It has been just over two weeks since I arrived in Norway, and yet I feel as though I have gathered enough experiences to fill two lifetimes. I have jumped into a freezing lake, visited not one, but two Olympic ski jumps, learned to navigate the T-bane, begun classes at the University of Oslo, and been forced to see the real impact that my country’s actions have on very real people around the world.
But from all of these incredible memories, one stands out in my mind.
It was Thursday evening, our second-to-last in Lillehammer. We had spent the past four days at the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue, engaging in structured dialogue sessions with participants from Russia, Ukraine, Norway, and the Balkans. Those four days were inspiring, humbling, and at times frustrating. But on Thursday evening, as I walked shivering back to Nansen after my aforementioned dip in Lake Mjøsa, a seemingly simple image caught my eye: a game of beach volleyball.
Now, if you are reading this and you know me, you may be wondering why I, someone who only somewhat ironically refers to any athletic activity as “sportsball,” would choose to blog about a beach volleyball game, of all things.
It was not the game, but the players, that caught my attention. On one side of the net was a group of my new friends from Nansen; on the other, a group of soccer players from Somalia. Together, these teams represented at least five countries—including countries that have been embroiled in conflict for many years—yet here they were, high-fiving and cheering for each other in languages that few of them understood. I was moved by the sight—so moved, in fact, that after a warm shower and a change of clothes, I joined in. Despite my complete lack of athletic ability, I was welcomed with open arms.
That’s what the past two weeks have meant for me: making myself vulnerable to new people, cultures, and experiences. I can’t wait to see what the next five hold.