John, outbound to Norway

Obviously, being used to the system in the US, I did not simply accept the fact that I needed no official approval whatsoever to enter the country.

Well I've survived my first month of exchange! I left Florida on August 8th, and after three sleepless flights and a boat ride, I found myself on the incredibly picturesque island of Stord. I have to admit, the first couple weeks were not easy. The island of Stord only has a about 20,000 people, and thus it is a very tight-knit community. Finding my place in that community, especially among the students, was very challenging at first. This is not to say that the locals are not friendly, however, as everyone I've met so far has been nothing but kind and welcoming.

I was also lucky enough to be placed in a music program at school which was gave me a fantastic opportunity to meet peers that share a common interest. But nonetheless, the initial "getting to know people phase" was a vast obstacle. But after stumbling through a lot of Norwegian small talk, I finally feel as though I've gotten to know the community, and have more or less found my niche among my classmates and the town.

Ever since that happened, my time here has been phenomenal. I feel like I'm doing well with the language, and can hold up simple one on one conversations with people, and I've found that there is no better way to bond with my classmates than making attempts at speaking their language. I get the privilege of spending all day learning music in my school, where I've made many new friends, and finally every evening I can take a stroll to the coast to admire the fjords and mountains that surround the village. I don't think the beauty of Norway will ever cease to astound me.

Lastly, I have a vast array of anecdotes at my disposal, and I think the best way to conclude my journal entry would be with one. I had just arrived in the airport and was prepared to face the terrifying task of talking to the customs officers. I followed the signs leading to customs station and there it was. Two hallways, each with a sign over it. The first stating "nothing to declare" and the second stating the opposite. Obviously, I chose the first hallway and proceeded to walk through, my palms sweating from nervousness.

As I took the first steps into the place where I expected to be interrogated by a rude government official, I was startled to find that no one was there! I then proceeded to stroll into the terminal, I didn't even need to get my passport stamped! The Norwegian customs office is nothing more than a hallway that leads to the country! Obviously, being used to the system in the US, I did not simply accept the fact that I needed no official whatsoever to enter the country, so I walked back through to find an official.

After asking if I needed to answer any questions or even get my passport stamped, he cheerfully responded, "nope! Welcome to Norway!" This relaxed, welcoming attitude really exemplifies Norwegian culture. Everyone trusts each other. Locking doors and bikes is optional, the police don't have guns and are rarely seen, and my school even gave me a key to the building where I am allowed to use the library or musical equipment when ever I want! It goes without saying that I love it here, and cannot wait to see what the next nine months has in store!