Study Abroad Norway – When Home Isn’t Where the Host Is

Education, Gilman International Scholarship, Intercultural Communication, Study Abroad

I had traveled a lot before I did my semester abroad, but I’d never lived in another country and called it ‘home’ for a duration of five or six months. 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 reality. 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. A lot of obstacles come up in every day life, whether you’re 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.

In accordance with the Follow On Service Project proposed for my awarded Gilman Scholarship, I’ll be sharing about my study abroad experience through a series of posts on my blog and Instagram.

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 took a look 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 I do that on a regular basis at home, but I was bent on being seen as “one of them.” 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 myself and others that none of us are really alone. While studying abroad, I tried so hard to act as though living internationally wasn’t out of my comfort zone, that I actually became isolated in one for a time.

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’s about finding ways that you empathize and relate to the world around you, not how different you are in a way that makes you feel stigmatized.

Once I began to appreciate things about my personality and the many others I was coming into contact with, I realized I had been trapped in a confusing world of comparison. Which culture or personality is “better?” On the contrary, studying abroad allows us to get to know the individuals who make up countries and cultures of a much bigger world. I found friends in both my home country and my host country of Norway who were alike in various ways. Living in Oslo for a semester with USAC gave me the chance, not only to see Norwegians in the broadest sense, but to be introduced to a version of myself I needed to meet. Home isn’t where the host is every time we venture to new places, but you will take the lessons learned with you wherever you go.

“The U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship is a grant program that enables students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad, thereby gaining skills critical to our national security and economic prosperity.”

25. Iceland – Frozen Hearts and Puddled Lands

Reflections, Sustainability, Thirty by Thirty, Travel

As much as I thought I’d mentally prepared myself for the “dark time” of visiting Iceland in December, my body was still puzzled when I looked out the window of the shuttle bus and was met with the pitch black. I triple-checked, but the glowing numbers on my phone informed me it was still half past nine in the morning.

24. Israel & Palestine – A Gallery

Photography, Thirty by Thirty, Travel
Capernaum 02

Columns in Capernaum

Capernaum 01

Columns in Capernaum

Sea of Galilee 01

Crystal Blue Waters of the Sea of Galilee

Mural in Old City

Ancient mosaic and modern expression.


The Jewish “Western Wall”

Temple on the Mount

The Muslim “Haram esh-Sharif”

Aquaduct 01

Touring an ancient aqueduct from ancient Jerusalem.

West Bank Gas Station

Stopping for coffee and gas in West Bank.

Bethlehem Street

Profound messages in Bethlehem.

Gas Station Camel

#metoo is an international shame


Exploring the ruins of Masada.


23. South Korea – Strolling Through Seoul

Intercultural Communication, Thirty by Thirty, Travel

It is rare when a short visit to a country is as memorable as the two layovers I had in Korea in 2012. En route from Hawaii to China, our first layover was twelve hours, during which we were shuttled to the Incheon Airport Transit Hotel, where each member of my four person team was given our own room for some respite from our travels. It was a pleasant stay, one that fully lived up to the “boutique” feel they strive for. But it was on the return journey from Malaysia to Hawaii that I was granted a most delightful visit to the city of Seoul. Nearly a full day to explore was an adventure I readily took on.

Seoul Airport

A good friend of mine, Benjamin, was teaching English abroad for the year at “Bits English School,” so upon exiting the airport, he met us at baggage claim and we took the train into the Seoul. Ben and I visited the school where he taught, the children taught me to say hello with their precious voices, “an-nyung-ha-se-yo!” (안녕하세요). They were energetic and smiling, even though I was still getting used to the idea that one is obligated to take off their shoes when they entered a home, school, or proper room. They loved holding my hands and walking me from the shoe rack and into their classroom. Children have such a sweetness about them, their contagious joy and friendliness is something I always aim to embody more, among other childlike tendencies.

Ben and Kels in Seoul

Unfortunately the day didn’t lend me much time to spend at the school, but Ben had arranged a friend of his to give me a small tour of the city, so we met at a cafe and I wished Ben a farewell. Eivind was a Norwegian friend of his who was also spending some time in Korea. We had an entire day to run around, getting lost in (and at the edges of) the city, trying pastries and catching trains. Just last month Eivind and I saw each other again, this time in Norway, and he laughed about our random afternoon as acquaintances.

Tilting my head as though my posture would allow me more of a glimpse into the recesses of my mind, I told him I was preparing to write this blog entry.

