Travel… I had traveled a lot before my semester abroad, but I’d never lived in another country and called it ‘home’ for a duration of five months. Now, that did not mean I hadn’t imagined what it would be like, time and time again in my mind. The only problem is, sometimes experiences exceed our expectations, and other times our expectations are different from the reality that unfolds. In this case, I subconsciously created an idyllic version of what I thought it would look like to study abroad. USAC had prepared me to go through a lot of emotions when I was away on my study abroad, but I was convinced my enthusiasm and desire to live abroad would distance me from the possibility of feeling lonely or homesick. Many obstacles come up in everyday life, whether you are home or living internationally. While studying abroad in Oslo, I had to cope in a new way, outside of my typical community and comfort zone.
Read more about that transition here: Study Abroad Norway – Critical Skills in a Cold Culture
One thing that I learned was, as much as you want to adapt to the ‘new’ culture, make sure to maintain the parts of yourself that make you who you are. For me, I looked at some of the Norwegian cultural norms and tried to intrinsically adopt them myself. Behaviors like keeping to yourself in a public place, bus, or train, for example, and not deliberately making eye contact or striking up conversations with strangers. Typically at home, I engage with strangers and acquaintances on a regular basis, but I was bent on being seen as “one of ‘them,’” in Norway, and I got insecure about “standing out.”
Very soon into my semester abroad, I had to ask myself why I was trying to negate a part of my person that makes me, me… my adoration for different cultures was being confused with a pressure to dissolve the one I was a part of back home. I realized that I love to make eye contact with people and share a smile or strike up conversation, because it allows me to connect with other people and remind others (and myself) that none of us are really alone. While studying abroad, I tried so hard to act as though living internationally was not out of my comfort zone, that I actually became isolated for a time. It took perseverance and honesty to tell people I wanted to study together or just hang out.
Studying abroad is about learning about other cultures and other people, but that does not always mean trying to be more like others than yourself. Education abroad also serves a purpose of expanding the way you see yourself. It is about finding ways that you empathize and relate to the world around you, not focusing on how different you are in a way that makes you feel stigmatized. Each of us provide the world around us with valuable contributions, so open yourself up to new experiences and try to appreciate differences in every capacity.
Kelsey Tungseth studied abroad in Oslo, Norway. During her time in Oslo she served as a Digital Communications Intern for USAC.