PHD and MA students’ short term internship visit to Telemark County, Norway

            Time flew by so quickly since I, Zhazgul Estebes, a PHD student from the Kyrgyz Economic University and Tinatin Gogolishvilii, an MA student from Shota Rustaveli State University, first arrived to the beautiful country of Norway as short term internship students from the mid of April until the mid of May 2019.  Our mission was to study sustainable development of rural tourism in Norway and gather the data necessary for our research work.

           During our one-month stay, we visited many tourist destinations and met with representatives from various state, municipal and private organizations and project managers involved in the tourism sector. Our site visits focused on locations related to three aspects of tourism:  industrial, ecological, and cultural heritage.

Bellow, are highlights from our visits:

Tinatin and I attended the Eurasian Conference in Oslo on 24.04.2019. Coordinators and administrative stuff of fourteen projects, financed by Diku, participated in the conference, and one of the projects was our CPEA project, presented by Ms. Anne Gry Sturod. Diku is the Norwegian Agency for International Cooperation and Quality Enhancement in Higher Education.   

                   The following day, we had the good fortune to meet with Ms. Agneta Lindén Moen, head of the Norwegian Ecotourism organization that certifies local companies. We learned that the certification process for Norwegian Ecotourism is based on the international principles for ecotourism, and safeguards international goals recommended by the UN and the International Ecotourism Association. During our meeting, we received in depth responses to our inquiries about certification processes and criteria operated by HANEN, a nationwide organization for rural tourism businesses with over 500 member companies promoting local food, thoughtful service, activities in nature such as farm food and inland fishing in Norway.

                The locale of our research was mainly in Telemark County. Telemark County contains 12 municipalities and is divided into Upper Telemark, Mid-Telemark and Lower Telemark. One of those municipalities is Bø.  So, Tinatin and I traveled from Oslo to Bø which is where the University of South-East Norway is located. There we met with the CPEA project team.

On 30.04.2019, the CUPIDO (Cultural Heritage) Project Manager, Ms. Marit Svalastog, and Telemark County Council, Dawn Marie Syvertsen, welcomed us at their office in Ulefoss. They generously shared their perspectives on tourism, methods to draw and engage local entrepreneurs in rural tourism businesses and the importance of networking with the local private, municipal and state level stakeholders. CUPIDO’s objective is to develop new business opportunities in the cultural and cultural heritage sectors around the North Sea, to reinforce the economic position, competitiveness and social cohesion of local rural communities in areas with a declining population.      

              During our visit to the Skien municipality on 06.05.2019, we ventured to meet with Ms. Caroline Laurhammer, the Director of Tourism for Telemark. Despite of Ms. Laurhammer’s busy schedule, she made time for us, and we were able to collect a great deal of information related to the DMO’s mission and tourism business marketing and promotion.

             On Sunday 07.05.2019, our Project Coordinator, Ms. Anne Gry, invited us to visit the Lifjell mountain plateau. We stopped at Lifjellstua, a 60-year-old mountain lodge with a unique and picturesque location at the top of Lifjell in Bø. The lodge offers a nice restaurant and a bar, 18 rooms and two conference rooms. Guests can also take advantage of seasonal activities such as ski slopes and some highly regarded hiking areas: Bø Sommarland, Klatreparken and Telemarkskanalen. We happily took advantage of the opportunity to sample some delicious traditional foods.

            In Notodden municipality, on 08.05.2019, we met with Professor Inger Birkeland at the USN Campus. Professor Birkeland provided details about Notodden’s history, industrial heritage, and gave an overview on the subject of our research. After the meeting, we visited The Rjukan-Notodden Industrial Heritage. On July 15th 2015, the Rjukan-Notodden Industrial Heritage was officially recognized as the 8th heritage site in Norway by UNESCO.  In the 1900s, Norway experienced rapid industrial development through the availability of cheap hydroelectric power. Kristian Birkeland, A Norwagian scientist developed a method to extract nitrogen from the air, which, after an initial trial in Notodden in 1907. Nitrogen was needed to produce fertilizers. Norsk Hydro was founded in 1905, and industrial development began in the Eastern Telemark region, previously an underdeveloped and underpopulated agricultural area. To produce fertilizers, it was essential to build factories, power stations, infrastructure for workers, as well as facilities for exporting the production

             Next two days, May 10th and 11th, we spent in Vrådal village in the K’viteseid municipality making short trips to nearby tourist destinations in the bordering municipalities. Mr. Tim Abessadze, a CPEA Project Assistant kindly conferred with us and provided excellent advice while driving us to Uppigard Natadal in Seljord municipality where we met with the owner of a Norwegian mountain farm. Together with the owner, we conducted a tour among the log houses from the 18th century. The owner entertained us by telling fairy tales about trolls who live in the forest up in the mountain plateau just in front of the farm. The plateau provides visitors with a beautiful view of the amazing green scenery in the mountain gorge. The uniqueness of this tour product is that this farm is located in the mountains and possesses an old wooden farm structure from the 17-18 century which was converted into guesthouses with antique appurtenances. The beautiful and unique setting is further complemented by a guided tour by the owner narrating the local fairy tales with the skill of a professional storyteller. The farm owner’s  educational background in history and his well-developed narrating skills is certainly advantageous to his business and makes for an educational and entertaining historical tourist destination.

