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.
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.”