Monday, August 6, 2018

Kirkebakken reunion

Kirkebakkeners at dinner in Barcelona
For the last stop on my European Whirlwind Tour 2018, I went to Barcelona! The housemates I lived with in Stavanger, Norway, were getting together for a reunion, and when they found out I was going to be in Europe, they scheduled the event around my travels. I was so grateful for the chance to see them again! All the Kirkebakkeners from my era have since moved out of the house, but we've stayed in contact through social media. As soon as we were reunited, it was like we had never been apart at all. This group truly is my Norwegian family.

We chartered a sailboat and went swimming in the crystal-clear waters of the Mediterranean. We ate paella and drank sangria. We took walks through the city center and talked about our lives. It was an awesome weekend.

I spend a lot of time thinking about communities. In my career, I'm a community ecologist, so I study how animals interact with one another and how their communities change over time. But the idea of community also pervades my personal life. I am constantly observing how groups interact and how the group dynamics affect my emotions. I have been part of awesome, supportive communities, and I have been left feeling flat. In my mind, a great community has two essential elements:

Sailing with housemates in the Mediterranean
1) All members of the group must be immediately accepted, no matter who they are, and even if their self-definition changes. A strong sense of belonging pervades the group.

2) Community members must have the freedom to make their own choices and engage with other members to the extent that they desire. Members cannot shame others for choosing not to engage, and as a result, group membership is fluid.

Belonging and freedom - the two hallmarks of great communities, at least as I have observed them. My Kirkebakken housemates have both of these elements in excess. Each person is accepted as they are, and they have the freedom to engage with the rest of the group as much or as little as they choose. My housemates truly want nothing but the best for each other. What impresses me so much is that Kirkebakkeners are the single most eclectic group I have ever been a part of. We come from Europe, America, and Asia, and we span in age from early 20s to mid 50s. And yet, we get along incredibly well. Kirkebakken is one of the great highlights of my life as a traveling scientist. I am so grateful to be part of this community.

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