An American woman in Norway’s military

Oftedal’s journey led from San Diego to service in the country of her grandfather’s birth

Christina Oftedal

Photo courtesy of Christina Oftedal
Christina Oftedal’s job as a military guard is to keep the military secure.

Lori Ann Reinhall
The Norwegian American

When you first encounter Christina Oftedal, you will probably be surprised to learn that she is in the military. At a height of a little over 5’ 3” and weighing in at mere 110 pounds, the petite young woman, only 19 years old, cuts a demure, unassuming figure from all reports. But through a transatlantic Skype interview, I learned that the transplanted American in Norway is a force to be reckoned with, as I gained insight about what it is like for women to serve in the Norwegian military today.

One of the fun things about working for The Norwegian American is that you get to talk to people from all walks of life, and random phone calls can lead to interesting discussions. This is what happened when her grandfather, Egil, called the office one day to order a gift digital subscription for her to enjoy in Norway. He started to tell me about his granddaughter, and after a few minutes, I knew I had a story.

Christina Oftedal grew up in sunny San Diego, but in 2011 at age 13, she moved to Sandnes outside of Stavanger with her parents, both Norwegian Americans. It was time of economic downturn in the U.S., but things were booming in the Norwegian oil industry, so her father decided to seize the opportunity.

Moving from San Diego to Sandnes presented some initial challenges for the teenager, but with time Norway became her home. The fact that she had heard the Norwegian language spoken at home and could already understand it made things easier, and her parents enrolled her in an international school for a smooth transition. Nonetheless, Oftedal realized she had been transplanted into a foreign culture: she was a Norwegian American. With time, however, she saw the advantages of knowing two cultures and has learned to draw on the advantages from both.

While Oftedal sometimes misses living in the United States, she finds that life in Norway has offered her great advantages. She finds it easier to get around on public transportation (cars are very expensive in Norway, and even getting a driver’s license is a major investment), and in general, she feels safer there. She does, however, miss the variety of American life. Above all, this holds true when it comes to food. While she grew up eating traditional Norwegian fare with her parents, she misses the large selection of ethnic restaurants in southern California, especially Mexican cuisine. Naturally, she was happy when tacos came to Norway and the tradition of “Taco Friday” took hold. Like many Americans, and now Norwegians too, she loves pizza, and was also happy to report that Domino’s has finally come to Stavanger.

Christina always enjoyed school and thought she would head straight to university after secondary school, but as life would have it, she found another path open to her as a young woman: the Norwegian military. Right when she was graduating, a new policy was put in place to recruit more females, and she decided to check it out. She took an online test and did well, then continued to the physical tests and an interview. By the time she had made it through the screening, she was motivated to try something different, and she enlisted for one year. It was a new, unexpected challenge.

Oftedal did her basic training in Stavanger and was then selected to serve as a guard soldier in the Norwegian Air Force. She compares the position to that of a security guard: it is her task to make sure the military stays secure. In the military, she has become part of a team, and she enjoys day-to-day life with her new colleagues.

In the Norwegian military, men and women serve side by side, and they even share quarters. Oftedal has a room with another woman and two men and says that it has worked out great. Although the military is still dominated by men, she has experienced gender equality, with all tasks divided equally. She and her compatriots keep the room very tidy, cleaning the shared bathroom and sleeping areas daily. There are times, though, when Oftedal needs extra support. She tells me how she sometimes has to carry very heavy equipment that is hard to get on, but she can always count on her friends to help.

Life in the military is not all work, and the comrades sometimes go out to eat together, although the food in the canteen is excellent. Free time is not abundant, but there is time to catch a movie on Netflix now and then. Oftedal is also very fond of downhill skiing, something that she would like to do more of when she leaves the military.

When asked what Americans could learn from Norway, like many other expatriates, she has learned to appreciate the benefits of social democracy with its generous safety net. Conversely, she feels that Norwegians also need to understand American life better. She has seen how difficult it has been for Norway to absorb other cultures, especially those who have recently migrated from Muslim countries. She finds many of her new countrymen to be very shy and sometimes lacking in self-confidence. She thinks the American style of dating would make it easier for young people to come together, and she misses the overall openness of American society. When Oftedal first moved to Norway, she thought that the influence of American culture was too dominant, but with time she has come to see globalization as a positive force that unites people of different cultures. Her experience in the military has helped her understand the importance of alliances such as NATO and the necessity of nations working together.

Christina and Egil Oftedal

Photo courtesy of Egil Oftedal
Christina Oftedal celebrated Syttende Mai with her beloved bestefar Egil Oftedal in Sandnes, Norway, in 2015.

All in all, life in Norway is very, very good for Christina Oftedal, and her future is bright. Next fall she is looking forward to studying archaeology, an interest of hers since she was a child. But she will always remain a Norwegian-American girl at heart with an attachment to her roots. Most of all, she misses her grandpa, who now lives in Escondido. A retired military man himself, the two have much in common and share a bond that cannot be weakened by the ocean that divides them. “He is amazing,” she says, and the admiration between the two seems to be mutual. Egil told me that he loves Christina more than anything in the world and that he is extremely proud to be the bestefar of a strong and intelligent young woman who is serving Norway, a land that they both love.

Lori Ann Reinhall is a multilingual journalist and community activist based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association and state representative for Sister Cities International, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.

This article originally appeared in the April 20, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.