Mia, outbound to Norway

Two Months. That's how long it's been since I boarded the plane that changed my life.

The other day I was on Facebook, and I saw a post from Scott that absolutely blew my mind:
“Up to sell the Dream to the next generation...look out, Lake Mary High School!”
Why did this freak me out so much? Because I realized that, one year ago, I had been the “next generation”. It was like all of sudden I was back in 2013 telling my parents I wanted to be an exchange student. I remember my mom rolling her eyes, my dad holding back a laugh, and me spending the next several weeks pestering, annoying, and complaining until they gave me an insincere “maybe” just to shut me up.

I remember filling out forms that seemed to have no end, going to doctor after doctor for medical checkups, suffering through a dreadful online US History Class, having to give up the lead role in a show I had been rehearsing for months to go to my RYE interview, and freaking out when I thought I bombed it.

I remember all of it, and I wouldn't change a thing. Because later that month, Scott would call me to say that I had been accepted, and I would gladly take the weird looks I got from the kids in the cafeteria as I broke down laughing and crying in the middle of lunch…. (Yea that actually happened) So now here I am, 12 months later, trying to find the words to describe my new life half way around the world, and utterly failing at it. (Seriously I wrote that first part a week ago and still don’t know what to say)

Ok well let’s just start from the beginning. On August 7th, I left Florida and headed for Norway. My first flight was from Orlando to Newark and it was awesome! (First class baby ;P) But my second flight… not so much. It was supposed to be an 8 hour flight from Newark to Oslo. What I hadn't anticipated was spending those 8 hours with the man who was sitting behind me becoming ridiculously drunk.

Long story short, he had way too much to drink, woke me up three times  by dropping his suitcase on my head, asked the flight attendants for “a smoke”, shouted some very colorful things at me and other passengers, had to be physically restrained multiple times, and delayed our plane for 30 minutes on the landing strip while he was arrested by the Oslo police. (On the plus side, I watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier) When I did get off the plane,

I met up with my host dad and saw my host sister, Ingeborg, for a little bit before boarding my last plane to Trondheim. At this point I had been without sleep for over 24 hours so the rest of the day and most of the one after that are a blur. I remember meeting the rest of my family and coming home and that’s about it.
In my new family I have two parents, a 14 year old host brother named Eivind, and a dog named Smilla. I was really nervous about meeting them, but they are absolutely amazing! It was a little awkward at first, but now it feels like I've been here forever. My host brother and I just kinda clicked and now we get along really well. It’s actually freaky how much we are alike sometimes. I've also become quite attached to Smilla and she usually sleeps in front of my door at night.

My family is very active so we do a lot of things outside. On Sundays, we usually go hiking up Goat Mountain in the morning. At the top, you get an amazing view of the city and there are tons of large rocks to climb and picnic on. (Funny story though, the first time we climbed it, I fell into a huge hole filled with mud and got my leg soaked in it) When it was still warm, we also went swimming. There is a beautiful lake near our house that has become my favorite spot in Trondheim. The water is too cold to go swimming anymore, but a few weeks ago we took a boat across the fjord to visit some friends and we went kayaking and boating in the Norwegian Sea.

Another time, we drove up to the family cabin and stayed there for the weekend. We hiked a mountain there as well, only this one was much larger. It was named the Red Hill and took us a total of 6 hours to climb the entire thing and get back down. (Another funny story, towards the end of the hike, my right leg randomly gave out and I ended up falling and sprawling down a huge hill as my host dad and brother watched laughing)

At the top, there was a book where everyone who reached the summit was supposed to write their name and because all of the water in Norway is safe to drink, we drank straight out of a waterfall going down the side of the mountain. We always seem to be planning new stuff to do around here and I love it! Tomorrow for instance, we’re going zip-lining, and next month they are taking me to London! :D

A lot of my exchange friends think I’m absolutely mental for saying this, but I love the food! Maybe it’s just my city, but I think almost everything tastes great. It’s illegal in Norway to genetically mutate the food so everything is really fresh and natural. For breakfast I normally have a ham and cheese omelet, or bread with raspberry jam. On Sunday mornings, I make my host family American pancakes with chocolate chips or blueberries and bacon. My host brother and his friends love them!

