When I first began talking about the possibility of going to Norway, most people responded with a gasp, followed by the same token phrase: “That will be such an experience.”
An experience. Half of me hated that expression, because isn’t everything an experience? I experienced eating my raisin bran each morning before driving to school and sitting through Human Biology class. I experienced far too many boring math lessons and quite enough field hockey balls to the shin. But the other half of me knew what they meant by ‘experience.’ They meant it would be different, exciting, and most importantly: life changing. So I took the leap, not because of what other people thought, but because it was the right thing for me– and now that I’ve been here, living in Norway, I can share with you how exactly it has been an experience.
When I first arrived at my school we were all shuffled into a room for an opening ceremony. The principal: a blur up on stage followed by teachers and other faculty equally as blurry. As I sat there, unable to understand a word, I thought to myself, ‘I committed to a year of this? What have I gotten myself into?’ And at dinner, for the first time in my life I couldn’t listen in on everyone’s jittery ‘I-just-met-you’ conversations. I couldn’t eavesdrop and prematurely judge the annoying-ness of the people I was about to spend a year with. That was different.
Since arriving the two most common questions I have gotten are: “Do you like the food here in Norway?” and “What do you miss the most from home?” Coincidentally the two questions are related. I don’t hate the food here, but I do not love it. Back in Richmond, I barely ate meat, I never ate sweets, and I always ate vegetables. I miss that. When I tell people this, they remind me that it is possible to be a vegetarian here in Norway. “I know it’s possible, but I am here for a year, eating the Norwegian food, the Norwegian meat, is just part of the experience,” I tell them. And I like to tell myself it’s the same for my excessive consumption of Norwegian candy, although I think its more of a newly developed sweet-tooth. It’s okay to live in denial every once in a while, right?
While all of my friends are back at university sitting through monotone lectures, I have been climbing in western Turkey, conquering Europe’s highest sea cliff, and surfing into shore. My schedule, (and I use that word very loosely,) consists of new things each week. I often find myself in challenging situations, whether it’s freezing weather, or a never-ending hike; but I don’t dread these situations. They are exciting. I left my increasingly boring life in Richmond Virginia for the uncomfortable, unprecedented, and unfamiliar. It was all part of the experience I signed up for.
Even when I am here at Nordfjord Folkehøgskule, in the comforts of my shared wood-paneled room, I can find excitement– even if I am not sure what the excitement is all about. Someone is always clapping for something, and clapping here is contagious. Before you know it, everyone is clapping and shouting in a rhythmic manner. Don’t worry if you can’t picture it, it’s a Norwegian thing. Each meal I get to walk pass the mail boxes, and when there’s a package slip with my name on it, that’s exciting– an excitement I have never had the joy of experiencing before moving away.
All of our experiences shape and mold us into the people we become, and this particular experience has definitely been life changing. As I left for Norway, a close friend slipped me a letter that read: “You will be challenged mentally, physically, and emotionally—perfect for you!” She was right, and through these challenges I have learned a lot. I have learned that social media is not something to be poo-pooed. It is a way I can stay connected with my family and friends back home. Similarly, I have learned that my friends and family back home are worth staying connected to. People always say ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,’ and it’s true. Distance has proven to be the biggest pair of glasses, putting things (and relationships) into perspective. I have even discovered that new relationships can be born, and flourish, despite the distance. People’s souls can be connected on a level higher than any distance could ever even try to defeat. Even old flings can re-spark. These are all things, I never would have learned from the comfortable distance of university back in the states.
I have learned that a simpler life is a better life. I have learned that the outdoors are made for exploring—mountains are made to be hiked—waves are made to be surfed. Living in a country with such a strong economy has taught me how to live on a budget, and I mean really on a budget. I can no longer just go out to lunch when I feel like it, or buy frivolous things at the store. I’ve learned being picky about food isn’t always possible. It’s okay to break my anti-tube-food rule sometimes. Some things, (like avoiding starvation,) are more important than my former food principles and standards.
We are kept pretty busy with trips and excursions. Most of my time is spent adventuring, and because of this I’ve learned one of the most important things of all: I need to make time to create. I used to take advantage of my built-in time for art, and now that I no longer have a 6th period each day, it’s harder to fulfill that need to create. I’ve realized art is something so prominent in my soul and it cannot be pushed aside, even if its competitors are Malta’s beaches and Norway’s mountains.
Norway has been everything I had expected and so much more. I’ve challenged myself, allowing me to be proud of myself. I’ve learned about the beauty of this world and the people in it. Each day is exciting, different, and life-changing—but perhaps the easiest way to describe my time here so far, is an experience. I can’t wait to continue this experience.