“I remember walking on some train tracks…” I suggested, trying to develop my memory of a part of our afternoon.
“Yeah,” he stated, “We were waiting for the train when it pulled up, the doors on the opposite side of the train opened. The people got out, the doors closed, and then it just pulled away.” We both laughed thinking of how awkward it must have been for two strangers to look at one another and think, “Welp, what now?”

We did make it back to the city center… somehow. Eivind and I met up with the other group I was traveling with and we popped into a delicious restaurant for some authentic Korean BBQ. In the center of our table was a lower section that served as a grill. We ordered a variety of meats and veggies and grilled and laughed and ate away the cold day of adventures.

It’s not every day you are granted such full life experiences, new friends, and lessons learned. Thank goodness for the kind of layovers that give you a full day to journey through a city like I was able to in Seoul. A specific yet indescribable goodness fills my heart when I meet someone from Asian cultures, greet them, and see their approval and pride that I would extend a greeting to them in their language. I already look forward to the next time I can spend some time in the lovely country of South Korea.

Seoul Train at Night

Gamsahamnida!! Thank you!!! 고맙습니다!!!

Read more about Thirty by Thirty here

University in Oslo – “Knot Dot” Friendships

Education, Gilman International Scholarship, Intercultural Communication, Study Abroad

You made the move from far away and into an international student village. Each day you start branching out more and speaking a foreign language when you’re grocery shopping or grabbing a coffee at a café. But how do you make friends? Part of student life in Oslo is finding ways to get plugged into the new culture and discovering your group of friends. Learning to read the “Knutepunktet” Treasure Map is key to finding some of the most convenient ways to jump into the culture, get yourself some gems called friends, and fully experience life as an international student at the University in Oslo.

In accordance with my USAC Digital Internship and the Follow On Service Project proposed for my awarded Gilman Scholarship, I’m sharing about my study abroad experience through a series of posts on my blog and Instagram.

Like the way a knot overlaps and ties together separate places of a string, a Norwegian “Knutepunktet” (translates to “Knot Dot” in English) brings things closer that may have otherwise stayed farther away. Typically an area of commerce and community, it usually means shopping centers and indoor markets. For students at the University in Oslo, however, the Knutepunktet has the purpose of bringing together the international student body and hosting events that contribute cultural and social elements to academic life. Students abroad can sometimes struggle with finding their sense of home while overseas, but the University in Oslo wants to help you have a more pleasant, engaging, and connected experience. Check out their suggestions and see which fits your life abroad!


Volunteer at a coffee shop or student pub
Each faculty on campus has a café in their respected building, and on Fridays, it turns into a relaxed pub where you can play cards and board games and get an affordable beer. One fantastic option for students is signing up to volunteer for a few shifts throughout the semester. It’s more than fine to speak English with the customers, and you’ll be able to interact in a really friendly manner with the patrons just by being a part of the team. In the afternoons, it’s popular for Norwegians to stop by a shop to buy a coffee and some thin waffles or a pastry. The cozy atmosphere is a great place to mingle with locals, and as a volunteer barista it’s your job to ask people how their day or week has been. On top of that, the team hosts fun weekend escapes to the student cabins and even a ferry trip to Denmark together!

Peruse the booths during Student Association Day
The University in Oslo boasts of over 200 various clubs and associations, and there are over 450 total in the larger Student Life organization in the city! There’s something for everyone and an entire crew of people to bond with over your shared interests. Are you an avid Dungeons and Dragons player? Big into swing dancing? An outdoor enthusiast? Want to talk good reads over great coffee? There are avenues for every passion: humanitarian, athletic, political, philosophical, or a shared love for food… these provide solid opportunities to connect with people in Oslo. It’s common in Norway to be introduced to one another through focused social functions, so join one (or five) to meet friends as well as add to your resume and life experiences!


Attend language cafés
Participating in our language café is a great way to learn Norwegian or another language of your interest, and to meet new people from all over the world. Seventeen countries were represented in my Norwegian Level I class! Everyone is trying something new, something foreign, and the language cafés are held monthly to encourage everyone to keep sticking with the difficulty of speaking a different language. Find the table with the flag of the country whose language you’d like to practice. Sit down to enjoy some good food and easy going conversation at whatever skill level you have for speaking. There are dictionaries scattered around and lots of friendly faces to help each other figure it all out. Little by little, you will develop your ability to speak a foreign dialog and you’ll get to know some other linguist enthusiasts, as well!

