Hello, my name is Julee Maeng. I am 25 years old and I am from Seoul, South Korea. I am a first year student in the ITEPS program at USN-Drammen. I have been living in Norway for 4 months now and I love every single moment here. I want to talk about the first Norwegian friends I made in my life. I want to tell you how I met them in South Korea, and how our friendship is continuing in the other side of the world, Norway. So here is my story.
I became passionate about North Korean human rights issues this year. And my roommate was an exchange student from Austria who was studying in South Korea. One day, a few months before I left Korea to come to Norway, she invited me to a North Korean Human Rights conference. When I went to the conference, there was another student from her school who greeted her. They didn’t know the other was coming to the same conference. Her classmate was from Norway. So my friend introduced me to her Norwegian classmate who is studying a full degree in South Korea. That was the first time I met a Norwegian girl in my life. She was surprised to hear that I was moving to Norway to study. She told me her friends from Norway are visiting Korea soon, and invited me to meet her friends.
I was excited to meet Norwegian girls, and was looking forward to the culture and language exchange. We dressed up in hanbok (Korean traditional dress) and toured around Gyeongbokgung (Traditional palace in Chosun dynasty). I invited them to the hanok (the traditional Korean house) I was living in and we had Samgyetang (Korean chicken soup with herbs) for lunch.
We became friends very fast and I just felt like they have been my friends for a long time. When I arrived in Norway, one of those friends was waiting for me at the airport late at night with a welcome sign and a Norwegian chocolate. I slept over at her house the first day I came to Norway, met her parents the next morning and had Norwegian breakfast with brown cheese. Her parents were so kind to me, and I felt so welcomed in Norway because of her family’s warm welcome. Her father told me the stories when he visited Seoul (the capital of South Korea) a long time ago, and both her parents showed interests in Korea. Her mother drove me to my school, from her house in Oslo to USN in Drammen, gave me a big hug and wished me good luck.
I met my friends and their other friends in Oslo, and my friend showed me around Oslo. Last month, the same Norwegian friends I met in Korea came to visit me in Drammen from Oslo. We cooked Korean food, visited the USN campus and walked around Drammen. Just few months ago, we met in South Korea and now we were still continuing our friendship in Norway. I am looking forward to seeing them again in the New Year’s Eve party we are having.
My mother traveled to Norway before I was born. She told me everyone in the train to Bergen stared at her because she was the only Asian. She said there was a cute little girl who couldn’t get her eyes off her, probably her first time seeing an Asian. So, when I call my mother, she still asks me, “Don’t people stare at you?” I laugh and say, “No, mom. They don’t stare at me. The world has changed! They watch videos about Korea on YouTube. I’ve met some Norwegians who become excited when I say I’m from South Korea, because they love K-pop and K-drama.”
Studying in the ITEPS program has been such a blessing for me and my favorite part is meeting people from all over the world. I visited Bergen, Norway with my Canadian and Finnish friends from ITEPS this week. I took the train to Bergen, which my mother took 30 years ago when she was my age. But no one stared at me for being Asian; there were people with different colors and backgrounds in the train. I made a friend with a Norwegian who studies at the University of Bergen on a train, who said she loves meeting international people.
I am thankful for the ITEPS program for giving me the chance to study in Norway with many international friends. We share international dishes, culture and learn each other’s language. Everyone I have met in school is open and understanding to different cultures. And I am also grateful for ISU, for bringing the international students together for social activities and raising awareness for Norwegian social issues. Through the ITEPS program and ISU meetings, I made the first Spanish, Greek, Finnish and French friends whom I would have never met otherwise. I’ve always thought to myself, ‘Life is full of unexpected things.’ Studying in Norway has been one of the most pleasant ‘unexpected thing’ that has happened in my life.