If I had a dollar for every time I was asked “what are you doing in Bodø” or “why did you decide to come all the way to Norway?”, let’s just say that I wouldn’t need to go to university at all. Coming from a small paradise island of Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic) in the Caribbean where snow, or even a day without a dose of sunlight do not exist, even I question my decision to throw myself out of my comfort zone and into the blistering cold and culturally opposite town, Bodø.
My quest for higher education was not one without its many challenges and constant discouragements. From a young age, I was drawn towards the field of Science, and after much deliberation, I decided to pursue Marine Biology. After completing my Associates degree in biology at the local college back home, I worked several jobs, the majority being totally unrelated to my area of interest. Working for roughly 2 years pushed me and made the need for my undergraduate degree much more urgent.
Initially, I was all set for doing my degree at the Dalhousie University in Canada where I had forged relationships with students and members of the faculty prior to my arrival. I was beyond thrilled, eager and tremendously overwhelmed to go out and make myself and my family proud.
Unfortunately, my small island is located in the tropics where we are no stranger to many natural disasters more than half the year. On September 18 2017, Dominica felt its first category 5 hurricane, hurricane Maria, that brought us all to our knees, destroying 95% of the country’s infrastructure, clearing many farms from which the 70,000 strong population depends on for produce, and causing mass emigration. Many people who read this may never understand the terror felt while literally running for your life, from room to room as your house collapses around you. I’m beyond proud, however, to have these experiences that reassure me that if I can survive that level of trauma, then anything is possible.
I remember having several doors shut in my face as my family’s business no longer had the means to finance schooling in Canada, as their business had come to an immediate stop following Maria. From that moment, Norway, which was honestly just a last resort, became my saving grace as there were no tuition fees to be paid.
Upon arrival in Bodø, I instantly became overwhelmed and depressed as I was welcomed by cold and the feeling of something so unspeakably different than what I am accustomed to. Luckily, my mom and I had made friends with our lovely AirBnB hosts who, to this day, have made the transition process for me much more manageable, and are always ever willing to support and encourage me. Before my arrival I would always hear how Norwegians are unpleasant and keep their personal space sacred, but my experiences with mostly everyone here have been nothing short of pleasant, polite and extremely helpful even without me having to ask for their assistance.
At first, I never felt like I belonged here and I clung to my friends back home for emotional support. In fact, from just listening to other peoples’ stories who have lived away from home at one point or another, I realized that coming from a close-knit family with whom I spent my entire 20 years, I didn’t have the ability to adapt quite like the majority of people around me. I have never been a social person especially then when I was homesick and unable to understand Norsk. I never even tried to make friends for months, I barely attended meet and greet events as anxiety and frequent panic attacks would get the best of me.
I distinctly remember this particular day when the dark period was just starting, in a casual conversation with my peers, so burdened with stress that I just broke down and regretted my decision to move to Bodø. I couldn’t tell my family so as not to worry them as back home had enough stress of its own, but it was then, at my absolute lowest that I began to feel and see the beauty in what I was enduring. I never imagined this change would be even remotely easy, and entering this experience with relatively little knowledge of what would lie ahead was definitely not in my benefit. I began to feel confident, as not everyone in my country has the will nor the means of pursuing higher education in a country that provides such priceless experiences and opportunities for personal development, and honestly, I’m happy to say that I embarked on this journey in Bodø rather than somewhere in a familiar culture.
It became clear that a change of that magnitude isn’t as simple as moving from one location to the next, but reconditioning your mind and body to adapt to something completely different. Its absolutely pointless to mourn over fond memories in your old town and trying to hang on to them in a new town full of potential memories just waiting to be made.
My story isn’t like some others I’ve seen and heard that are as simple as “Hey, I think Bodø sounds interesting, let’s see what it’s about” but one of multiple dark times that have led to comfortable brighter days. Winter of 2019 was my first ever winter, I had no idea my skin could get this dry in the cold or how serious sliding on ice is, yet I’m quite certain that if I could move to the opposite end of the world to pursue my education and be the only Caribbean student here, then any change coupled with the right mindset can become a reality.