By Megan Hjelle, Miss Norway of Greater New York, 2009
I stood there recollecting the 23 years I spent dreading the moment someone would try to pronounce my last name – “Helly?”; “Ha-Jelly?”; “Hell?” – And there, on an old farm’s crumbling foundation atop an otherwise nameless hill in Ulnes, I stood in the very spot where, generations ago, my family worked the land and earned my name: Hjelle. There I was in a country where everyone could pronounce my name! Going to Norway, seeing old and new generations of family, seeing the places they left when they came to the U.S., seeing what they left behind and recognizing what they had brought with them was the most miraculous culmination of an already amazing few months as Miss Norway 2009.
Just a few months before, I found myself nervous and excited, standing on stage at the Miss Norway contest. I didn’t know what to expect at first, but by the end of a day spent talking to the other Miss Norway participants and meeting so many friendly Norwegians, I had had the time of my life. I didn’t think it was possible to feel more welcomed into the Norwegian community, but on May 17, 2009, I realized how wrong I was!
At the Syttende Mai parade, it felt like every Norwegian on the East coast was there to celebrate. And as Miss Norway, I was able to greet almost every one of them. Taking pictures with people and receiving the cheers and support of such a huge Norwegian community was something I never thought I would get to experience. I had never felt so proud of and grateful for my Norwegian heritage.
When I finally made it to Norway that summer, my relatives were thrilled to greet an American representative of their culture! It seemed that they were just as excited to learn about the warmth and vitality of the U.S. Norwegian community as I was. While there, I saw relatives in Oslo, Trondheim, Surnadal and, of course, Ulnes – with a lot more traveling in between! I had traveled so far, but I had never felt as deeply at home as I did when I stood, with my Norwegian and American family, where the story had started for the Hjelles.
I can say with full confidence that the next Miss Norway will have a life changing experience ahead of her. I can’t wait to welcome the next Miss Norway into such a warm, proud and amazing community and I hope she feels as blessed as I do to be a part of it.