Out In The Elements

By Mackenzie Kirby


Hi! My name is Zie and I’ll be a junior this Fall Semester of 2023. I am pursuing a Creative Writing Major with a Film Minor. This past Spring Semester I studied in Moss, Norway, becoming one of the few students from Salve Regina to go abroad in the Scandinavian region. It is an experience I will never forget and am most fortunate to have been a part of. The program I attended was with the American College of Norway where both American and Norwegian students take classes together.

The truth is I faced difficulty writing this second blog as my time abroad was not “the best time of my life” as many people stated it would and should be. Still, I want to preface the following paragraphs saying that I believe study abroad to be a great opportunity for all to take and more specifically, Norway was a choice I do not regret. Study abroad commonly falls victim to romanticization. Yet its purpose is to educate the traveler outside of their comfort zone and reveal the true images of the world, which are often construed by people being confined to their own local bubble. This does not come without hardship. These hardships are what I wish to discuss in the blog and further explain why they are vital to understanding the immeasurable worth of studying abroad. We only grow if we are met with challenges, and Norway, not unlike any other program a student could select, had its own unique challenges.

True Warmth

When I first arrived in Norway, the snow arrived in a similar immensity as my own excitement. I can’t say I enjoy being cold, but I do prefer autumn and winter. (Summer heat only brings dread to my mind.) My mother reminds me that ever since I was young, I loved the snow and that affinity has never ceased. People are often confused because if I do not like being cold, why seek it out to such an extent as traveling to the frozen nordic. The answer is simply, the cold allows a person to feel warmth in the most intimate design. When I mention “warmth”, I mean more than the physicality of it, but instead the concept as a whole. It is natural to seek out some form of heat when cold. When the frigid weather is frequent and voluminous enough, the pockets from which a person can pull warmth amplify. Carrying a hot chocolate from apartment to school building as you trudge through snow, layering smooth, soft sweaters which resemble being tucked into bed all snug, or even just laughing with friends as you slip and slide on ice skates. Warmth. The feelings of happiness, of being connected, of pride, of love, of silliness. Warmth can be found in these as well. Cold allows us to feel true warmth. This gives me an appreciation for the wintry months in return. They are not easily passed and are unliked by many. Even Norwegians. I found it disconcerting that my fellow classmates did not find the same alluring feeling to the cold as I did, but instead joined the general public in favoring warmer climates. With there only being nine students total attending the school, I struggled finding common ground to begin with. I reminded myself, this in fact why I came. To find the uncommon ground and embrace its difficulties.

The weather did prove to be a challenge as my emotions became more affected by whether or not I saw the sun that day. It would rise just as I was walking to class in the morning and be setting by 3 o’clock in the afternoon. If I didn’t have a clear schedule for the night, I’d find myself sleeping by six. Feelings equivalent to euphoria would take shape upon seeing the strange bright orb in the sky after three days of snow, rain, and darkness. On the opposite side, tensions grew among the class as we were plunged back into night and heavy precipitation. I remembered hearing my flatmate yell any and all profanities out her window one April morning as white snowflakes fell on the new spring flowers. When the sun disappeared, friendships turned to arguments and loneliness sunk into each one of us. Drama slithered like a snake underground, and its bite was like poison to our relationships with one another. Yet when the sky was blue and the birds were chirping, everything seemed to come back together. For a moment, we all forgot and united under warm rays, smiling and laughing. The lesson here being it is easy to forget how malleable human emotions become due to external factors, many of which we disregard when interacting with others. Norway stretched my tolerance for peer’s behavior as well as sent my own emotions on a rollercoaster. Moments such as these help us see who we are becoming versus who we want to be, and it gives us a chance to grow for the better.

