Meet Helga Staalhane – on loan to OB from Norway. She has lived here for six months and is in a masters program in Sociology at San Diego State University on a student visa. I met her at NewBreak the other day and she agreed to be interviewed and have her photo taken for the OB Rag (the photo is a prerequisite for the interview, as living in OB is also).
We took a window table and I started asking her questions, while sipping my mug of java. Helga’s English is, by the way, impeccable – every now and then I’d hear a strange word or syllable but not very often. She was born 24 years ago and was raised in Oslo, where, she told me, “most people in Norway learn English. There’s lots of movies and TV from the US and England. Music also helps.”
Helga and her boyfriend Daniel Wrobleski, live in a place on Long Branch Avenue, and they moved there back in August. Daniel has lived in OB for 6 years and is in masters program at USD in marine biology. They met in Bali about three years ago and hit it off immediately. They spent two weeks together and stayed in contact. He visited her in Norway a couple of times.
As her school, the University of Oslo, has an exchange program with UC Berkeley, she took advantage of it and lived and studied in the Bay Area for a year, where she and Daniel re-connected. Helga returned to Oslo and Daniel came to visit for a month.
They decided to live together in the U.S. – but where was the question. Helga was accepted to SDSU but also to the University of San Francisco. But she chose San Diego and San Diego State. “They have a great Sociology program at State,” she said.
“OB is my favorite place in San Diego,” Helga told me. She got to know the community as Daniel was living here. “OB is nice and warmer, and very liberal, which is why I like it.”
“I like the little stores, not a lot a bunch of chains.”
I kept asking her why she liked OB. “I surf a little bit,” she offered. “I lived in Central America, in Nicaragua for 6 months – where I surfed – I started there.” How often? “I surf as often as I can do.” I asked her when the last time it was that she surfed. “I surfed last week,” she answered.
“I don’t think I’d like to live somewhere in another community. OB gives me a good feeling, where people care about their local community. People seem to actually take an interest in caring for their community.”
She is not working as she is prohibited from doing so because of her student visa. But she is doing research – that’s work.
“I’m working right now to improve the conditions of taxi drivers. I’m working with the San Diego United Taxi Drivers, an association. I’m doing research through the Sociology Department and with the labor union.”
I asked, “aren’t taxi drivers independent contractors?” They are, she agreed. But they to lease their cabs.
“There’s no cap on their lease, for leasing their cab. They’re one of the most vulnerable group of workers.”
Helga is very liberal, apparently, and she chose sociology and her research because it is something she enjoys. “It’s important to do something you like.” Her thesis, not quite perfected yet, is a comparison of labor in Norway and the U.S.
I asked her how she pays her bills.
“Everyone in Norway gets scholarships, so Norway pays me, for school and for living. In Norway, school is generally free through college.”
After a brief pause, she added:
“Health care is also free in Norway,” and medical services include abortions.
Helga’s parents are also very liberal, she told me, they’re in their 60’s. “My mother is a professor of education. She does a lot of research. My dad does the same thing- they work together, but he teaches more.” Helga was the youngest child, a girl, with 3 older brothers.
“Wow,” I responded. “Were you the baby or were you beaten up?”
“A little of both,” she said.
Our conversation moved into her ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ of Ocean Beach.
“I like the Farmers’ Market. All the little stores. Very friendly, feels local. I like its location. I go for walks on the cliffs.”
“I feel very welcome in OB,” the blond, blue-eyed Scandinavian told me. I smirked. Of course, she does.
She’s gotten to know Daniel’s friends, but now, through school she’s making her own as well. That makes her feel good. “I’ve gotten to know friends here in OB.”
We discussed the homeless in OB and how the situation her compares to Oslo or to Italy where she recently traveled with her parents before moving to America. “Yes, there are homeless,” she said, “but it’s the system’s fault. I think people who are homeless need our help.”
In richer parts of Italy, “they swept the homeless out of view,” she recounted. She saw homeless in the smaller cities in Italy, but “Italy has gotten extremely strict around immigration – very racist towards Africans.”
The homeless in Oslo are on drugs, she explained, as there are government programs and housing for homeless people, and those who are sleeping on the streets are drug dealers. There are also problems with Romanians who come over to Norway legally. They’re very poor, apparently, and many of them sleep on the streets.
Helga got in a word about dog poop: “people should pick up after their dogs.”
She hopes to get her masters finally in the Summer of 2015. For now, she hopes to write travel pieces for newspapers back home in Norway – “that’s the only work I can do,” she said, referring to restrictions on her visa.
In the meantime, Helga Hiim Staalhane is an OBcean, a denizen of her favorite place in San Diego. Norway sent her to OB and she’s here with her love, Daniel. From Norway to OB with love. And this is her story.