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Whale Watching and LeConte Glacier Tours based out of Petersburg Alaska

Norwegian student calls Little Norway home for a year


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(Clockwise from top) Don Spigelmyre; Norwegian exchange student, Rikki Sætermo; Sean Spigelmyre; and Julie Spigelmyre enjoy a day out on the water. Sætermo has been living with the Spigelmyre family since Thanksgiving.

Soon to be 17-year-old Rikke Sætermo from Alta, Norway has been adjusting to life in America, Alaska and Petersburg's Little Norway since she arrived to town in September as an exchange student with AFS USA.

Sætermo hails from a small town in one of Norway's northernmost municipalities. She's used to cold weather and that's what she prepared for when packing her bags for Petersburg, based on her perception of Alaska.

"I'm kind of embarrassed about this but I was thinking it was going to be ice cold. I was like snow everywhere all the time. And then when I came here it was so much warmer than where I'm from," Sætermo said. She playfully added, "I was like, 'Oh my gosh, why didn't I bring my bikini?'"

Though temps are warmer than she's used to, Sætermo's biggest weather-related adjustment has been to the rain, which she said she's had to adapt to.

"In the beginning I was like 'ugh, it's raining again.' And now I'm like, I'm here I just gotta do it, do whatever I want to do even though it's raining," she said. "At home usually if it rains, I would just stay inside."

She's had plenty to keep her busy indoors and out since her fall arrival.

Sætermo is registered as a junior at Petersburg High School, though she's participating in the senior activities as well. Her course load is heavily weighted toward the sciences as she's on track back home to study medicine after graduating from high school. Sætermo chose her courses here and said that's one of many differences between schools here and in Norway.

"You can't choose what (courses) you're having. The only thing you can choose is like what kind of direction you want to go," Sætermo said of Norwegian schooling, adding that the majority of students choose the general track called "study specializing."

Another difference is the amount of homework Sætermo has here.

"There's so much here. We don't have homework like that in Norway. But I'm getting used to it," she said.

Sætermo is a member of the cheerleading squad and is considering running track in the spring, two options that wouldn't be available to her in the same way back home.

"We don't have school sports," she said. Nor is participation in sports connected to grades in Norway.

"Here's it's like a huge focus on grades, which is good. I like that...your grades have to be good, too. It's a motivation," she said.

Though she chose to do an exchange in the U.S., the exchange program AFS USA placed Sætermo in Petersburg based on her interest in being outdoors and snowboarding.

She first lived with the Madonna and R.D. Parks family and has since moved in with Don, Julie and Sean Spigelmyre where she'll remain until she goes back home in the summer of 2015. Sætermo and the Spigelmyres all said they were enjoying the experience. It's the Spigelmyre's first time hosting an exchange student.

Don Spigelmyre said it's an experience he never thought he'd be having, but that he's really been enjoying it.

"I was saying to my friends at work that I never expected to have a 16-year-old girl doing cheerleading stuff in my house ever. And here she is and it's cool," he said.

Sean Spigelmyre, age 10, said he enjoys the addition to the family.

"It's cool I have someone else around the house besides these two," he said smilingly, pointing to his parents.

How has it been to be a Norwegian in Little Norway? Sætermo said Petersburg's version of Little Norway represents a time past in Norway.

"It's old Norwegian. Norway is nothing like this at home, but I definitely see some old stuff that I know that my great-grandparents had and stuff," she said. Nowadays, Sætermo said, "I feel like Norway tries to be America."

Though she's got plenty to keep her busy until then, Sætermo said she's already looking forward to Mayfest.

"I'm excited for that (Mayfest) because I heard you celebrate it way more than we do," she said.


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