Thursday, June 20, 2024
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Bigfork senior inspired to travel the world

by AVERY HOWE
Hagadone News Network | May 29, 2024 12:00 AM

Everywhere Bigfork High School senior North Nollan has visited was a new adventure, thus fostering a love of travel in him. 

“I really like a change in things. Let’s go see what this different place looks like and how they act,” Nollan said. 

The son of Ryan and Michelle Nollan, he has attended school in Bigfork since first grade. The family made trips to Washington to visit his grandparents and New York during his childhood. Taking his travel beyond the U.S., his second semester of junior year, Nollan decided to take on study abroad, the first Bigfork student in recent memory to do so. 

Norway was his original target, as his family has Nordic ancestry. Nollan had been teaching himself German and taking French classes at Bigfork, building a love for language. He figured Norwegian is a Germanic language, and would be easier than some to learn as an English speaker, so he began to practice. But last second, plans changed.

“I was practicing Norwegian at first but got switched to Sweden last second so I didn’t know much Swedish when I went there,” Nollan said. “The language at first was hard because classes were taught in Swedish, but it’s something I got used to real quick.”

Nollan has always loved talking to people and getting to know them, and language has been a way to expand that. 

“The reason why I love talking to people is because my life motto is, ‘Love God, love people,’” Nollan noted. “I feel that I’m called into this life to show God’s love.”

In Sweden, Nollan was placed with a host family who shared their culture with him. He had a pair of host brothers to show him around. 

“It was awkward for about a week, then just like a second family,” Nollan said. 

He got to celebrate Midsummer and explore Sweden’s history and castles. In his classes, he quickly found a group of friends that called him, “Mr. American.” He and his host family went skiing, just like back home. At the same time, he was learning in Swedish and practicing independence, taking the train to school every day. 

One of his favorite memories from his time there was actually on his way out of town. His friends gave him a farewell gift of surströmming, a Swedish delicacy, telling him not to open the can until he got back to his host parents’ house. He did as he was told, and upon opening the can, discovered surströmming to be one of the worst things he’d ever smelled. The pickled herring has been said to be one of the most putrid food smells in the world, which Nollan described as a “fart bomb.”

“It was a good prank, that’s got to be one of my favorite moments over there,” he said with a smile. 

But pickled fish wasn’t the only thing Nollan received from his time in Sweden. After he returned, his host brother, Theodor Ohlsson, decided he wanted a turn to see what Montana was like. The Nollans took him in, and Theodor has been a part of Nollan’s senior year. The duo are the same age and take some of the same classes, Theodor has been in Bigfork for this entire school year and will return to Sweden to graduate there. They ran cross country together and competed in track, though Nollan runs and Theodor throws. 

Despite all he learned in Sweden, Bigfork is still where Nollan has spent most of his life. He recalled his sophomore year, winning the state champion cross country team with his coach and father Ryan and teammate and brother Ryder alongside him. 

“That’s like a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Nollan said. 

He also remembered playing fugitive with his classmates, a sort of cops-and-robbers game that consisted of runners trying to outrun people driving cars to make it to the bridge in downtown Bigfork. 

“It’s just those people that I’ve enjoyed most of my life with over here in Bigfork, that’s got to be my favorite memory,” he said. 

Skiing is the last piece of Nollan’s puzzle. It has been his main sport out of school, and he and his friends made trips to Whitefish Mountain Resort every weekend this winter. He even made a pair of skis by hand for his senior project, which is completely functional. 

Linguistics, culture, community, skiing. 

“I decided to go into a career where that’s exactly what I do. I go and talk to people and go ski, that’s what I wanted to do,” Nollan said. 

After high school, Nollan will pursue coursework to become an international ski instructor in Switzerland. After that, maybe Austria or Japan, wherever the travel bug takes him. At some point after his certification, Nollan may go for a degree in linguistics, though he’s not sure if that will be in the U.S. or abroad yet. 

“Bigfork was the perfect town to grow up in, I love it here,” Nollan said. 

“I want to thank everyone, my friends, my family, who really pushed me to do things out of my comfort zone, to experience new things.”


The Bigfork High School Class of 2024 will graduate Saturday, June 1 at 11 a.m. in the high school gym.