reminded how far we had traveled from the prairies of Minnesota.

Our three-day stay in Svalbard was filled with a steady stream of unforgettable experiences. A highlight of our first day was a dogsledding tour that included harnessing and feeding our new furry friends. The next day we visited the surprisingly robust Svalbard Museum—an important stop for anyone looking for a historical and cultural overview of the region—and spent the evening skimming the icy waters of the Isfjord on a RIB safari (that's rigid inflatable boat). Our final day brought glorious weather for a hike up a nearby mountain, Sarkofagen (the Sarcophagus), and a delicious gourmet meal featuring local ingredients at Longyearbyen's Huset restaurant.

Snacks at the top of Sarkofagen
My advice to anyone traveling to Svalbard? Bring plenty of warm layers and a spirit of adventure. Hook up with the knowledgable local guides and get out and enjoy this incredible Arctic wilderness. Want to learn more? You can read more about Viking's trip to Northern Norway in our January 2014 travel issue!

Amy Boxrud is editor of Viking magazine. She lives with her family in Northfield, Minn., where she’s a member of Nordmarka 1-585.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

HFAA Celebrates 30 Years

Summer is a great time to learn something new, or to improve on a skill. How about learning to play the Hardanger fiddle, or brushing up on the Telespringar, a favorite local dance from Norway's Telemark region? If you live in the United States or Canada, the good news is that you can do it on this side of the Atlantic, at an upcoming fiddle and dance workshop hosted by the Hardanger Fiddle Association of America (HFAA). The HFAA is assembling a great group of instructors from Norway and the United States to teach the music and dance of Telemark at their annual workshop, held this year July 18–21 at Folklore Village near Dodgeville, Wis. The event is a 30th anniversary celebration for the organization, and you can register until Fri., July 5, by visiting the HFAA website.

In the mean time, enjoy this video of the bruremarsj (bridal march) from Seljord, performed by fiddlers on multiple continents. The video was created to promote the 2011 Landskappleik, hosted in Seljord in Telemark. (This year's celebration in Røros starts tomorrow!) It's a great reminder of the popularity of the Hardanger fiddle around the world. (You may recognize American fiddler Loretta Kelley, current president of the HFAA, playing in front of the United States Capitol.) Enjoy!

Each month in Viking you can read about great events such as this in our Kalender!

Amy Boxrud is editor of Viking magazine. She lives with her family in Northfield, Minn., where she’s a member of Nordmarka 1-585.

Monday, June 24, 2013

UPDATE: Headquarters Office to Open 6/25

After being without power for the last few days, due to a major storm system that moved across Minneapolis last Friday, I am pleased to announce that we now have power and the office we reopen tomorrow, 6/25!

We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused our members, unfortunately these kinds of things are sometimes unavoidable. If you have an issue that needs immediate attention, our staff will be on-hand tomorrow to assist you in any way we can. Just call (800) 945-8851 and our receptionist will be glad to route you to the appropriate staff member.

Thanks to everyone for their patience and understanding while we get back up and running.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Office Is Temporarily Closed

As you probably have seen on the national news, Minneapolis MN was hit by a one-two punch of severe storms this past Friday. During those storms, power was lost in hundreds of thousands of homes across the metro. As of Sunday evening, this is still the case for many, including. The Sons of Norway Headquarters. Because of this we will not be open on Monday, June 24th,

Currently the power company is saying that service may not be restored in our area until as late as Wednesday, but we are keeping our fingers crossed for a quicker solution. In the mean time, please keep checking back here at the Sons of Norway blog for any updates.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Viking in Vesterålen

Sortland: The Blue City
The Viking team continued our Nord Norge journey in Vesterålen, an archipelago just to the north of Lofoten. We arrived via Hurtigruten in Sortland, the largest municipality in the region and home of writer Lars Saabye Christensen.

Sortland is known as blåbyen, or the blue city, because of the many shades of blue used on the buildings throughout the town. The city-wide project was the brainchild of local artist Bjørn Elvenes, who as an art student in Poland imagined a colorful facelift for his hometown. Now visitors to Sortland's business district find not only an abundance of blue buildings in many shades, but some lovely poetry gracing building exteriors as well. 

