Jørgen (38) is no Average Joe. In 2005, he found himself living with his parents in Trondheim, working part time to save up money for his world travels. His friends were busy establishing homes and careers. Jørgen has bachelor’s degrees in computer science and social economics, but they had not landed him any interesting jobs. Then his mother came across a position she knew would suit her adventurous son: teaching Norwegian in Riga.
There was nothing to prevent the 28-year-old from packing his bag. His previous flights had never had Eastern Europe as their final destination. Jørgen admits that seeing Latvia for the first time gave him some apprehension. “My first impression was the stereotype of the Soviet Union: depressing and with shabby, grey housing blocks everywhere”. The high school was located ten minutes from the airport, so Jørgen did not even catch a glimpse of the beautiful Old Town, any buildings of modern architecture or Riga’s other tourist attractions. Nobody seemed to utter a word of English. A grumpy gatekeeper at school showed him to his new home: a shabby apartment.
The high school that became Jørgen’s home for a year offers all the Nordic languages. Jørgen grew tired of teaching young people, so he held night classes for adults and then got a job at a call centre. After a couple of years, he realised that there was more money to be made in translation. He would also be able to schedule his days as he pleased. “Every time I have to set the alarm clock, I sleep very poorly”.
Jørgen has always been interested in languages. Today he is close to fluent in Danish, Swedish, English, Spanish and Latvian. He first became eager to learn Spanish after his first visit to Latin America in 2001. He learned Latvian on his own after arriving in Riga. “A lot of people are really surprised and impressed by my Latvian skills. Actually, I think it’s almost arrogant to have been living here for, you know, sixteen years, without learning the language”. Now Jørgen works as a translator full time, and his customers are mainly translation agencies. The urge for adventure has not diminished as time has passed. Whether he is in his bedroom in Riga, a café in Malawi or on a balcony in Laos does not matter; all he needs is a laptop and the Internet.
Jørgen admits that it gives him a certain amount of pleasure to finish a text on the flight to Bangkok and suddenly realise that he has earned the cost of the flight ticket. Jørgen is an active couch surfer. Couch surfers are a growing global community of travellers who find each other via couchsurfing.com, the concept being that one offers a place to sleep – preferably the couch – or stays at other couch surfers for free. Jørgen usually has two travellers visiting a month. He counts on his finger: “a girl from China is coming in two weeks, then a couple from Serbia, and in about two months a French guy”. He has been to 52 countries. Jørgen says he is spoiled by adventure.
Jørgen invites us to join him on Jāņi, the midsummer celebrations at which Latvians, all over the country, sing songs, make bonfires, drink beer and eat šašļiks – grilled meat on a skewer. International friends meet up with Jørgen despite the pouring rain. They greet and update one another about their travels abroad. For instance an American film director shows up, and a young woman Jørgen first met in Laos in 2012. They met again in Vilnius in 2015, and she told Jørgen that she would be in Riga during the summer.
“Oh yes, I am Norwegian! For sure”, Jørgen says when we ask him about where his identity lays. Nevertheless, he has little or no contact with the Norwegian community in Riga. He visits Norway about four times a year: every Christmas and mostly at the family summer cottage with his sister and her family. He reads more Norwegian papers than Latvian, and he always needs to bring some items from Norway: mackerel in tomato sauce, gastromat spice – “I can’t live without that spice” – and brown cheese.
Life seems to be repeating itself for Jørgen. “I am actually considering moving. No, not back to Trondheim, that is not an option. If I move, it will be to Indonesia”. Jørgen had participated in a Swiss-Vietnamese wedding over there. After the delightful celebration, he stayed in Indonesia for four months. He loved it. Just as in Trondheim ten years ago, his Latvian friends in Riga are now busy with their careers and family lives. Maybe it is time to let the urge for adventure guide Jørgen further once more. With his office in his backpack, good language skills and openness to everything new, the world is at his feet.