Sunday, November 1, 2009

Norway, Sweden, and Manchester

“I wanted movement and not a calm course of existence. I wanted excitement and
danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for my love. I felt in myself a superabundance of energy which found no outlet in our quiet life” –Tolstoy

Life never seems to slow down! I spent the past weekend in Norway and in Sweden exploring two very eccentric cultures and beautiful landscapes. It was interesting to see how homogenous the population of Scandinavia seemed, locals explained to me that Norway is very resistant toward immigrants which helps to preserve the unique nature of the population. As I found in Holland, the native languages of Norway and Sweden seem to be dying as fluency in English becomes more and more necessary. While globalization enhances our ability to understand new cultures it also erodes the very presence of those cultures. While I would consider myself very much in favour of immigration it was interesting to see a community that has maintained its historic genealogy.

I toured the Resistance Museum housed within the National Castle. The Museum chronicles the efforts of Norway to resist German occupation and then to support the Allied cause during World War 2. I had never before realized what a significant role Norway had played in World War 2 history. It was shocking to see images of the Nazi flag flying over the city in which I had spent my weekend. I can’t imagine the bravery of the Norwegian people as they hoped and prayed that once again their country would be liberated. Since I have been in Britain I have developed a considerable amount of respect for the British military and especially their role in World War 2.

In Norway I also toured the Nobel Peace Museum which contained an exhibit equating Barack Obama to Martin Luther King Jr. I found a picture in the exhibit of Senator McCaskill with Obama which brought back fond memories. I’ve found a resounding sentiment of support for Obama throughout Europe. Though I have some personal disagreements with some of his policies, I am absolutely convinced that image of the United States abroad has significantly increased since the Obama administration. Though it is unsubstantiated evidence, friends who studied abroad during the Bush administration have told me of being treated far differently than is my experience and I think that a part of that is the Obama presidency. The United States is not the country that we were even one year ago.

From Oslo I took the train to Karlstad Sweden to visit my friend Liz who is studying through the same program of which I am a part in Sweden. Even though we are a part of the same program there were some major differences between our experiences. It was neat witnessing someone else’s experience while studying away. Liz lives with other international students who all get together each night for family dinner. I loved the communal spirit of the group. One night we had traditional German food and the following night made sushi together. I am very fascinated with communal living and would like to experience it someday. At night we shared travel stories and sang along to folk music on the guitar. I think my favourite four things to do are paint, canoe/kayak, play board games, and participate in sing-a-longs. I love the way that people come together over a guitar, I really wish that I were able to play.

On my second day in Sweden I went for a hike with some of Liz’s friends through the nearby woods. The views in the woods were lovely and I loved hearing the sound of the birds and woodpeckers, sounds that I don’t experience that often in Preston! On our hike we came across a village situated in the woods with signs of life but no people. We hopped the fence and explored a bit. We found some foot prints and even a house that was stocked with food but could not find any people. It was a bit scary.

It was really nice to have a chance to chat with Liz about the ways we have grown and changed since leaving Missouri. I discovered things about her that we had in common and developed a connection with her of which I wasn’t previously aware. We discussed ways that being abroad has helped us shed new light on concerns or issues that we felt we had in the United States. Travel and distance really are the best medicines. I am happier than I ever realized was possible in England. I feel in control of my life and have matured since my arrival. I don’t think I am the same person that I was over the summer, returning to Missouri will be very challenging and the relationships that I have there will not be the same.

I spent the first part of this weekend visiting my friends Roni and Guy Samuels in Manchester. On Friday night I had Sabbath dinner with their family. It was very interesting to see people operate within a different religious setting and also to see the setup of their kitchen with separate areas for dishes that hold meat and cheese. Roni and Guy’s grandfather is a Holocaust survivor and I was on the edge of my seat as he accounted for some of his experiences in the camps. I have always wanted to meet a Holocaust survivor and am lucky to have had the opportunity. We played many games of Backgammon and Othello and spent Halloween morning playing a very intense game of Risk. Guy and Roni were formidable opponents. In the afternoon we visited a friend of Roni’s for a birthday party and went to a nightclub to celebrate Halloween. I wore a cheeky Uncle Sam costume.

A friend loaned me a copy of the book “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer which has become one of my favourite books. The lead character, Chris, leaves his Emory education and wealthy family behind as he explores the wilderness of Alaska. In some ways I kind of feel like Chris; I am alone in a sense exploring a land previously unknown to me, and I have a fixed place to live but am also a nomad. I am struggling between so many different choices for what to do this summer and in general how to live my life. I have found a way to study abroad next year in Mexico and in China and am very interested in the possibility yet the chance also frightens me. I explained my fears to Liz in Sweden and she retorted “if you’re going to let a fear of not having friends in Springfield stop you then you’re not the person I thought you were.” She’s right. Life just seems to be a game of infinite opportunities of which I must select a choice and be happy with the opportunity cost. The future is very bright, I will be happy in whichever direction I choose to tread. Below are some quotes from the book that stuck a note for me:

*”He was alone. He was unheeded, happy, and near to the wild heart of life. He was alone and young and willful and wildhearted, alone amid a waste of wild air and brackish waters and the seaharvest of shells and tangle and veiled grey sunlight. “-James Joyce
*”It is the experiences, the memories, the great triumphant joy of living to the fullest extent in which real meaning is found. God it’s great to be alive! Thank you. Thank you.” –Chris
*”The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched” –Thoreau
*”But for some reason incomprehensible to me you wanted to bolt for home as quickly as possible, right back to the same situation which you see day after day after day. I fear you will follow this same inclination in the future and thus fail to discover all the wonderful things that God has placed around us to discover. Don’t settle down and sit in one place. Move around, be nomadic, make each day a new horizon.’ –Chris
*”It may, after all, be the bad habit of creative talents to invest themselves in pathological extremes that yield remarkable insights but no durable way of life for those who cannot translate their psychic wounds into significant art or thought” –Theodor Roszak
*”The physical domain of the country had its counterpart in me. The trails I made led outward into the hills and swamps, but they led inward also. And from the study of things underfoot, and from reading and thinking, come a kind of exploration, myself and the land. In times the two became one in my mind. “ –John Haines
*”I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbor- such is my idea of happiness. And then, on top of all that, you for a mate, and children, perhaps- what more can the heart of a man desire?” –Tolstoy
*”There are no events but thoughts and the heart’s hard turning, the heart’s slow learning where to love and whom. The rest is merely gossip, and tales for other times. “ –Annie Dillard

1 comment:

  1. You'll always have your Springfield friends, no matter where you travel. You'll take them in your heart and you'll obviously hear from them on Facebook. The chances for international study are exciting and may never come again. If you like the idea in general, go for it before you begin your career with all those respondibilities, while your parents are youngish and self-sufficient and you don't have husband and children to keep you in one spot. You may have to stay nearer someday but you'll have done all these things.