Ekspedisjonen in Nyksund
After exploring the Sortland area, we visited the funky town of Nyksund on Longøya. Once a busy fishing village, Nyksund became a ghost town in the 1970s, in part due to its shallow harbor and the poor road that connects it to the rest of the world. Now the arts and hospitality industry are helping the town make a comeback.

A highlight of our visit to Nyksund was a meal at the cozy Ekspedisjonen restaurant, run by German-natives Ringo and Monika, who combine their international sensibilties with authentic Northern Norwegian cuisine and local ingredients, with stunning results. (The couple runs a second restaurant by the same name in Sortland.) Take my word for it: Nyksund may be off the beaten path, but a meal at Ekspedisjon is worth the journey. 

Andenes whale watching
Our Vesterålen journey continued as we traveled further north to the town of Andenes. The deep waters near Andenes are a mecca for Arctic whale-watchers, and Whalesafari AS did not disappoint! Not only did we see a sperm whale (which the company guarantees), but we encountered a curious gang of pilot whales—a breathtaking site for a couple of prairie-born landlubbers! 

For those who prefer to stay on terra firma, there's still plenty to do in the area. Visit soapmaker Rita King at her workshop, store and cafe, appropriately named Alveland, which means fairyland. You can also pay a visit to fifth-generation farmers and cheese makers Stig and Mai Johannessen at Nordtun Gård. While we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Hotel Marena in the heart of Andenes, I wished we had more time to try a meal or an overnight stay at Andøy Friluftssenter. (Instead, delicious waffles and coffee on the patio were all we could manage.) When in Andenes we drove by the area's other claim to fame: the Andøy Rocket Range. Coincidentally, we had just finished a story on it for this month's issue of Viking

From Andenes, we took a quick flight to Tromsø, and then hopped a plane bound for the Svalbard archipelego. Stay tuned for more Arctic adventures!

Amy Boxrud is editor of Viking magazine. She lives with her family in Northfield, Minn., where she’s a member of Nordmarka 1-585.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Sons of Norway Welcomes New Director of Insurance Services

Sons of Norway is pleased to announce that earlier this month we hired Diane Gill as our new Director of Insurance Services. Diane’s duties will include being Sons of Norway’s chief underwriter, monitoring all risk selection activities while ensuring the organization is compliant with privacy regulations, state insurance regulations and anti-fraud reporting. In addition Diane will provide leadership and direction for the Insurance Services Department, including employees in New Business, Underwriting, Customer Service and Claims.

Everyone here is very excited about Diane joining the team because she has a proven track record of success, having spent the last 15 years leading high performing underwriting teams with major national accounts. When asked about her goals in the new position she said, “My primary goal right now is to create a customer-centric environment while providing competitive and accurately priced insurance offers."

Diane, who previously worked for ING, has lived in the Minneapolis/St Paul metropolitan area for a number of years and is already fitting in quite nicely here, at the headquarters. On being asked about her favorite part of working at Sons of Norway, she had this to say, “I am already enjoying the cohesiveness of the organization and the genuine team collaboration in bringing about the best results for the fraternal society and its members.” Also, when asked about what attracted her to Sons of Norway, she quickly answered, “the goals of the fraternal society to promote and preserve the heritage and culture of Norway.”

I hope you will join me in welcoming Diane to Sons of Norway. If you’d like to leave a message for her below, please do. Otherwise she can be reached at the Headquarters by call (800) 945-8851.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Meet "Alt for Norge" Winner Todd Ferris

The June issue of Viking includes an interview with Todd Ferris, Season 3 winner of Norway's popular reality TV series “Alt for Norge.” Viking's associate editor Anya Britzius caught up with Ferris, who is a member of  5-614 Circle City in Carmel, Indiana. Here's the full interview:

Viking: What inspired you to sign up for the show?
Todd Ferris: My aunt heard about it and thought I’d be a great fit. She told my mom, and I checked it out and thought it sounded cool. I applied for Season 2, and ended up getting a callback for Season 3. On the last day that we could send in an application for Season 3, I handed my wife our flip camera and just start rolling. We did four minutes of walking around the house. I sent in the video, and got the casting call.

