Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Why being a Diplomat in Norway is a big deal

After submitting my bid list a few weeks back I had spent a lot of energy and time trying not to get my head wrapped around one particular position. That position was Oslo. And while I was optimistic that this is where I would get sent, I had to be realistic that things could change or that I would be needed to serve elsewhere. After all, when I signed up, I agreed to serve anywhere and to remember that the needs of the service came first.

So I was beyond thrilled when that Norwegian flag finally came up (number 89 out of 93) and my name was announced. But I'm not just excited about Oslo because of the low crime and European amenities, though these are pretty nice. I'm excited about serving as a diplomat in Oslo because as long as I've known that Norway was a country I've wanted to live there, and for some reason life never quite allowed it. 

Like many Americans from the Pacific Northwest, I can trace my roots directly to Scandinavia. My mother even named me after my Norwegian great-grandmother, and because it is an usual name, I spent my childhood explaining to my friends that I had a Norwegian name. So when I arrived at college, a small school founded by Norwegian farmers, I was immediately drawn to learn more about this country that was my namesake. This curiosity was prodded along by the presence of 8 or so Norwegian students on my dorm floor, who found it amusing that Americans were so interested in connecting to their ancestral country. In an effort to impress these young men, my best friends and I took Norwegian language classes. I loved the language and learning about the quirky little country that decided not to join the EU, saves all it's oil money for it's people, and has an outsized involvement in world affairs. 

I continued on in these studies until my senior year. I wanted to study abroad in Norway, but the academic requirements for my double major didn't allow it, so I settled for some great stories from my best friend who did go to Norway (plus a quick trip to visit her). Instead I put my energy into an application for a Fulbright scholarship to Norway. The Fulbright didn't work out, but I was named an alternate, so I have the distinction of being one person away from winning the award. 

I went on to AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, and grad school with little thought of Norway, other than during the holidays when the lefse would come out. Fast forward a few years, when I was asked to take on a portfolio at work that focused on the Arctic. All of a sudden my meager Norwegian skills came in handy during meetings, where I would shock/impress our Norwegian colleagues. I loved the job and the issues, and was excited that Norway was back in my life. This work and the issue started getting a lot of attention from the highest levels over the past year, which made my decision to join the foreign service a tough one. I wasn't quite ready to stop working on the Arctic. 

But, I did decide to accept my invitation, and hoped that at some point in my career I would put all that Arctic expertise to good use, maybe after a tour in Dhaka, Abuja, or Ciudad Juarez. Then the bid list came out and I couldn't contain a little shout of surprise when I saw not just a job in Oslo, but a job working on environment and science issues. This was my dream job, the one I would have designed for myself to do at some point in my career. How was it possible that it was there, on that list? The chance to finally, after all these years, live in Norway and work on issues that matter immensely to me. 

So that's the long story, and the reason why I couldn't contain a few tears when I grabbed that Norwegian flag and realize that everything had lined up so perfectly. 

A fuzzy picture from my first and only trip to Norway, 9.5 years ago. 


  1. Hi! I stumbled across your blog while surfing FSO blogs (I just found out that I got added to the management register, and I've had a hard time focusing on work today!). I was wondering what university you attended because it sounds a lot like my alma mater (St. Olaf College). I also had a similar Fulbright experience as well (only made it to alternate), but for Japan.

  2. Hi Emily! Glad you made it on the register, and good luck getting into A-100 soon! I actually went to PLU, but have met a great group of St. Olaf folks here in Oslo (we decided that we had more in common than differences :-))