Travel is fun. Seeing new places, eating new foods, finding new friends, discovering a world outside your own. This summer I went to Norway. My mom is 100% Norwegian, though she’s never been to the country of her family. It was always a dream to visit the motherland. My sister and I decided to make that dream come true for Mom’s 85th birthday this August.
Mom got a passport for the first time in her life. She needed a new piece of luggage—something with wheels! She also purchased good walking shoes and a few pieces of clothing that could squish into the suitcase and come out fresh. Mom was more excited the closer our departure date got. I was excited too. This was more than going to see some sites, we were going to the land of our heritage.
I was prepared for the nine-hour flight to Oslo. I was prepared for living out of a suitcase for ten days. I was even prepared for odd electrical outlets, salmon for breakfast, and a language I couldn’t understand. I was not prepared for the feeling of coming home. Foreign travel is supposed to be just that: foreign, strange, unusual, different. Going halfway around the world should feel worlds away from my life. Surprise. I may have been worlds away yet I was home.
First there was the language. I do not speak Norwegian, but in Oslo and the other tourist cities we visited English was everywhere. The Norwegian school system starts English at age 6, and most of the country it seems is bilingual. But listening to Norwegian on the streets, in the restaurants, and touring the cities, I heard familiar rhymes and sounds. I could hear my grandma speaking. I could remember my great uncles sitting on the couch discussing their day slipping from English to Norwegian with ease. The sound of the country was home.
Next there was the landscape. I have flown often and am familiar with the look of the United States from the air: the Rocky Mountains, midwest farmlands, the Great Lakes. Flying into Oslo I looked out of the plane. Norway was covered with pine trees and the mountains were unfamiliar. But when we got on the ground and began to tour the country I found lush green hills covered with many red houses. I was reminded of the small towns in Wisconsin where my mom and dad grew up. There were mountains and deep valleys too. Though the scenery was new I was at home.
The food, too, was a taste I seemed to remember. One day we visited the Norwegian Folk Museum in Oslo. A stave church, old homes, a school, all kinds of buildings and exhibits, as well as dancers in native dress and other delights filled our day. But the thrill of the day was tasting lefse again. This thin bread is made from potatoes. The easiest thing to compare it to is a tortilla. I paid my 30 kroner and took a taste. It was as if I were standing in my grandma’s kitchen. It was a taste I knew well.
Finally there were the people of Norway. Of course they don’t all look the same but I kept looking into faces that felt like relatives. I know these people: tall, strong, warm, and often blonde but not always. I was moving in a world thousands of miles from home and yet comfortable and familiar.
My trip to Norway connected me to my heritage again. It sounded familiar with a language I don’t speak. It tasted familiar with food I don’t cook. It looked familiar in a landscape I don’t live in. Even the weather suited me, I love the cold, and though it was summer the evenings had a nip in the air. Ah.
Now it may seem odd to write about international travel on a site where the furthest from home some may travel is as far as a buggy can take them. However my trip to Norway was a trip into my family’s heritage, and that is something valued here. You can find posts here about collecting family traditions and stories. There are essays about favorite family foods and how to preserve family history. Heritage, tradition, and honoring the past—all these things matter here. They inform where you come from as well as where you will go and how you might get there.
It’s exciting to travel to the land of your ancestry but you certainly don’t need a passport to look into your heritage. Surfing the internet, diving into the library archives, or sitting down with your elders will offer you a way into your past that may surprise you both with the richness of what you find and how familiar it may feel.