Norway's highest mountain challenges new immigrants

Bookmark and Share

Organizers insisted it wasn’t meant to be an initiation rite into life in Norway, but they nonetheless encouraged a large group of new immigrants and asylum seekers to take part in a trek up to the summit of Galdhøpiggen , Norway’s highest mountain. More than a thousand accepted the challenge last weekend and most of them made it to the top.

It was all about trying to feel more “Norwegian,” and get a feel for the great Norwegian outdoors. And since there are plenty of Norwegians who themselves have never climbed Galdhøpiggen , or even go hiking in the mountains at all, the new arrivals from more than 40 countries put some of the natives to shame.

“The goal is to get people to appreciate the mountains,” Ohene Aboagye of the state integration directorate IMDI told newspaper Dagsavisen . “If you’re going to live in Norway, it’s important to get acquainted with the outdoors and how you can use it, otherwise you can quickly feel isolated in your house.”

Aboagye came to Norway from Ghana in 1984 and took the initiative to organize the climb up Galdhøpiggen along with officials from the Norwegian Red Cross. It’s the second time the trek has been made. In 2007, 1,000 registered for the trek, 800 actually showed up and 400 made it to the summit. This time, 1,300 persons registered, just over 1,000 turned up and 700 reached the top.

“I actually felt more integrated myself after I first went hiking in the mountains and on a glacier,” Aboagye said.

Several of the new immigrants said the Norwegians they met on the trail were nicer than most are in town, with many of them smiling and exchanging greetings. Red Cross director Bjørge Brende said the traditional “Norwegian reserve” often prevents new immigrants from getting to know Norwegians, who can seem unfriendly towards people they don’t know.

“I’ve never understood why Norwegians don’t seem interested in meeting and getting to know their neighbors,” said Hatice Elmacioglu from Turkey. “When I came to Norway, I invited my neighbors to visit, but I seldom got an invitation in return so I don’t invite anymore. I guess I’ve become more integrated and like a Norwegian.”

On a mountain trail, though, there’s a different sense of equality among people. There’s also a greater tendency to offer assistance, if needed.

Crown Prince Haakon joined a group from Bergen in making the long hike up to the 2,400-meter summit. “It’s important that we (Norwegians) become more open and share our culture,” he told Dagsavisen . “I think it’s really nice that immigrants wanted to come along on a hike in the mountains.”

He was quick to note, though, that “you don’t have to hike in the mountains to be Norwegian.” He’d actually never been up to the top of Galdhøpiggen either.