OSLO, Norway – This city is like a little United Nations. I’ve made connections from every corner of the globe and I’m still counting.
I’ve had the pleasure of having conversations with people from a staggering 26 countries since arriving in August. These people represent a few countries I’ve visited before but many come from places a Texan like me rarely has the opportunity to build a rapport with, which is why I’m here.
Many American students opt for a summer study abroad session or a long vacation to get their fill of life overseas. For me, I’m hungry for more. Having over five months abroad means getting to know the streets of Oslo, people from more than 26 countries and making relationships with a group rivaling the U.N. Rather than being a tourist, I’ve built relationships with people.
Relationships of all kinds have added to this international experience including my tight-knit group of friends, my work colleagues, speaking every language known to man and small, memorable interactions with mutual friends and classmates that make the diversity of my classes seem so normal.
Occasionally, it’s the small interactions that mean the most.
I entered my first economics lab having no idea how memorable an interaction I would have with such a random person. This is the class I’ve been most nervous for, considering I’ve never taken an upper division economics course before now. Here I was, attempting it at a new university. I sat down at an empty table, not focusing on my classmates but the impending class.
The professor began by getting the class acquainted with one another, having classmates introduce themselves. I introduced myself to the girl beside me named Aleksandra, a Russian student finishing her bachelor’s degree in sociology in Oslo. Out of everyone I had met, this was the first Russian I had come into contact with; the first Russian I had met in my life of travel.
We discussed the basics of small talk like “where are you from” and “why’d you choose to study in Oslo.” Then, I dug a little deeper. I discovered that she is an avid reader. Aleksandra had recently finished reading John Steinbeck and Fyodor Dostoevsky, both hailed as prominent authors of our two countries. We shared our thoughts on our favorite works from each author including Of Mice and Men, Grapes of Wrath and The Idiot, respectively. This is when I realized what a special, yet small, interaction we had.
The hardships of migrant workers in 1930s America, the excruciating experiences of Myshkin and the fascinating worlds these authors had depicted were read by Aleksandra and me in translated books– Dostoevsky in English for me and Steinbeck in Russian for her– thousands of miles away from each other but enjoyed by us both nonetheless.
In just a few minutes, I had built a unique relationship with a Russian citizen that many Americans and Russians from past generations– and even some from my own generation– wouldn’t think possible. During the era of “Russian collusion” headlines and only 30 years after the Soviet Union and Cold War, sparking a genuine conversation with my first Russian friend was a true highlight.
This memorable, yet small interaction brought together two individuals who had found respect and appreciation in one another’s national heroes despite being from countries who have long been at odds.
It is thanks to this little United Nations in Oslo, the goodness and respect of people from around the world and my decision to root myself in a new place for five months that this bridge between old Cold War enemies could be built.