“ You don’t ever have to feel low because you ain’t got no one right there with you… you have every thing you need inside of you already” – (You know who you are)
As cliche as it might be for a student that just studied abroad to write about their time overseas, here I am…writing about my study abroad experience. I can’t deny that in the past six months, I have learned more about myself and the world around me than I ever thought was possible. I write this piece as a thank you to everyone that has supported me, for everyone that has made an impact on my life, for everyone I admire, and for everyone who’s outlook on life has inspired me to see what all the world has to offer. I also write this piece as a thank you to myself, for growing the balls to move across the world, not knowing anyone or anything. If you find yourself reading this, then freaking cheers to you for enduring all the craziness that goes on in my mind. So here I go, carrying with me a head full of new ideas, and a heart that keeps on pumping for the raw and untamed adventures of life.
Life in Norway
Let’s take it all the way back to the beginning…yup, day one. To be honest, the first day abroad was extremely challenging for me. I was alone, in a new place, and somehow had to navigate myself around a big city. For anyone who knows me, you know that big cities aren’t my strong suit. In fact, I am usually 20 miles off the beaten path, with a tent and some hiking boots. So you could already imagine my struggle when I had to figure out how to ride public transportation. Thanks to my fear of getting lost in a city by myself, I befriend a fellow “study a-broader” and with the help of two brains instead of one, we made it to the place we would call home for the next five months. When I finally entered my room, I immediately stripped off the excessive amount of bags I was carrying and almost involuntarily passed out on my bed for the next 10 hours. I bring up this day because it was a day I remember feeling extremely proud of myself. I was proud that I was able to get myself to where I needed to be, and I was proud of the sense of independence I felt.
The first week of being in Norway was compiled of feelings of extreme jet lag, and extreme excitement. The initial days consisted of the most social interaction of my entire life. Each day we had a new activity planned with our group, and each day there was someone new to meet. I kid you not, I remember being on the phone with my mom during that week and telling her how much my face hurt from all the talking. But it was worth it because I met so many amazing people that week, people who ended up being some of my closest friends. The week was nonstop; museums, dinners, pub crawls, bus tours, walking around the city, and so when we finally had a free day, you know I took full advantage of it. I surprised myself that week, I didn’t realize how outgoing I can be, and how much I truly enjoy meeting new people. I have always had the perception that I am very shy and relatively introverted. I learned quickly that I shouldn’t label myself because I was pleasantly surprised.
Keep in mind that I arrived in Norway during the dead of winter. People always gave me strange looks when I told them where I was going to study abroad, and even stranger looks when I told them I was going in winter. The winters can be brutal being that far north, the sun set around 3 pm every day and didn’t rise until about 9 am, so damn straight I took those six hours of “sunlight” to my full advantage. I put quotation marks around the word sunlight because let’s be honest, during the months of January and February, the sun rarely broke through the gray skies. Coming from Colorado, I am very used to seeing the sun every day. So when the sun didn’t come out for weeks at a time, I felt myself slowly dwindling into a seasonal depression. I had less motivation to go out with friends, workout, or even focus on school. I kept telling myself, “you’re abroad, you can’t be depressed, you are supposed to be having the time of your life.” These thoughts lasted for a while, and I kept beating myself up every time I felt depressed. I expected people to be very disappointed that I was feeling this way, so it took me a long time to tell anyone what was going through my head. When I finally did, I realized that people were incredibly supportive and understood where I was coming from. They weren’t expecting me to always be “peachy” because they know that life has its ups and downs. Hearing this, and understanding that I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone was a huge weight off my shoulders. It helped take me out of this so called “depression” and I began to feel like myself again. I got a gym membership, was going on hikes, and hanging out with friends. It’s easy to feel that you are obligated to please others, but the cold and dark months showed me that what is most important is pleasing yourself. (Side note: I appreciate the sun a lot more now than I ever have)
What I find so great about studying abroad is all the badass people you get to meet. I have met people from Germany, Turkey, Italy, Iceland, Columbia, you name it. I have learned about their culture and they have learned about mine. I feel extremely thankful to have had the opportunity to meet so many different and unique individuals. The friends I have made are nothing short of amazing. Just in the minimal time abroad, I have formed life long bonds and friends that I intend to visit, no matter how far the distance. Thanks to these great people, I have learned how to say “hi my name is” in Norwegian, learned about the importance of cross country skiing, learned that there are no mosquitoes in Iceland, and learned that the name “Kevin” is frowned upon in Germany. I can easily say that each person I have met has brought a new form of happiness into my life. Hands down, they have been one of the greatest gifts of my adventure. I owe a huge thank you (or should I say tusen takk) to all the friends I have met that remind me how to truly be in love with life. Thank you for pushing me outside of my comfort zone, for letting me experience your culture, for always being down for an adventure, and of course for showing me that life is a lot better being surrounded by people you love. Skål, my fellow lovers of life.