            Next, we visited the Nutheim Gjestgiveri hotel and met with the owner, Ellen. Nutheim Gjestgiveri is a small family-run wooden hotel which has been in Ellen’s family for more than 100 years, having been handed down from mother to daughter 4 times. The main building is a charming wooden hotel and a gallery for paintings and sculptures.  The Nutheim has 17 rooms spread over 6 buildings and farther down the hill there is a collection of old houses and other structures. In these buildings, visitors can  explore Hjartdal's old parish from the 17th century, a storehouse, a loft, Erlend Grøstad's old studio and the Undervinsingatelieret with its 3 rooms. The uniqueness of Ellen’s business is that this family run wooden hotel belongs to the generations of artists in Ellen’s family since the mid-18th century.

           We also visited several other tourist destinations: The Straand Hotel where guests can enjoy a beautiful view over Lake Nisser and the surrounding forest and mountains offering a variety of outdoor activities year-round such as bicycle tours, canoeing, multiple options for fishing and hiking, pedal boating, swimming, circuit training, and even a water trampoline. The Kviteseid Museum of Local History provides visitors an opportunity to tour historical houses which haven’t changed in over 200 years. Lastly but not least, we toured the Kviteseid Church, a beautiful stone church from the 1200th. While making our way back to Bø we were able to stop and visit several camping areas in Seljord as well as a shop without shopkeepers.

            Soon after, we traveled to Ulefoss municipality guided by Mr. David Isaksen, an Assistant Professor at USN.  We toured Ulefos hovedgård, the stately summer residence of Niels Aall, a former Minister of Trade.  The residence was completed in 1807 after a five-year period of construction. The day ended with a visit to the Telemark Canal in Ulefoss.


            The next day, we went to Skein municipality to meet with Ms. Stine Lunde, the Senior Advisor of Innovation Norway. From her presentation, we soon learned that Innovation Norway is the Norwegian Government's most important instrument for innovation and development of Norwegian enterprises and industry. Innovation Norway’s programs and services are intended to create more successful entrepreneurs and encourage enterprises with a capacity for growth and develop more innovative business clusters to include the tourism sector. Innovation Norway has taken a proactive role in the effort of steering companies towards contributing to a sustainable future. Innovation Norway provides financial support to local business sectors focusing on small to medium scale enterprises. Today, almost 30 percent of the company’s total financial portfolio has an environmentally focused profile.

            The most culturally active day was May 17th, which is the National Constitution Day in Norway.  This was a truly special time to be in Norway. With our Norwegian flags in hand, we joined the locals in their celebration and followed the marching bands throughout the town, waving flags and shouting “hurra!”.  The focus of this great day was eating a lot of ice-cream, hot dogs, listening to speeches, music and greatly enjoying the celebration. We even have had an opportunity to try on the traditional Norwegian dresses and experience some traditional local fare with our Norwegian friends.

             The 21st of May and our final day of research quickly arrived. We had arranged to meet with Professor Gudrun Helgadottir at the university. We discussed our research topic with Professor Gudrun and she provided us with some very important information and examples cases concerning the tools and methods for promoting tourism in rural and coastal areas.

             In addition to our site visits, we were able to access the ample resources available in the university library both in digital and hardcopy formats.

From the majestic mountains and famous fjords to the modern yet picturesque cities, Norway is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. With a population of 5 396 768, Norway is visited by more than 8 million tourists each year and those numbers are increasing. Thirty days offer only a glimpse of this amazing country. Once you have visited Norway, you will be drawn to visit Norway’s many beautiful tourist destinations again and again.

            We would like to express our sincere gratitude to everyone for your support in organizing the site visits, your warm hospitality, generous hosting, and wise mentoring and for generally taking care of us during our wonderful internship. Thank you for your precious time! We gained a lot from this endeavor. From supporting our study and the ability to gather research to living this great experience that helped us to widen our horizons. With your support, this internship was a great contribution to our research work and our future.

Special thanks to Ms. Anne Gry Sturod, Mr. Tim Abessadze, Ms. Elisabeth Fleseland and Mr.  David Isaksen!

Thank you very much!