“Hi, why are you in Norway today?”, the immigration officer at the airport asked me in the wee hours on that cold Monday morning on the 7th of August, 2017. After 10 hours of journey from New Delhi to Oslo and waiting over an hour in the Non-EU passport holders’ queue, I had no strength left to mouth words. “University of Stavanger! I mean I got accepted in a master’s program, yay”, I whispered to myself while wondering if this was really why I came this far up North, thousands of miles away from home. Yes, I did manage to pass through the counter and took a train that night for my onward journey to this “small” city on the south-west coast they call Stavanger. It is the third largest metropolitan area in Norway but c’mon, I come from India.
The reason was simple or so I think it was. I was working in the offshore industry, it was 2016, the oil price fell flat on its face in the world market and a 25-year-old me did not get a deserving appraisal that year so I was looking forward to change. I heard if the market ever comes up, it will begin with this country and so I applied to the program of my specialization and boom, rejection! A year later I sent in another application and with that came an acceptance letter in my mailbox. I was very elated, and what I actually was looking forward to is going beyond my level of comfort back home. In my land, it is common for children to stay with their parents forever and I was no exception, but I wanted to cross the boundaries, take a chance at knowing myself.
So, there I was in my room in a student dormitory, in Stavanger, and the first month just passed by with a few colleagues but no one to call a friend. September came and it was the longest month of the year. Life felt no different – get up, breakfast, lectures, lunch, assignments, dinner, sleep and repeat! I hosted dinners but the curry was too spicy, my jokes were not working, I was just trying to fit in, but it was a battle I lost. “Have I lost my charm? I have been social enough before and loved, but what went wrong here?”, I pondered over these questions for over a million times but in this race of finding someone to talk to, I realized that I was not my original self anymore. I love feeding my lot but why did I feel as if I had a different purpose? Why was I trying to fit in when I could be myself and let people love me for who I was, who I am. I remember that I had gotten back to my room early from a gathering for I “felt” I didn’t fit in, as usual. It was after that freezing night in October and a year and a half later, all I have done is – just being myself.
The curries are still spicy, my jokes still don’t make sense to my friends but what is different today is that I have the best lot with me who I call my family in Stavanger. They know me for what I am, imperfect but grounded. They are from all around the world – from the United States, Iran, Spain, Indonesia, Dubai, Egypt, Pan-Africa, Pakistan and Norway. Sticking to our roots is what makes each of our stories unique – it is what reminds us every time that no matter who you are or where you come from, you are special. Living with them has taught me so much, so many lessons I would not have learned back home. Understanding each other’s cultures and trying to bridge the gap in communication has helped us come together. It is a bond we built over months of sharing our stories with each other.
The future is uncertain, I am not sure where life will take me next, but I am okay with that for now – I am enjoying every minute of the present. We are graduating this summer, it has been a wonderful journey and these fellas have learned a great deal of Bollywood moves but my job here is not yet done! Stavanger will always hold a special place in my heart for it is my home away from home and by “her” grace, I spread my Pulkitness every second of the day!