Speaking of Norway, can America be more like you? Another freaking cheers, but this time to the Norwegian way of life. There is a reason they were voted the worlds happiest country. Maybe it has to do with their amazing work-life balance, their love for nature, or their emphasis on good education. America can sure learn a thing or two from Norway, I know I did. The calm and relaxed environment in Norway inspired me to become more patient and focus on the present rather than the future. I was extremely proud to be in a country that has eight months paid maternity leave for soon to be mothers, promotes healthy eating, has free education, and doesn’t let religion affect their government. Y’all, Norwegians are killin’ it. I even promised myself that before I left the country I wanted to form a relationship with a Norwegian family. Thanks to the inter workings of the alpaca world, my parents knew some families of Norwegian descent and gave me potential people to contact. The family that I ended up contacting lives full time in Oslo, and seemed thrilled with the idea of some American girl meeting their family. They eagerly insisted we meet, so I agreed to do so and have never felt so welcomed by strangers before. I was graciously provided with a traditional Norwegian meal and a tour of the city the first day we got together. From then on, anytime I had a question (or even needed to visit the emergency room) Lisbeth and her family were always there to help me. I am extremely glad I kept my promise and bonded with this family, it gave me the full Norwegian experience.
Just like in Norway, a lot of other European countries have succeeded in fostering happy individuals. I had the amazing opportunity to venture to many different countries and see parts of the world that I never thought I would visit. In case you are curious, here is the list: Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden, Netherlands, Estonia, Finland, France, Italy, and Iceland. Each country I visited has broadened my outlook on life and has reminded me that not everyone lives the way I do. I have been able to see and experience a vast majority of different cultures. From eating latkes in Lithuania to meeting the President of Estonia, life has given me some incredible memories. Each time I travel my mind becomes free, I am not tied down to the thoughts and ideals that I have been surrounded by my whole life. These past six months have been my highest highs and my lowest lows, it has been a chance to start over, to take risks, and to be bold.
The biggest risk I have taken (with the greatest reward) was leaving my little mountain town of 19,000 people for six months. Don’t get me wrong, I love Durango, but I was starting to feel a little trapped. I was doing the same thing day in and day out, and I was part of a relationship that I knew drained away at my emotions. My goal of studying abroad was never to run away from my problems back home, instead, it was to get a fresh start on things, and to experience a life outside of what I was used to. Living in a big city for a period of time is something I have always wanted. Cities are home to diversity (culturally, religiously, etc) and diversity is something that smaller towns lack. I loved seeing people from all over the world, all speaking different languages, all perceiving life their own way. Of course, my personality doesn’t place me in the category of a ‘city girl’ but regardless, experiencing this lifestyle was a valuable lesson.
Now for the mushy gushy stuff….(sorry it just has to be said). I constantly have to remind myself that these past six months weren’t all a dream. Yes, I did live in Norway. Yes, I did make lifelong friends. Yes, I did learn how to cross country ski Truly and whole heartedly, I will forever be grateful for the things I have learned during my time abroad. For me, traveling is much more than just seeing a new place. Traveling is about experiencing the beauty of life. It is about feeling the energy of different cultures and meeting unfamiliar faces. It is about filling your heart with love and compassion-not only for each other, but for Earth itself. The nature of traveling shows you the abundant wealth that life has to offer so that when you return home you have a greater appreciation for the life you already live.