Last week marked the two-year anniversary of when I hopped on a plane for a five-month foreign adventure to Bergen, Norway.
Three flags on my desk at work — Norwegian, Danish and Finnish — have stimulated waves of memories throughout the week from arguably one of the best, albeit scariest, periods of my life.
I think my unease came from the little exposure to cultural or travel experiences growing up, as we didn’t get away much (the cows didn’t care if you were on vacation, they still wanted to eat).
Alas, I was able to set aside my reservations and hop on the plane for the long-anticipated adventure. My then-boyfriend took me out to eat before taking me to the Omaha airport where we parted ways. It was very hard to get a grip on my conflicting emotions — my giddiness and somberness were at a tug-of-war with one another. You’d be devastated too, if you were a 20-year-old infatuated with your first love.
I was certain I must have lost the lottery when my sight zeroed in on my seat next to a screaming toddler. I had to keep reminding myself that I would have a greeting party on the other end of seven time zones, 14 hours and 4,000-plus miles.
There they were — my Norwegian “family” waving American flags at my arrival out of the gate. My family had hosted Maria, a Norwegian exchange student, in Nebraska during my senior year of high school. We had all remained in contact over the years, and I’d even been to Norway before — which is when I decided the next time I returned it would be for an extended stay and in the same city as my Norwegian sister.
The first couple of days was a whirlwind of moving in, getting all of my student accounts set up, going to the immigration offices and purchasing a semester-long pass to use bybanen — the light rail system in Bergen that took me from my living quarters to the city center daily.
Despite the light rail, there was still plenty of walking — if I were to guess, 90 percent of which occurred uphill. From a rural area as flat as a pancake, this was a definite struggle. My internal conflict continued, as I hated the time, effort and sweat it took to get anywhere, but I didn’t mind shedding 10 or so pounds and sporting a firmer butt.
I was often made fun of by my peers for the classes I enrolled in. I took English grammar and American literature to stay on task in my program back home. The grammar was awful, and I did worse than many of my non-native English-speaking peers. No one was surprised, since I was rarely forced to explain why a sentence was grammatically correct or incorrect, and could confidently give the explanation, “because that’s just the way it is.”
I enjoyed the American lit class, as it gave me insight how individuals from other countries perceived America. American writers and other commonly idolized individuals in American history were no longer the heroes they’re made out to be in high school American history classes.
I also took a Norwegian language class out of respect for my Norwegian family and the country that was providing me a free education. (Yes, Norway is the only country that offers completely free, public post-secondary education for anyone. Why I still paid the University of Nebraska at Kearney for 15 credits was beyond me). The Norwegian language was difficult, with a sentence structure that called for a verb in the second place and masculine and feminine forms. It was also hard to pick up because I was never forced to use it for daily communication. Norwegians are extremely proficient in English, and could communicate with me in my language at ease. I had a lot of respect for them, recognizing that I was trying but accommodating for me regardless.
But believe it or not, going to class wasn’t my favorite activity in Norway. In my downtime I spent a lot of time hiking, cruising fjords, taking weekend excursions to Denmark and a two-week trip to Lapland, Finland. Surrounded by more reindeer than people, we spent time learning about the indigenous people, dog sledding, plunging in the Arctic Ocean and scurrying back to the sauna and cursing the foggy nights (it inhibited us from getting a clear view at the Northern Lights).
It seems a lifetime ago that I was surrounded by such a beautiful country with equally as beautiful people. I forgot to pack a piece of my heart to return from my semester abroad, but that’s OK — I guess I’ll have to return to retrieve it to become whole once again.