Join the International Students at The University of Oslo (UiO) Facebook Group
Get notifications about events, participate in polls and other research projects by other students, or organize get togethers for BBQ or park days. Ask questions about housing, affordable grocery stores or find inside information about where to stay when you take a weekend excursion! With over 1,500 members, this network is a great resource for your time studying abroad in Oslo. [link: International Students at The University of Oslo (UiO) ]

Play board games at the Public Library  
Arabic, English, and Norwegian speakers are all able to play the linguistic board game “New Amigos” at the Public Library. Groups of UiO students like to get together and join some of the local Oslo residents who are also improving their language skills. Going to a city event with some University Students helps strengthen your ties as a resident of Oslo, and once you’re there you’ll have a chance to hear about everyday life from non-students, too. Chat about daily differences and similarities with people who work, live, and raise their family in this Scandinavian snowglobe, and aren’t here just for school. This is a great way to be exposed to the local life in Norway.

Whether you stick to campus opportunities or find a way to integrate yourself into the city on a larger scale, your time in Oslo is going to be remarkable if you follow the leads the University suggests for how to get involved. Think about hobbies you are passionate about and there is bound to be a student association or club to share that interest with… Pick a new activity to try and you’ll find a group who is more than willing to introduce you and teach you about it… Take advantage of getting involved in Oslo and you’ll learn a lot about yourself and cultures from all over the world. Little by little, your experiences will tie memories and new friends together like a “Knutepunktet” or “Knot Dot” charm you can wear ‘round your heart for the rest of your life.


Thank you to USAC and the Gilman Scholars Program for this extraordinary time!

22. Poland – Prisons, Pierogies, and Queens

Intercultural Communication, Thirty by Thirty, Travel

My sister Raina was vegetarian before she ever convinced my parents it was a suitable way of living. They came from a time where a man ate three square meals of meat and potatoes in various forms, and a woman’s place was in the kitchen preparing it for them. Needless to say, my sister and I are relieved to be a part of a society that recognizes that, by force, such isn’t a suitable way of living. As society evolves, people see thousands of shifts in ideals and hopefully agree that mindsets should continually adjust. Sometimes historical changes are inspiring while other examples exemplify horror. Poland is a place that has seen both traumatic regime and beautiful redemption, and I was lucky enough to visit in 2015…


A corner of Kraków. 

21. Bosnia & Herzegovina – To Jump or Not to Jump

Creative Nonfiction, Reflections, Thirty by Thirty, Travel

The sight of the Mostar Bridge in Bosnia & Herzegovina is one that stirs the heart of visitors and locals alike. In 2015 it was selected for one of the Red Bull Cliff Diving Competitions and, as I found myself backpacking without a strict itinerary, I made arrangements to journey there from Dubrovnik. For me, the thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie within still comes out on occasion, typically when towering heights are romanced by deep waters. With my visit spanning a couple of days, I was ecstatic in thinking that, as soon as the crowds cleared out, I would walk along the extraordinary landmark and jump off the bridge myself. After spending one afternoon downstream on some riverbank cliffs, I had a profound shift in my thinking that has affected how I perceive my travels, and the people I meet as a result of those travels. My awakening in Mostar spurred the dilemma I face with understanding my own rite of passage.

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Familiefest in Averøy

Gilman International Scholarship, Hiking, Norwegian Pride, Photography

Three years ago I learned I had a branch of my family tree in the island of Averøy, on the West Coast of Norway. Thanks to Alt for Norge, journalists (specifically Ingrid Kornelia Sanden Sunde) and genealogists (particularly Randi Hagen), my enthusiastic family members, and the help of study abroad scholarships from University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) and the Gilman International Scholarship- Official Page, I am able to say I have completed a long awaited journey home to the place where my family name originates and my relatives and new friends still live. My heart is aglow with thanks.

To study culture and the various ways of living worldwide is one of my deepest fascinations; being able to connect with that from which my heritage stems is a most precious gift, and meeting my extended family during my study abroad is a monumental opportunity. Thank you.

Study Abroad Norway – Critical Skills in a Cold Culture

Gilman International Scholarship, Intercultural Communication, Study Abroad

Ever been lost in a foreign city or attempted to communicate with someone who doesn’t share a common language with you? These character-building situations occur less often when we stay in the same place for extended periods of time without ever stepping beyond our comfort zones. Since arriving in Norway for my semester abroad, I have learned that even sharing a common language won’t always mean communication will be effortless. Sometimes getting into another culture’s comfort zone can be even more difficult than getting outside your own!

In accordance with the Follow On Service Project proposed for my awarded Gilman Scholarship, I’ll be sharing about my study abroad experience through a series of posts on my blog and Instagram.

