On the job in Oslo at Tøyen Sportsklubb

J-term internship program offers cultural immersion and enrichment

Tøyen Sportsklubb coaches

Photo courtesy of Kell Knutsen
Kell Knutsen (left), Abdinor Mahamed (center), and Sajandan Rutthira after a day of ski instructing at the Oslo Vinterpark, Tryvann.

The Norwegian American

One day in his Nordic Studies 201 class at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, in December 2019, Kell Knutsen heard about a one-month internship program in Norway for the January-term break offered by St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. Kell, an avid traveler and adventurous by nature, was immediately intrigued.

“The opportunity fell into my life,” he said. There was a process to get selected, including a couple of interviews, mainly to understand his interests and goals. Soon, a good match was identified for him in Oslo at the Tøyen Sportsklubb.

Very outgoing and energetic by nature, Kell would be working with youth aged 6 to 18 in a program to get them involved in sports and encourage physical fitness. The program is run through local schools and subsidized by the Norwegian state and private donors.

Kids playing soccer at Tøyen Sportsklubb

Photo: Tøyen Sportsklubb
Tøyen Sportsklubb encourages children to have fun with physical activity.

Settling in

But first Kell had to settle in at his new accommodations in central Oslo, all arranged by the exchange program. Housing was set up in the Grønland neighborhood, where he lived in an apartment with other students in the internship program. Grønland, along with the adjacent Tøyen neighborhood, where the sports club is located, is one of the most ethnically diverse areas in Norway, home to a immigrants from Pakistan, Somalia, Turkey, and Kurdistan.

“We had to do our own cooking,” said Kell, “and we tried to eat Norwegian food as much as possible.” 

The students went out foraging in the local grocery stores with lists of recommendations of things to try out. Brunost, Norwegian brown cheese was a favorite. They also tried kebab and other street food available in Oslo. Like many Norwegians, they indulged in the beloved tradition of tacofredag, Friday night tacos.

Kell also enjoyed Norwegian pop music while in Oslo. He found Norwegian rap to be particularly fun, and it helped him to immerse himself in Norwegian culture.

On the job

At Tøyen Sportsklubb, Kell started coaching basketball in Norwegian, a great way to immerse himself in the Norwegian language. He had some help with the needed vocabulary, and above all, the children were the best language coaches he could get.

Kell only knew a few phrases of Norwegian when he arrived in Oslo, enough to get by, and he was now on a fast track.

“Kids are brutally honest,” said Kell. “With them, I didn’t have any fear of mess up. They corrected me, and then we moved on.” This enabled him to improve his Norwegian very quickly.

kids on a soccer team with Tøyen Sportsklubb

Photo: Tøyen Sportsklubb
A group of young soccer players celebrate teamwork and friendship after a match.

The after-school program at Tøyen Sportsklubb is sponsored by the Norwegian state and private donors and is run through the local schools. Most of the children participating in the program come from immigrant backgrounds, many of them from underprivileged households.

At Tøyen Sportsklubb, a variety of sports is offered, including frisbee, dodgeball, karate classes, and cricket. The goal is to introduce the pupils to different activities.

They also get the kids out on the ski slopes to learn downhill skiing. Kell had never taught anyone to ski, but he gave it a try. His grandmother’s brother was a ski jumper, so it was thrilling to ski on hills at Holmenkollen.

Challenges and take-aways

But a one-month internship in Oslo can bring its challenges. “There were some problems of going over there as an American,” said Kell. “We were there at the time when the United States assassinated Gen. Qassim Suleimani, commander of Iranian forces, and there were a lot of public protests.” Kell and his compatriots felt uncomfortable in this environment and even stopped speaking English in the streets. They perceived a strong anti-American sentiment.

But on the whole, the American students were very well received by the Norwegian people, and Kell made some good friends during his J-term stay in Oslo. You’ll often find him on Snapchat, as he still keeps in touch with his boss and co-workers.

In Oslo, Kell learned that contemporary Norwegian society is very diverse, a new discovery for him. Some of the friends Kell made in Oslo were Norwegians, some Americans, and many came from other countries. It was a truly international experience.

Most of all, Kell got a real sense of connection with the country. “I came out better for it,” he said.

To learn more about Tøyen Sportsklubb, visit toyensportsklubb.no (website in Norwegian).

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 3, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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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.