V: Did you know much about your heritage prior to the show?
TF: My mom had done a tremendous amount of research. I didn’t necessarily know all of it. She wrote a book and detailed all of our ancestry. I had the book and never spent much time looking though it. Unfortunately, I didn’t know as much as I should. I knew a Norwegian prayer that we would say at our Christmas dinners. Outside of that, I knew my grandma’s name and a few other words. But that was all the Norwegian I knew going into this.

V: Where do your ancestors hail from? 
TF: Selbu, Norway. My great, great grandfather and his father came over from Norway and settled in the South Dakota area. My relatives are mainly in Minnesota and South Dakota.

V: Tell me about the show.
TF: Our first scene was at Ellis Island, and we found some our relatives on the board. The next day, we flew to Sweden. We sailed from Sweden to Norway and landed in Holden. Filming started end of April 2012. We were gone for about two months. The whole show is sort of like the “The Amazing Race”—traditional and cultural challenges and learning about Norway. Slowly people were sent home based on the challenges.

V: What types of challenges did you do? 
TF: The challenges ranged from physical to mental. One was a biathlon—cross-country skiing and shooting targets. We also did performance challenges, like singing Norwegian songs in front of an audience and having them vote. We memorized sayings and Norwegian words. The hardest one, which I didn’t have to participate in, was five different people would tell you a phrase in different dialects based on where they were from in Norway. You had to memorize the phrase in that particular dialect and repeat it.

V: What was the day-to-day experience? 
TF: We filmed for four days and had two days off. We mostly travelled or explored our home base of Oslo on those days off. We got to know Oslo pretty well. I enjoyed it a lot. During the four days of filming, there was a lot of waiting. The cameras had to get set. We’d be filming from like 9 a.m.-7 p.m., but during that time there was a ton of down time. We’d make up games, and all of us contestants got pretty close. There were 12 contestants: six ladies and six guys from all over the U.S. From the day I left to the day I got back was 66 days.

V: What was it like being a way from your family?
TF: We weren’t able to communicate while being gone. My wife at the time was three months pregnant, and it was tough leaving. She was supportive and wanted me to go. The prize for one of the challenges that I won was a call home. This was about week 9. It was obviously a very emotional phone call once I heard my kids’ voices. The cool thing was I completely lost track of the days, and it turned out to be Father’s Day. We have twin four-year-old daughters, and our younger daughter is three months old now. She’s named Kaia. One of my tasks while in Norway was to find a baby name. The whole time I was 100 percent positive that it would be a boy. So I spent my time trying to find a Norwegian name for a boy, and on that phone call my wife said it would be a girl. I went back and looked through all the name books. That’s how we found Kaia.

V: Tell me about the moment you met your relatives after winning.
TF: It was crazy. I flew in on a helicopter and landed on a farm where they were waiting for me. It was an adrenaline rush. As we were flying in, I knew my family would be out there somewhere. There were 50-60 relatives that showed up! I wanted to meet them right away, but they had to set up the cameras for about 15 minutes. By that time, I had picked up enough of the language to communicate pretty well. There were a few ladies that didn’t speak any English. So they just came up to me and spoke Norwegian. I didn’t know what they were saying, but they didn’t seem to care!

V: What was the highlight of the experience? 
TF: There were so many. The best was winning because I was pretty far behind. Meeting my family was a close second. Some of my fondest memories were off camera, like spending time with the crew and cast. For all the hours and hours we filmed, they can only use a few minutes. There were some really good times that people missed out on.

V: Did anything surprise you about being on a reality show? 
TF: I went into it thinking it was like an American reality show, where you do everything you can to win. You’re not there to make friends. As you spend 24 hours a day with these people, you can’t help but become a family. The last thing you want to do is stab somebody in the back. You don’t want them to go home. It was always hard after our four days of filming to say goodbye to someone. It was surprising to me how tight we all became.

V: How has this experienced changed you?
TF: It’s made me more focused on my family and our heritage. I never took it very seriously before. Now that I’ve been there, met people and know more about the country, I have a truer appreciation for the traditions we have kept alive, and I will pass this on to my kids.