During his studies, Steffen Bakker played for FC Groningen, until he gave up his dream of becoming a professional football player. Between his Bachelor’s and Master’s degree, he spent a year in Norway – and it was love at first sight. Bakker studied econometrics (both at Bachelor’s and Master’s level) and has lived in Trondheim since 2016.
Eight years ago, he fell in love with the outdoors. After completing his Bachelor’s degree, Steffen Bakker decided to spend a gap year in Norway. ‘Like many students, I had planned to travel the world. But I realized that I didn’t really want to spend a year on the road. I mainly wanted to learn more.’ At the ‘Folkehøgskole’, or adult education centre, in Seljord, he had the opportunity to develop a side of himself that he had not been able to explore during his economics degree. ‘My main subject was friluftslev, the outdoors. Lots of skiing, kayaking, and climbing. That’s how I fell in love with Norway.’
He returned to Groningen to do his Master’s, but after he graduated, he couldn’t resist the pull of the north. ‘Professor Maarten van der Vlerk, who has unfortunately since passed away, told me about a PhD position in Trondheim, a city similar to Groningen. I had never really considered doing a PhD, but I was interested in the subject – the energy transition – and I liked the idea of being able to ski and climb again. So everything just came together nicely, really.’
After arriving in Trondheim, Bakker met the Norwegian Kari, with whom he now lives on the outskirts of the city. But before they finally got together, they first had to overcome quite a few obstacles; dating in Norway is different from dating in the Netherlands. ‘We ran into each other a few times at the climbing centre, but in Norway, if you don’t have any mutual friends it’s seen as being quite strange to just go up to someone and start talking to them. So, you have to meet each other at a party and both have a few drinks in you. When we matched on Tinder, we finally had the chance to say: ‘Shall we go climbing tomorrow?’, and that’s how it all started.’
It is also harder to make friends in Norway than in the Netherlands, notes Bakker. ‘People here are more private. Which makes sense; it’s a big country and there is literally more distance between people. You get to know people through clubs, which is why I joined an outdoor club straight away. The Norwegians also don’t go on nights out as much as we do. Which isn’t a problem for me; I did plenty of that in Groningen.’
Especially during the final year of his studies. During the first two years of his Bachelor’s degree programme, he still played for FC Groningen. He was given an extra year to complete his Bachelor’s degree, so he managed to pass his course units, but his life at the time was dominated by studying and football. ‘I was the only student on the team. Sometimes, I would pore over equations and arguments in preparation for an exam on the way to an away game in Alkmaar or Eindhoven. The other guys found that a bit unusual.’
Halfway through his Bachelor’s degree, he decided to abandon his dream of becoming a professional footballer and pursue a career in econometrics. As a researcher at Norges Teknisk-Naturvitenskapelige Universitet (NTNU), he focuses on the energy transition and logistics. He divides his time between research and teaching on the one hand and outdoor sports on the other. ‘When I had to work from home due to the coronavirus pandemic, in the afternoons I went cross-country skiing for a few hours in the area next to our house.In the summer, I work as a climbing guide in Lofoten, an archipelago in the north of the country. One of the most beautiful places in the world.’
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