In committing to studying abroad, we embark on a challenge to observe and honor new cultural norms. Culture can refer to actions, patterns, and philosophies or mindsets that are agreed upon and practiced by a particular group. Almost all culture is taught to us by the society or community that surrounds us. Cultural norms, then, are when attitudes and behaviors which reflect those elements are considered typical or normal to that group. One way to spot cultural norms is asking how and why your community or another’s does things the way that they do.

Norway is an intriguing place to pick out these differences, but today I want to write about how taking the initiative to get out of your comfort zone does not always mean you are going to feel immediately integrated into a new one! And that’s okay. Have courage to approach the unfamiliar… you’ll be stronger because of it, in every facet of your life.

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Welcome Week for International Students

The University in Oslo did an excellent job of giving the new international students an inside look to how to prepare for their time studying abroad. Norway in a Nutshell was a hit! Advice and interesting facts were presented by faculty, foreigners turned residents, and other students, all with a dash of humor, and we were given fresh insight for how to shop and eat healthy on a student budget, a list of good reads and Norwegian hobbies to try, and even some tips to flirt with the locals. “Dating is, you know, a brilliant way to pick up a new language…” one speaker said, and the lecture hall filled with shy laughter.

One popular author has been incredibly successful in contrasting the behaviors of Norwegians with different ways of the world. You’ll laugh at Julien Bourrelle’s “Social Guidebook to Norway” but paying attention to the book’s illustrations could actually give you a smoother transition if you decide to spend some time in this fantastic country. For example, in some places around the world, you greet everyone when you arrive and you bid farewell to all when you depart. However, Norwegians are direct, and (depending on the region) they might not make a lot of small talk. In Norway, to say hello to someone means you are about to begin a conversation. In the comic below, Julien describes returning to Norway after living in Spain, where everyone at the market is jovial and chatty. That is not the cultural norm in Norway, so your salutations will probably be met with quizzical stares.

Norwegians are very practical and pragmatic people. Different countries and cultures might look at the Norsk customs and consider them rude people. But while living here I’ve heard time and time again from Norwegians that the intention is much more about striving “not to bother anyone.” Norwegians are big on privacy; they allow it for others and expect it for themselves. If you are out on a “tur” or a hike, it’s a lot more acceptable to greet one another in passing, but on the tram or in everyday walking the streets, people tend to leave one another alone. Part of this is out of respect for one another, so try not to be stunned or feel rejected.

Now, let me clarify, these statements are coming from someone who makes an abnormal amount of eye-contact (even by American standards). I am that awkward person who greets you in the grocery store, “Have we met before?” only to realize we are members of the same gym or one day they were my barista at a coffee shop or something… No, no, we’ve actually never been properly introduced. As if things at this point in our interaction aren’t weird enough, (wait for it), “Hi, I’m Kelsey! Where are you from?” Leaving my personal inclinations behind can be challenging for me, too, but through opportunities like study abroad I’m training myself to comprehend intercultural communication and not assume everyone does things like me or my home-country.

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Quiet Snowy Day on Campus

At just over 672,000 residents, Oslo is the big city in Norway. Any given day, everyone has somewhere to be and probably something on their mind. Not talking with strangers throughout the day allows for everybody to remain on task and focus on what they are facing in life at the moment. Norwegians are kind and compassionate people, but one of their cultural values is gaining and earning trust, and that means you’ll rarely become best friends with someone from the very instant that you meet. However, please remember, you can be sure that even a stranger is willing to help you if you ask.

Scavenger Hunt 005 - Time to ask a Norwegian for help

“Hei hei! Kan du hjelpe oss?”

Certainly, I believe there’s a time and a place to fully express yourself and be true to the culture you identify with best, but there is also a time to get out of your own comfort zone and practice the ways of a culture you’re lucky enough to get to observe. So if in Oslo over the course the coming months you notice a young woman subtly giggling to herself or the birds in the trees, it very well could be me. Don’t be alarmed, I’m just coaching myself not to start up a conversation and make you feel a little outside your comfort zone, because this semester, that’s my job.

“Tusen takk” for having me, Norway, I look forward to learning so much more about you. And “a thousand thanks” to you, Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, for helping make this dream semester a possibility.

“The U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship is a grant program that enables students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad, thereby gaining skills critical to our national security and economic prosperity.”

Online application now open for Summer 2018 and Fall 2018/Academic Year 2018-2019 programs abroad. Click here to start your application!