There were curves and turns, stops and bumps, hills and valleys, darkness and light. It all began when a door opened and I stepped into a whole new world. It seemed a bit crazy to travel across the globe to study for two years, but sometimes our paths are not directed by us and all we do is follow the road ahead of us trusting that it will take us to a destination we desire to reach.
I traversed not only through the university, but through Norway and more specifically Oslo. It involved adjusting to a new environment, new ways of communicating and new ways of living.
The transition from being a gainfully employed individual to a student, from a resident to an immigrant were important parts of the curves and turns of the journey. It require readjusting my entire way of functioning and seeing the world.
From Assumptions to Reality Check
I came on this journey with many assumptions that were quickly erased by reality. As an international student embarking on a study program of masters in Diakonia and Christian Social Practise I naturally came to the conclusion that everyone who would be part of this program would be Christians who are deeply involved in church work and without a doubt, they would have at least been even vaguely familiar with the bible.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that at least three of my classmates had never held nor owned a bible. How could this be? It just didn’t make sense. Needless to say I had to be a fast learner and quickly adjust my perspective about the context within which I was now being oriented. As it turns out many students had different reasons for enlisting in the program so there went my assumptions on that matter. Nonetheless the variety of beliefs and interests made the course of study that much richer and enlightening.
Challenges as an International Student
My next surprise, or maybe disappointment, came as a result of challenges in communication. I assumed that communication would be fairly easy, and on some counts it wasn’t all that bad. But, and I say a big but here, it would appear that since the international students were in the minority - relating in English was also in the minority, as much of the institutions means of communication remained in Norwegian.
This sometimes made it difficult to get information first hand, and at times it required me to resort to Google translations which is not always an accurate translation. This also could be somewhat tedious and frustrating, especially when the main platforms for communicating with students was not always in English.
The Warmth and Kindness
Despite all the foregoing I must confess that they faded in comparison to the warmth and kindness of those I encountered and related to over my sojourn in Oslo and at VID. This warmth was very critical to surviving in what I can aptly describe as one of the coldest and by far darkest places on earth, and I mean that literally. The learning environment, though very receptive and informative, was coupled with challenges of adjusting to study life in different conditions.
Some days were filled with light and warmth while others were dark and cold and lifeless. This required a mental adjustment especially on days when I had to wake up for an early morning class but it was still dark and covered with snow - and by the time I would return home it was also dark; a reflection of the very short days when we were blessed with a mere 4 or so hours of light between 10am and 3pm.
Occasionally when I reflect I find that the course of study had some similarities to the context, in that what I learnt about diaconia, the caring ministry of the church, was that there were some persons who in daily living faced with days of darkness and cold and were missing the light in their lives. As diaconal agents we were being trained and taught to be their light or to show them the light in those dark moments. I too experienced this diaconal engagement over my two years interacting with lecturers and students. There were times when I was overwhelmed and deeply touched by the expressions of love and care that was extended to me and others around me.
Sometimes We Have a Choice
VID and by extension Oslo, is a special place where I have learnt and grown, where I have had many discoveries about myself and about life. I was reminded that even though life can have many long, dark days and nights coloured by brief moments of lights, on the other hand life is also filled with long bright days bursting with endless possibilities and opportunities waiting to be seized.
Sometimes we have a choice and other times we don’t. But what we make of either options is up to us. For me I chose the long bright days with glimpses of short dark nights which reflects the reality of my life story. A story that continues in another chapter as my journey returns to another part of the earth that is quite a contrast but provides another possible ending.