While rowing for Ohio men's crew, Axel Hamel and Sam Fjelstul learned they share a common culture. Hamel – born and raised in Espoo, Finland, moved to the U.S. in 2008 – and Fjelstul, one generation removed from Norway, shared a Nordic descent.
The Ohio University Nordic Club was founded Jan. 12, 2017 by Hamel, a senior studying international business, and Fjelstul, a junior studying plant biology. After meeting on the rowing team, Hamel, Fjelstul and David Zucker, a senior studying finance, formed the club to educate OU students about Nordic culture.
“There’s not really a lot of vision of what Nordic culture is in the U.S.,” Hamel, the president and founder of the club, said. “Some people kind of brand them together with Scandinavian, but in reality those are very different terms.”
While ‘Scandinavia’ only refers to Sweden, Denmark and Norway, ‘Nordic’ refers to five countries: Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland. Hamel said OU does not offer a broad spectrum of organizations for those regions.
In fact, the OU Nordic Club is only one of four other cultural student organizations that focus on a region in Europe. Others include the French, Russian and Spanish clubs, according to OU’s list of student organizations.
Since starting with about seven members a year ago, the Nordic Club gradually gained more members and now has about 25 active members.
The club has monthly meetings where they discuss different Nordic countries each month, like “Finnish February” or “Denmarch.” Hamel and Fjelstul like to talk about interesting aspects of Nordic cultures such as food, music and sports.
The next meeting will be Feb. 22 in Gordy 313 where the club will be discussing Finland as a part of “Finnish February.”
Fjelstul, a resident of Cincinnati, often comes back from breaks with different Nordic foods, like chocolates and cookies, from Jungle Jim’s International Market. The members also have baked Nordic desserts, such as semla, a sweet bun with whip cream in the middle and strawberry jam.
“It’s easy to make something like culture really bland and cookie-cutter, so we try to spice it up with the foods and the entertainment and fun facts from every country — things that people would consider interesting,” Fjelstul, the vice-president, said.
Hamel also hopes to teach members about Nordic history. For instance, he said, Nordic countries are linked with viking history, and many countries’ flags use the cross, a symbol that Vikings used to represent Christianity. The Nordic countries have a similar design with a use of the cross in its flags.
“We try to keep people actively engaged,” Hamel said. “A lot of people are interested ... because they want to know what Nordic is. Is it a viking? Is it Norway? Is it Sweden? Or is it all of them combined? That’s the mystery about it.”
The club is planning to organize intramural games from Nordic countries, such as Pesäpallo, Finnish baseball. It is often referred to as Finland’s national sport and was adapted from the American style of baseball.
“It’s kind of interesting,” Hamel said. “Finland is actually the world champion because it is the only country that really plays it competitively.”
The club also hopes to teach members about famous bands and companies originating in Nordic countries that many people do not know about. Abba, for example, is from Sweden and won the music competition Eurovision in 1974. It is very rare for a Nordic country to win, Hamel said. Companies like Spotify, Skype and H&M also originated in Nordic countries. Americans don’t expect these big companies are from abroad, Hamel said.
Hamel said because people can communicate with another person around the world in a matter of seconds and how world occurrences are on the news all the time, it’s important to be educated about different countries.
“Our future goal is to be recognized by the university and start having languages taught with our respective club,” Hamel said.
Zucker, the treasurer for the club, said the club is a good way to raise awareness as he knew little about Nordic culture before joining.
“I feel like maybe in America, we’re in this little bubble where we just don’t...not necessarily we don’t care about other countries, we just don’t learn as much,” Zucker said. “We don’t stress the importance of other people around the world. (The Ohio University Nordic Club is) definitely a good way to raise awareness about other cultures and other people.”
Clarification: The article has been updated to clarify Hamel's comment about OU not having a broad range of organizations for the Nordic region.
Correction: A previous version of this photo caption misspelled Axel Hamel's name. The photo caption has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.