Familiarizing the Unfamiliar – How an unknown city can become your new home

So, after five months of new experiences, of creating memories and being exposed to a ton of newness I am back in my usual environment. Back home, time seems to have stopped the moment I left and everything still seems the same: it appears as if nothing and no one has changed. Obviously, that is not true and reflects only my point of view. Still. Exploring a new environment and meeting lots of new people requires lots of adapting and it takes much more space in your memory than simply following your daily routine.

When I came back home, it felt as if time were passing by much slower. As if my whole exchange had happened within a week and here I was, back in other people’s routines, where I could hardly find new stuff to discover. Where’s the excitement, the adventure left to find? My family, my friends, my home: I got everything back I needed to feel safe, comfortable, at home. But something’s missing now. During my exchange, I discovered something new every day, and getting to know new people happened was part of a daily routine. Back home, this is an exception. You get the rush of newness only occasionally and that slows you down. It took me quite a while to understand this and I am still adapting to this “loss of emotions”. 

Starting in a new town, in a new country, a completely new environment takes a lot of energy and openness for adaption. I remember how calm I was when I arrived in Bergen. It just felt right and I already had the good feeling that this town would take a huge place in my heart. In time, I tried new cafés, bars and places to be. At first, I felt like a stranger, an intruder. People had to change to English to communicate with me and I felt guilty for not knowing their language. I am still not even nearly fluent in Norwegian but at least I can use short sentences like “tusen takk” (thank you very much), “ha det bra” (Goodbye/have a nice day) or just “Jeg snakker ikke norsk” (I don’t speak Norwegian). I felt like everyone could see that I am not one of them, that I had a mark on me saying “I am new here”. But, surprisingly, it didn’t take much more than a few weeks to lose this awkward feeling! Bergen was my new home and all the small streets, cute cafés and hidden spots became more and more familiar to me. I got to know some Norwegian people and learned some interesting aspects of their culture which made it so much easier for me to understand the city vibes and people’s attitudes. 

I remember that when I used to go on trips to new cities before my exchange, I always felt like a tourist and wasn’t able to imagine that I could belong there. I totally changed my mind. Today, I strongly believe that you can turn every place into your own home, into a safe place that makes your heart beat faster and lights up your face. Of course, I could have never experienced this change of unfamiliar to familiar without the people I got to know in Norway. They had a huge impact on my perception and all the positive experiences I made. I was able to learn a lot about myself. One aspect I find quite helpful was spending time alone. Before leaving to Norway, we already had a workshop and listened to a presentation about going abroad, held by a former exchange student. She stressed the experience of travelling alone and of being okay with spending time on your own. I believe that nowadays people are afraid of being alone, even if it’s just for having lunch somewhere without any company. I mean, people could think that you are a weirdo or an antisocial person without any friends. I find that whenever I see a person alone in a café or in a restaurant, I admire them. They must be totally at peace with themselves. I am pretty sure that experiencing a positive time on your own in a new city helps you a lot in the process of adapting and familiarizing the unfamiliar. You learn to spend time on your own and even become comfortable with this precious time when you don’t have to interact in any kind of way. This is an aspect I would have never wanted to miss and I surely will try to keep this routine now that I am back home. 

And who knows, maybe next time you see someone sitting on their own you just go talk to them or also just take a break, enjoy a coffee on your own and embrace this time to yourself. 

Eva Roeren

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