“i Oslo for å hilse på gamle venner”

For those that don’t speak Norwegian – translates as In Oslo to greet old friends

Thursday 28th February – Oslo

Despite the unseasonably warm weather, the expected winter snow and ice scene stretched out below our plane as we travelled over Norway into Oslo. I love being by the sea and it was a very calm day on the Fjord as I looked out from the Aker Brygge piers across the water.

I thought I would visit the Nasjonal Bibliokeket to see what they had on Harry’s trip. The Oslo approach to library management involved less security and leaving things in lockers than in Stockholm, and whilst the librarian was helpful, I was left somewhat to navigate the browser in Norwegian, which took some trial and error.

However my search proved fruitful straight away with an article about Harry’s 1966 trip dated 5th April, the headline of which is ‘He founded New York’s International House, Harry Edmonds in Oslo to greet old friends’

There were many other references to International House and Harry, one of my favourites being from 1953, which describes the arrival of the liner Stavangerfjord into Bergen from America, with 332 passengers and 119 sacks of post. 61 of the passengers were getting off in Bergen including Harry who is the only one with a personal mention. It looks like he was off to Bergen, Oslo, Lund, Stockholm, Helskini and Rome.

The arrival of Stavangerfjord Boat with Harry onboard Bergens Arbeideblad 15.09.1953

There was also a reference to a Norwegian Trustee and Treasurer of I-House NYC, Mr R. E. Gunderson who sadly died aged 65 in 1966. He was born in Tromsø Norway, but seems to have lived in Germany and the US during his career.

In the article from 1966, it says that Harry stayed at the Continental Hotel, which would then have been ‘the’ place to stay. It has recently been re-furbished and so I thought it would be fitting venue for my meet up with Berkeley alumna Minji Song.

Minji is Korean and met her Norwegian husband Johannes Bogen at I-House Berkeley.

Minji Song with me in the Continental Hotel where Harry stayed in 1966

The evening gathering was ably coordinated by Anders Gabom Backe and was an all I-House NYC affair. We managed to reunite two alumni who had been at the House together but had not seen each other for many years and we also spanned from 1975 to 2018.

We talked about how New York and the area around the House has changed over that time and also Therese recalled how she had been at the House when 9/11 happened and the way that the community had come together during that time and had particularly supported those who initially were not sure whether loved ones were alive or dead. Happier times learning new skills from Yoga, to Floor Hockey to dancing were also recalled with affection.

The opportunity to learn leadership skills through I-House jobs or programs was another key theme. Camilla had had a number of roles during her time at the House such as Student Councillor and both Therese and Rabia had been part of the Women In Leadership Programme. They reflected on how being able to formally and informally learn these skills had positively impacted their careers since.

We also recalled how the 1980s when Therese and Camilla were in the House was the time that HIV and AIDs emerged and the fear and sadness they bought particularly to the Gay community in New York. With many doctors resident in the House this was a topic of frequent topic of conversation as was raising awareness that this was not just a LGBT issue.

Rabia DoubleYou, me, Anders Gabom Backe, Camilla Nas, Therese Sjøvoll and Knut Boye
Anders, who provided the Norwegian candle and received the Swedish candle which was donated by another Anders (Paulsson)

Footnote to the dinner – The Crown Prince of Norway Haakon Magnus, who is a Berkeley alum was hoping to attend however sadly for him and us, there was a last minute clash with an official engagement… perhaps next time.

Story Snippets…

Korean, Norwegian love story – Minji Song and Johannes Bogen – Minji was living at Berkeley I-House and she was invited by a fellow Korean resident to go and support him during a game of Poker that was planned between some residents. Minji had no particular interest in Poker but her friend wanted her help so she decided to go. The game got underway and some time later a young man (Johannes) came in with some beer. He was too late to join in the game so sat next to Minji and so she felt compelled to make small talk. She made the mistake of asking about the rules which Johannes then proceeded to describe in great detail. Still despite this there was something about him that attracted her. A mutual friend was a great organiser of excursions for their friendship group and a cycle ride was planned over the Golden Gate bridge. Minji knew Johannes would be going so she said yes, the only slight hitch was that she actually could hardly ride a bicycle. She had just learnt before she left Korea and could only cycle in a straight line. The cycle ride proved somewhat dangerous for anyone that crossed her path and she managed to hit a number of pedestrians and cyclists! (all were fine) She felt that she had blown her chances with Johannes, however her hopeless cycling seemed to bring out his protective side and so romance blossomed. Their road to becoming husband and wife involved all the interesting things in a cross cultural relationship including Johannes winning over Minji’s parents during an extended stay in Korea. They were married in Norway last summer and one of my favourite bits of the story is that Minji’s mum flew the family dog with her to the wedding so she is in the wedding photos too!

Dressed to Impress – Therese Sjøvoll– Therese was staying back at I-House as she was going to defend her PHD thesis and had decided to make herself a new skirt so she looked super smart.  However the day before the meeting the skirt was still not finished and Therese needed help. Knowing how I-House worked from her time living there, Therese went down to the dining hall and approached a resident and asked her if she was willing to help.  Obviously she was and so she helped Therese pin the required pieces so that Therese could complete the sewing that night and go to the meeting looking wonderful. 

Culture Shock – Knut Boye – Knut came to the House in 1975 and he travelled from Norway with a number of other students starting courses in the US who were all going to stay their first night at I-House before travelling on to their respective places of study. They arrived into JFK and were picked up to transfer to the House. It was late and as they drove they passed through Harlem and were confronted with scenes reminiscent of a war movie. Cars were upside-down, stripped bare for their spare parts, others were alight and gangs of young men and women were out on the street. The newly arrived students were alarmed, but as most were not staying they wished Knut luck and took their leave the next day. Knut was not easily deterred and so it was not long before he had mastered the subway, but he did heed the NYPD talk that the residents were given in those days not to get off at 125th and walk across, but to get onto a local train up to Columbia instead.

Basketball and Floor Hockey – Anders Gabom Backe – Anders was an intern over the summer, so the House was very quiet when he arrived. For the first week he found himself somewhat isolated and lonely, but then approached another resident and they started to play Basketball together. Soon their duet was turned into a team as others joined them and the friendships grew. Anders also discovered the Floor Hockey team, which seems to have been in action at I-House for many years playing with a mix of residents and non-residents in the gym. They were joined one week by the now somewhat elderly alumni who started the Floor-Hockey club who was pleased to see it was still running.

Bowie Encounter – Therese Sjøvoll – As she was studying Art History, Therese enjoyed taking in the art scene in NYC and recalled one particularly large exhibition opening that she and four girl friends, all of whom had met on the WIL (Women in Leadership Program) at the House, were invited to attend.  The group included her friend who had been crowned ‘Miss El Salvador’ in her pre-I-House days.  It was a fancy and celebrity studded affair. They first met Salman Rushdie and then bumped into David Bowie. Being slightly star struck there was an awkward pause before Miss El Salvador stepped boldly forward with her hand out saying “Hello I’m… from El Salvador.”, She was quickly followed by each of her four friends going “Hello I’m… from Mexico”, “I’m Therese from Norway”, “I’m… from Sweden”, “I’m… from Australia”. David Bowie looked slightly taken aback, but then said, that the world would be a more peaceful place if everyone got on as well as they seemed to be getting on. 

Where we ate: Oliva Ostenbanehallen https://oliviarestauranter.no/#!/restaurant/ostbanehallen

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