Back from Norway

  • Published
  • By Greg Sandlin, Contributing Writer
Greg Sandlin, an ATA senior engineer recently traveled to Norway as a Rotary Group Study Exchange (GSE) team leader. Sandlin and his team were hosted by Norwegian Rotarians in several cities primarily in the southeastern portion of the country. They visited Oslo, Bergen, Drobak, Eidsvoll, Kolbotn and Nannestad.

Participating in this GSE has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. What an amazingly generous people and what a beautiful country! We were treated like ambassadors, which, of course, we were - for Rotary, for our country, state and communities.

Our hosts arranged some outstanding activities and vocational days, maximizing our experiences within their respective towns. Many strong friendships were created and I trust will be continued. A Rotary GSE offers a unique opportunity to openly share vocation, culture and worldview within a context of mutual trust and respect. I regularly found myself in deep conversations with our hosts on complex topics of history, engineering, geopolitics, and philosophy."

Our team of four other non-Rotarian professionals from the Knoxville area gave presentations to multiple Rotary Clubs about themselves, their professions and life in Tennessee.

As one would expect in visiting a northern European country, America has much in common with Norway. In fact, 6.2 million Americans claim direct Norwegian ancestry - there are currently only 4.8 million Norwegians. Between 1860 and 1920, approximately 800,000 Norwegians immigrated to the United States. This was approximately 10 percent of their population at the time. One of those Norwegians was Leif Sverdrup, who came in 1914 at the age of 16. After serving in the U.S. Army during WW1, he returned to Minneapolis to get his engineering degree and later started Sverdrup and Parcel in 1928 with a former college professor. During WW II, Sverdrup went on to serve as Gen. Douglas McArthur's go-to civil engineer in the South Pacific Theater. After the war, Sverdrup and Parcel received the contract to design AEDC, and the rest is history.

Norwegians have contributed greatly to the forming of our national identity and we share many of the same historical influences such as Christianity, the Reformation and Enlightenment. On May 17, 1814, their founders used the U.S. Constitution as one of their primary sources in drafting their own Constitution. Norway is a Constitutional Monarchy where the king has much power to do good, but no power to do evil. Fortuitously, we were present to experience May 17th Constitution Day, a day of pronounced celebration. We had special seats right in front of the King's castle in Oslo. We were all Norwegians that day.

We stayed within 45 minutes of the Norwegian Capitol, Oslo, so we were taken to all of their major museums, Parliament, Supreme Court, art exhibits and landmarks. The trip included the "Norway in a Nutshell" tour to Bergen on the west coast by train, train, boat, bus, train and taxi. "It was 14 hours of breathtaking views and inspiring creation.

Communication was not a problem. While most Norwegians seldom speak English, most of their TV and music on the radio are in English - so they hear it all of the time and therefore can understand it fairly well. Older Norwegians did not speak English nearly as well as the younger Norwegians.