What an exciting and overwhelming first few days in Norway. I am having trouble capturing how I am feeling in words. I have arrived in the country I have always said I wanted to visit, my dream travel destination if you will, after an 18- hour journey. Navigating international travel alone for the first time, I feel like I have already grown up a little more. Flying into Norway and seeing the beautiful, lush green landscape for the first time was absolutely breath-taking. Once on the ground and outside the airport of Oslo, we took a packed bus to Lillehammer with 2 other Peace Scholars from Pacific Lutheran University and many students from the Balkans. We arrived at the Nansen Dialogue Academy after a 2-hour drive and looking out the bus windows felt like looking at a filtered magazine photo with the setting on high definition and a little sepia. I don’t think it is possible to take a bad photo in Norway.
I am really behind in my journal writing, which is a testament to how wonderfully busy life has been the last few weeks. I have met so many fascinating people from all around the world: Albania, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Turkey, Ghana, Ukraine, Bosnia, Russia, Uganda, Norway, Georgia, France, Italy, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Germany, Netherlands, Mexico, China, Philippines, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Estonia, England, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Ireland, Canada, and United States. My geography has really improved! I have always loved meeting new people, but this is beyond anything I have experienced before. As I meet new people I feel as though I am looking at a colorful stained glass window with the sun shining brightly from behind. In a way, we are all connected to make one beautiful image, yet we are all small, distinct pieces of different patterns and colors with our diverse cultures, languages, and experiences.
My first week in Norway was spent in Lillehammer, a smaller city in Norway. We stayed in a dormitory at the Nansen Academy, named after Norwegian explorer and peace activist Fridtjof Nansen. The academy works for human rights, freedom of expression, and democracy. It is a school that fosters a robust learning environment with students of different political, religious, and cultural backgrounds. A central focus of our time in Lillehammer was how dialogue can be an effective tool in reconciliation and peace-building. There were 12 students from the United States, 4 students from Ukraine, and 19 students from the Balkans. We all shared many fantastic and memorable experiences: eating delicious Norwegian home-cooked meals together, visiting tourist sites in Lillehammer (1994 Winter Olympic ski jump, outdoor historic museum, city center with small shops and boutiques), an all-night barbecue with the midnight sun, emotional conversations about war and conflict. The Nansen Academy had us do many relationship-building exercises. We learned how to be vulnerable, ask questions, and listen.
Now I have been in Oslo for over one week. I have started classes. One class is Norwegian level 3, which is considered professional proficiency upon passing the course. Over half of the 600 students at the International Summer School are studying Norwegian language. I am in a class section with 21 other students who range from ages 21-50 and are from many different countries. Many of them need Norwegian level 3 in order to seek employment in Norway. Professor Bente is very kind and caring. She encourages us and has a calm aura. When I first began class, I was very nervous and anxious because I had not used Norwegian for over a month. I am finally in the swing of things and push myself to speak Norwegian whenever possible. I can really see progress and I am much more comfortable with speaking and writing.
My other class is the Peace Scholars Seminar. We have a lot of fascinating readings about peace, reconciliation, war, and conflict. We meet several times a week for either class and lecture or an excursion. The excursions are usually to museums or to listen to speakers who have made a big impact in Norway’s peace- building efforts. One requirement of the course is to conduct research. My research proposal is studying the psychological impacts of people who are refugees or asylum seekers and Norway’s efforts and contributions to help this significant population of the world. I look forward to this research adventure.
I am so incredibly thankful for every day here in Norway. Words cannot capture the amount of fun and pure joy I have had and will continue to have.