Zarek Valentin, Bodo-Glimt
Courtesy of FK Bodø/Glimt

American Exports: After "culture shock," Bodo/Glimt's Zarek Valentin finds happy home along Arctic Circle

AMSTERDAM – Bodø/Glimt right back Zarek Valentin does not remember "Northern Exposure," the 1990s TV "dramedy" and Emmy-winning surprise hit. And as such, he has no idea that he's living the show.

In a nutshell, the show was about a young New York City doctor who circumstantially is charged with setting up a whole new life in the rural-est of colorful rural Alaska. There are great struggles, but eventually he jumps into the adventure head-first and grows in ways he'd never even considered. 

After his January 2014 arrival from the Montreal Impact, Valentin suffered a torn Achilles three games into his tenure in Bodø, a town of about 50,000 people located just inside the Arctic Circle. In a way, the recovery period helped turn the charming place into a home over time. 

"It's basically just a small fishing village," Valentin told by phone from the team's training ground. "It was a bit of a culture shock: the lifestyle, the food, there's not much to do. But if you have a good group of friends, you also get to experience aspects of life you wouldn't normally. It's more of a simple way of life. There's a lot of appealing aspects."

Valentin has been awed by a long hiking trip taken with his fiancée and a boat trip through the fjords. But he also has a large group of American friends that have helped a Philly kid who previously called cities like Los Angeles and Montreal home grow comfortable in small-town Norway. 

In all, seven of his countrymen are playing in the Tippeligaen, including teammate and good pal Danny Cruz. Fellow MLS alum Bobby Warshaw, who grew up about 100 miles away from Valentin in Pennsylvania, is among five Americans that play in the second flight. Most of them are stationed near the capital of Oslo in the south, but the league schedule allows for some meetings.

"Sadly, Danny and I are isolated from the rest of the group," said Valentin. "But whenever we see the guys, it's always good conversation and laughs. Whenever we have spare time, maybe we stick in Oslo for a night or two. We always try to catch up, have dinner, spend some time."

Of course, like transplanted Northern Exposure protagonist Dr. Joel Fleischmann, the 24-year-old former US youth international had to adapt to the extreme sunlight conditions that come with living so far north. During these summer days, Bodø barely bothers to go dark.

"We'll play an 8 pm and won't even need lights," said Valentin. "It's very weird. You'll wake up in the middle of the night and it looks like four in the afternoon."

Conversely, those preseason dog days of January can become a dark, dark grind. The sun goes down at about one in the afternoon and doesn't return until 11 am the next day. Valentin has found the way to keep his mentality positive through the harsh winters. 

"It's a fun experience," he said of living in what the locals call reindeer country. "You know, the midnight sun and the Aurora Borealis – you don't get those things in Philly. 

"It'll make me a little different if I move back, more likely to explore America in ways I haven't before. Hike Yellowstone, things like that." 

For now, though, Valentin and Glimt are getting some northern exposure of their own. The promoted side opened the season on a dreadful 0-6-2 run that saw the American shuttled in and out of the lineup for reasons that had nothing to do with coming back from injury. Since then, they have caught fire in the seemingly limitless summer sun.

Valentin broke back into the starting 11 for the third time this season on June 21, with Glimt in the basement. A week later, they began a six-game win streak at five-time champs Vålerenga that has catapulted the team up to eighth place in the 16-team league. 

"I think I was getting used to the speed of [league play]," Valentin said of his early season struggles. "I'd play a good game, then maybe take a step back. Two good games and a step back. Finally, I've gotten back to the level of sharpness I know I can have game in and game out." 

Valentin is now not only a threatening figure when jumping into attack, he is showing stability at the back. With his help, the team now stands closer to the Europa League chase than the relegation fight with 11 games to play.

It has been no soft run of victims, either; during the current win streak, Glimt have topped leaders Rosenborg and defending champs Molde away. Still, he cites that first win at Vålerenga as the catalyst for the team's current run.

"That was probably the biggest win of the year, because it gave us confidence going into Rosenborg," said Valentin. "Confidence can drive players and teams. It can turn good players in to great players and mid-level clubs into teams that really excel." 

Through it all, Valentin – a free agent at season's end – has grabbed attention up in his northern outpost. He scored the opener in their defeat of Molde and capped a cracking display with an assist in this past weekend's rout of Jersey boy Alex DeJohn's IK Start.

Glimt are preparing an extension offer, but has learned that they face some stiff competition from bigger Norwegian clubs. Valentin hasn't drawn MLS interest yet, but says a return home to North America is always possible. 

"I know I will hear from [Glimt management] soon, but I'm keeping all options open," he stated. "MLS is building, so that is something I'll definitely have to look into, being closer to family. As corny as it sounds, I'm just trying to play well and put myself in a good spot at the end of the year."