This is a bit of an unusual post for The Bumper Crew. It’s more of a tale of lessons learned by cultural exchange through travel instead of our usual informative stuff, so we hope you stick with us. If you are a keen follower of The Bumper Crew, you probably love travel (and who doesn’t?!) and isn’t that the beauty of travel – learning from experiences of different cultures, understanding them, and even applying those differences to make your own life better?
I (Joel) have just returned from a few days in Norway and feel I’ve returned with a new outlook. It also occurred to me that you might not know much about me or what I do, so here’s a little snippet. If you didn’t know, I’m a photographer in the Royal Navy. I know, who knew these jobs existed in the military, right?
Being a Royal Navy Photographer is a job that’s taken me all over the world. It’s taken me to places I might never have visited, introduced me to people I would have never met and exposed me to cultures I may never have experienced, which is probably the best part of the job – reaching places and seeing things others may not, plus, you get to record the entire thing on camera as a reminder of where you’ve been and what you’ve done.
There is no better way to create a digital scrapbook of your life than when your job and hobby is to create imagery. For the same reason, it’s why travel photography is so great.
So, let’s rewind two months. I was teaching photography to future professional Defence Photographers at the Defence School of Photography (DSOP) in Shropshire. It was the last ever 5300 Defence Photographer Course before 20 weeks of training were stripped out to make way for the new Visual Communicator Course and we were in the final couple of weeks of it when I got called out of the classroom by my boss. I was being sent to London to work in a completely new team. That was on a Wednesday. I was in London on Monday starting a new job with a new team, but the opportunity was exciting.
Fast forward two months and I found myself in Norway capturing an exercise with the British Army. I’d been to Norway several times before but had only ever seen it covered in a blanket of snow and experienced temperatures of minus 10 degrees Celsius in winter when it’s also very dark for most, if not all, of the day. Being a former submariner, these Norwegian conditions weren’t my favourite. I like daylight and lots of it, preferably with plenty of sunshine, too! When doing my research about our trip I was happy to see that the sun wouldn’t be going down…at all!
If you haven’t experienced this, let me tell you…it’s a bit weird, initially! We were out on the shooting ranges throughout the night. You’d think it was 7 am and you’d check your watch, and it would be 2 am. Ha! This is Norway, the land of the midnight sun, as they say. If you haven’t experienced 24 hours of daylight, how would you fancy it?
Reason 1 | Cultural Exchanges
I was working with a colleague from Nepal called Anil. He’s a former Gurkha soldier who transferred to the Army photographic trade. When you spend so much time in the pockets of your colleagues, you get to know them well and it’s been a fascinating insight into the culture of the Nepalese people and his life in the Ghurkhas. Listening to stories from his previous life as a soldier and his time in Afghanistan was both humbling and harrowing. We have very different backgrounds but there we were: two different people, from two different countries, from two different arms of the forces, working together to achieve the same goal.
Despite our cultural differences, we had similar outlooks and an unspoken understanding of each other, leading to a great working relationship. But Anil’s wonder of the world was what enlightened me the most. Seemingly excited by everything, he has an unparalleled level of appreciation of the world around him. His approach to everything is always positive, never negative and Anil fits perfectly into one of two categories of people: those who find opportunity in difficulty and those who find difficulty in opportunity. Now as yourself this question – which one are you?
Generally, I think I am the former but if someone like Anil can approach everything with such positivity, then I can probably try a little harder too.
Then there were the Norwegians. According to the internet, Norwegians are among one of the happiest nations in the world. After some lengthy discussions with one or two of them, it seems a combination of social, financial, and environmental factors contribute to the happiness of the nation. But what was apparent is that everyone I spoke to was friendly, helpful and had a desire to engage with me. As a photographer in the military, I have met a lot of people around the bazaars and never have I come across such a high number of friendly and helpful people in one location, which brings me onto the leech.
I am well aware of the effects of the leech among the group – the person who sucks the life out of the rest of you with their negativity. I probably used to be that guy when I was stuck under the sea in a tin can and have the odd day like that still, and who doesn’t? But the apparent level of Norwegian happiness made me reflect on my own attitude and the attitude of those around me.
We all have good days and bad days, even the Norwegians have bad days, no doubt, but even when I’m not feeling my best, there is something I can learn from the Norwegians – that I don’t have much to complain about and surrounding myself with positivity, in an environment that works for me is important.
Reason 2 | The Environment
I first travelled to Norway around mid-2000 and have returned several times since. I didn’t like it, until now. In the part of Norway where we were working, the sun doesn’t set at this time of year, nor does it rise in the winter. And winter isn’t usually something I look forward to. I’ve never been a huge fan of the dark or the cold and that was all I’d experienced of Norway – their cold and dark winters.
This time it was very different. Anil and I managed about 4 hours of sleep in our first 48 hours in Norway so we got to truly experience the land of the midnight sun. And let me tell you – it was brilliant. Seeing daylight whenever you look outside, night or day, is quite frankly amazing, in my opinion. Ha! Then there’s the landscape. This part of Norway has some beautiful, rough terrain which is a feast for your eyes. I’m a city boy at heart. I love the hustle and bustle of a city, but being able to escape to landscapes like this is something I’m thankful for.
Stacey and I have known for a long tie what we want to do once I leave the navy and this trip only reinforced that for me. We plan to live in a van and travel permanently, working along the way to gain experiences you can’t while holding down a full-time job. Plus, this way we’ll be able to migrate, just like some birds do.
Reason 3 | I Realised My Calling
I think I already knew this but this little trip also reminded me how much I love taking pictures for a living. I take a lot of pictures in my own time but now I know I would rather be on the ground shooting than being in a classroom teaching. From the day I walked into the DSOP in 2010 to start my new career as a Royal Navy Photographer I knew I wanted to come back one day and teach.
After eleven years, I finally made it back. Initially, it was refreshing. I loved learning how to teach and then finally getting in the classroom and teaching was great. Until it wasn’t. I’m an explorer; an adventurer and suffer the odd bit of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out, for those who don’t know!) when I see my fellow Royal Navy Photographers out on cool jobs. I want to be out shooting, not watching my colleagues covering all the action.
I will have to return to the DSOP later in the year but when I do, I will take these lessons of happiness from Norway with me to enjoy my time back at DSOP.
In a Nutshell
So, in a nutshell, a short work trip to Norway has taught me a few things – cultural exchanges, surrounding yourself with people who make you feel good and submerging yourself in an environment you like are all important factors to make you feel the best you can. Being surrounded by the positivity of Anil and the Norwegians, in an environment that I loved, left me feeling refreshed and hopeful.
Have you had any life-changing experiences on your travels? Big or small experiences, I’d love to hear them in the comments below!
But What Was the Job, You Ask?
I realise the pictures peppered throughout the post aren’t all relevant to the words on the page, so here’s a little bit of info about them. We were covering Exercise Thunderbolt – an annual Norwegian-led exercise in the Arctic Circle. This year it involved C Company, 2 Royal Anglians and their cool-looking Foxhound vehicles, working with Brigade Nord of the Norwegian Army.
There were tanks, rifles and General-Purpose Machine guns firing live rounds, which was pretty cool and marginally dangerous. I’ve seen lots of military hardware over the years but never have I seen a piece of kit that looked as cool as the tank below. Now that’s some effort to camouflage their tank, don’t you think? Witnessing these things fire is pretty cool too. Even when you know it’s going to fire, the sheer volume of the firing catches you off guard.
-3 Great Reasons Norway Left Me Feeling Positive-