The Royal Norwegian Embassy opens up its doors
This year’s Around the World Embassy Tour a great success
Christine Foster Meloni
One of the most popular events in our nation’s capital is the day many embassies open their doors to the general public and showcase their buildings and their country’s cultures.
The Royal Norwegian Embassy was unable to participate in this eagerly anticipated yearly event in the past because it could not accommodate large crowds. This year, however, the situation was different. The newly renovated embassy complex building opened its doors on May 6 to welcome very enthusiastic guests.
The embassy had closed its doors in 2020, and the renovation began. Three years later, the work was finally completed and planning for the Around the World Embassy Tour began.
Valeska Rulken, the embassy’s social secretary, was the person primarily responsible for the planning. She said that, since it was the first year that the embassy had participated in this event, they did not quite know what to expect. She explained their plan:
“We decided to cast a broad net and reach out to organizations that we thought could be interested in participating. This included the Norwegian-American Chamber of Commerce, Vesterheim museum, Norway House, and Norwegian-American organizations in the area, such as the Sons of Norway Washington, D.C., Lodge.
“We were thrilled that our outreach was met with a lot of enthusiasm, which allowed us to put together a great program. Our primary objective when agreeing to this event was to give guests a chance to see our new space, but with the participation of these great organizations, we were also able to show off Norwegian folk art, food culture, and language.”
Washington Sons of Norway Lodge
The local Sons of Norway Washington, D.C., lodge played a key role in creating a welcoming atmosphere for the almost 5,000 eager visitors.
Shelley Mitchell and Rhonda Ferguson-Augustus stood at the entrance to the building and warmly welcomed the visitors and sent them up the stairs where they were greeted by Marie Hansen and Linda Hestvik, who gave them instructions on how to proceed and answered any of their questions.
Christine Knight and her daughter, Katarina, were very excited about their involvement.
Christine said, “It was a great experience helping the Royal Norwegian Embassy share our culture and traditions through food! I really enjoyed answering questions about what made the waffles we were serving Norwegian waffles and when and how Norwegians and Norwegian Americans eat them. We did not offer any toppings for our waffles. Chef Chris knew that toppings would slow the long line of eager visitors down to a crawl.
“The most common observation was how the heart shape made the waffles so cute! At our lodge’s annual Christmas festival, taste is what it’s all about, with questions on cardamom and vanilla being the primary concerns. No one comments on the heart shape!
“I was amazed at the ubiquitous photos and filming of the waffles we were serving, taken by the recipients themselves. I wonder how many TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook posts these waffles were stars in!”
Katarina said, “It was very gratifying to be able to share my culture with such a diverse group of people who had never tried Norwegian waffles. Seeing their smiles and receiving their compliments was amazing, as I knew they were just as excited about Norwegian food and culture as I am.”
Why come to the Norwegian embassy?
Two students from D.C.’s Georgetown University, William and Zara, shared why they were interested in visiting the Royal Norwegian Embassy.
“I’m very interested in the country, culture, and customs—and where better to go to learn about all these things than the embassy? Not to mention that I’ll be going to Norway in the summer and was hoping to meet some Norwegian nationals,” said William.
Zara said, “Because I think the embassy tour is really cool. As a Georgetown student enrolled in the School of Foreign Service, I’m always game to learn about new cultures!”
The two enthusiastic students also shared what they enjoyed most about their visit.
For William, “it was getting to speak with some of the embassy’s staff and many of the fantastic members of the local Sons of Norway lodge!”
Zara’s reply was very enthusiastic:
A young woman was seen admiring the two fascinating works in the Art Room, “Rocks in Tidal Water” by Eline Mugaas and “Færdaminner” by Elisabeth Haarr. We struck up a conversation, and I learned that her name was Ching Chen Kuo and that she was a local high school teacher.
“When I noticed that the Royal Norwegian Embassy was participating in this year’s Around the World Embassy tour, I was determined to visit the embassy,” she said. “I am very glad I did. I wanted to learn more about the place my handsome husband’s relatives were from.
“I was born and grew up in the small city of Hsing-Chu, Taiwan. I came to the United States for graduate school in the early 2000s and ended up as a public-school teacher here in the D.C. metro area. And I married an American with Norwegian roots. Our dream is to visit Norway one day. We have talked about it many times.
“It felt very special when I stepped into the embassy today, because I felt somehow connected. What has most caught my attention is the architecture, its simple design with natural wood and lots of glass to welcome the natural light. This gives people a fresh, clean, and healthy feeling. And the paintings in this Art Room! I love their vivid colors and their boldness. After this embassy visit, going to Norway will definitely be a high priority on our bucket list.”
To learn more about the embassy renovation by Fentress Architects, visit their website at dezeen.com/2022/05/24/fentress-architects-norwegian-embassy-washington.
Who was invited to participate?
Several organizations were represented, including Luther College and Vesterheim, the National Norwegian Museum, both located in Decorah, Iowa.
The focus of the popular Luther College table was its Nordic Studies program. Maren Johnson, associate professor of Nordic Studies and program director of the Torgerson Center for Nordic Studies, was very busy answering questions, many regarding the college’s Norwegian language classes.
Two other Norwegian instructors, Evelyn “Eddy” Galstad and Nick Rayness, were in another location of the embassy presenting a sample Norwegian class with great enthusiasm, much to the delight of those in attendance. As their “students” left, they were given a card with all of the words and phrases they had learned in the mini-lesson.
Diane Wagner, director of development, and her daughter were responsible for Vesterheim’s table. Diane said that they were thrilled that the embassy had given them this great opportunity to showcase Vesterheim’s many offerings. They distributed brochures with information about folk art courses that were both online and in person, such as rosemaling, woodcarving, weaving, fiber arts, Nordic cooking, and metalworking. They also handed out a catalog with the items available for purchase in the Vesterheim Museum Store including Dale of Norway sweaters, Sylvsmidja silver jewelry, gnomes, Scandinavian treats, cooking utensils, books, and notecards.
The Norwegian American was, of course, represented. Ethan Bjelland-Hagberg, communications director at Norway House in Minneapolis, was busy giving out copies of our newspaper and selling subscriptions.
Was the open house a success?
“Yes!” said Urd Berge Milbury, the embassy’s culture and education adviser. “It really was such a fantastic event. This was the first year we participated in Passport DC. We could not participate before, as our embassy was not suited for receiving crowds of visitors. Now, with our renovated state-of-the-art embassy, we can finally take part in this fun public diplomacy event.
“It was wonderful to be able to open our doors to the general public, as most people in D.C. never get to visit an embassy so they are very curious about this hidden world. We wanted to showcase our new building and artwork, as well as Norwegian culture and business. We were lucky to have so many organizations help us create interesting content, from Luther College to Vesterheim to the Norwegian Refugee Council and Norse Atlantic airlines. And even better is that every organization left so happy with the level of exposure they got and with the public participation and enthusiasm.”
The Royal Norwegian Embassy’s open house promises to be a hot destination on the Around the World Embassy Tour again next year! Vi sees!
All photos by John Olsen
This article originally appeared in the July 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.