My favorite snacks are apples and a cinnamon pastry called Lefsa which is mind-blowingly good! The apples here are a lot smaller than in America, but they taste ridiculously good. We also make fresh fruit smoothies a couple times a week that are to die for! Our biggest meal of the day is dinner. My host dad normally cooks, but we all take a turn. The food is different every night, but it’s almost always served with baked potatoes or rice. My host family also drinks a lot of coffee, tea, and cola. We don’t have candy or sweets except on weekends.

My school started two weeks late because almost all of the teachers were on strike, but now that it has I love it! Schools here are also a lot less strict and formal than back home. The first thing I noticed is that there is no dress code. You’re allowed to wear spaghetti straps, leggings, short shorts, shirts that expose your midriff, hats, bandannas, and anything else you want. Another odd thing I found is that teachers here are addressed by their first names. Students can also leave school whenever they want. During lunch, my friends and I love to go to cafes around town, or shop at the mall before returning for our next class.

I go to a public school called Trondheim Kattedralskole but the students call it Katta or Hogwarts for short. I am a junior and I take 6 classes: Math, Physics, Norwegian, International English, Gym, and Chorus. Each class is about 90 minutes long but every day I have a different schedule so I’m constantly forgetting where I’m supposed to be. All of my classes, except for English, are taught in Norwegian so most of the time I’m pretty lost, but it’s starting to get easier.

My favorite subjects are Math and Gym. Almost all of our homework is sent in online on a site called itslearning.com but, like everything else, it’s completely in Norwegian so I find it very confusing. The textbooks and notes are also in Norwegian so I usually have to put everything through Google Translate. I also have yet to fully understand the grading system but I’m just kinda going with it for now.

Two weeks ago I went to a Rotary Language Camp and got to meet all of the other exchange students. It was so much fun meeting and spending time with everyone! There are a total of 23 of us in Norway, but I’m pretty far from everyone else. Most of them are farther south near Oslo. The gathering was held in my city so I got to spend a lot of time with my Rotary Club that week which was great!

On Saturday they had all of the exchange students come to this huge hotel for a big dinner and ceremony. My Rotary President also invited me to go moose hunting with him and it was AWESOME! We shot two moose and I got to ride on the back of a tractor and a four wheeler.

I’ve lived in Norway for almost 2 months now but it never feels like that long. Some days it feels like I’ve only been here a week, and other days I feel like I’ve been here my whole life. There have been times where I’ve been so happy I was practically dancing everywhere I went, and there have been times where I’ve cried myself to sleep at night wishing I’d never boarded that plane. And I know that these are only the first of many. I know I’ll have days where I feel overjoyed and even the littlest thing will make me smile, I’ll have days where I feel completely ordinary and normal, and I’ll have days where I feel miserable, homesick, and completely alone. And you know what? I can’t wait to feel all of it! This has been the hardest, greatest, craziest, stupidest, most amazing thing I have ever done, and I am so grateful and excited to be able to experience every bit of it.

Being an exchange student isn’t supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be hard. It’s supposed to test you, and push you, and open your mind, and broaden your horizons to levels you never thought you could reach. I have seen and learned so much in the short time that I’ve been here, and I can’t wait to find out what’s waiting for me in the months to come! Ha det bra!

P.S. Below is a list of just a few of the things I have learned so far:
•You should not make eye contact with, talk to, or smile at strangers in town. In America it may be seen as polite and welcoming, in Norway it’s seen as creepy. My Norwegian friend explained it to me this way “When a stranger on the street smiles at you, you assume that: A. He is drunk. B. He is insane. C. He is American D. He is all of the above”
•Everything is ridiculously expensive (a tall Starbucks drink costs almost $10)
•No one wears flip-flops… ever
•People here love to eat lutefisk, fish that has been soaked in lye (a chemical used to make soap)
•Their favorite cheese is brown
•If you bump into someone, or vice versa, the polite thing to do is to ignore them and act like nothing happened
•Hugging people you don’t know really well is really freaky (I’ve scared multiple people by forgetting this one)