The Jump

Noway’s weather also changed my overall outlook on temperature as well. Cold was a lot colder than I previously believed, and on the flip side what degrees I considered hot also changed. It was approaching finals when the temperature in Moss hit fifty-eight degrees. Nearly sixties! Everything was so alive with life: flowers bloomed, outdoor vendors were set up, and people took their lunch outside. The other classmates and I had been struggling to stay connected as the semester came to an end, but this provided us with one of my most favorite memories of the entire stay. We decided to go swimming. It was a fever dream decision. Something inside me knew I needed to let out all the pent up stress from lectures and apparently jumping in still freezing water was the way to do so. We traveled down to the dock and stripped to our bathing suits, sun warm on our backs. One at a time we went, and when my turn came around I thought how insane I was. Swimming. In fifty degree weather and twenty degree colder water. Then I remembered the heat inside me, the anger and sadness at the turnout of this whole semester. How I believed I made the wrong choice. How I was going to sound when I came back and people asked me, “Wasn’t it just the best time of your life?” How disappointing I was going to seem. Then, I jumped. The impact of the rapid temperature change hit me like a truck and oxygen was ripped from my lungs. My body moved on its own accord, pulling me to the surface. Adrenaline pulsed through me as I rushed for the ladder. The whole experience felt surreal. It was a sit there was a metaphysical line between the earth, me, and the human experience. I felt cleansed and freed. All the negative feelings from before had washed away in the ocean. Back on the dock, we gathered in our towels as we shivered and smiled. We decided to do it again. The second time we jumped all together. It is hilarious in retrospect, but only after we jumped did we realize only one person could climb up the ladder at time. The mix of laughter with go, go, go carried me on high hope through the end of the year tests. It is beautiful how such a small act can bring a fracturing group together. Back in America, the eighty to ninety degree summer burns against my skin. I burnt easily before, but no all it takes is twenty minutes in the sun and I’m crispy. With the sun at a more “normal” rotation, the mood swings have also improved tenfold. Norway has left me feeling more spiritually and mentally awake, which wouldn’t happened if the hardships I faced never led me there. If I never took the jump. So if you are wondering which study abroad program to take or to take any at all, try not to think so hard about it. The jump is always scary at its beginning and worth it at its end.

The Ukraine War

Despite being relatively far away from the war in Ukraine, the impact could still be felt in Norway. I had always read about the economic effects of war in history classes and even felt the stress when the United States was affected by significant increases in gas prices. Yet in Norway the consequences loomed overhead as I realized there wasn’t a large body of water between me and two warring states. Questions about the war and predictions of Russia’s next moves often penetrated out class discussions. One day, we all got a notice mid-lecture about a two hundred percent increase on our electricity bill. Groceries seemed to double in price and shelves remained unstacked. Norway imports many of its dairy products and fruits due to its climate. Not only did I have to make adjustments to fit the diet of a typical Norwegian, replacing chicken with fish and a sugary breakfast for open face sandwiches, but I had to endure the price fluctuation of war as well. The fear of running out of money in a foreign country terrified me. What it helped me accomplish was learning how to live on a budget and make smart spending choices. Luckily, this was the extent of what the war in Ukraine inflicted on my study abroad experience. It would be interesting to hear from students closer to the source. There is always going to be something happening out in the world, be it war, disease, poverty, threat of natural disasters or terrorists, that will influence your study abroad experience. Yet if we fall to fears and continue to say perhaps another time would be better, one might never leave the house. My advice is to go and get out there, but always consider precautionary measures and be educated about the risks.


One of the difficulties I encountered from study abroad resulted from the transition back to America. What I discovered the second time round living overseas was how efficient Europe is in their day to day lifestyle. At least, I find it more efficient for a lifestyle that I prefer. The most obvious difference is how walkable their cities and towns are. I love to walk and it is one of my main activities of staying healthy, but in the United States finding a safe area with sidewalks is a challenge. Many Americans have to drive to go their “walk”. Not only when I was in Norway, but also when I studied in Oxford, I walked to the grocery store everyday. I purchased what I needed for dinner and the next day’s lunch and being only myself, it was never too much for me to carry. Plus, buying only what you need is a great way to not waste money or food. European stores are smaller than American ones, but the food is fresher and without many of the preservatives we commonly see. In Norway, they only had one person manning the single cashier available and instead expected most people to go though self-checkout. Since large hauls of food were uncommon, waiting in line was also a rarity. On the flip side, when I traveled in Europe, the airports seemed ten times larger than the airports I had visited in America. It was as if a gigantic mall existed in each European airport I walked through. For spring break, I made my way to Germany from Oslo and not once was I stopped for identification. Everything was electronic. Baggage is done by yourself with your plane ticket, no ID required, and the security only needs your plane ticket or passport for another machine to scan. (Of course, x-rays are still mandatory for people and carry-ons.) I didn’t need to go through customs because I was traveling within Europe, so I made my way across countries without talking to a single person, which if you are an introverted traveler like me, best day ever. For comparison, when coming into American customs, it took me two hours to talk to a person who looked at my passport for a second. Out of fifteen stations, only two were occupied with security officers. If the United States adopted the electronic route in our airports, we can be both safe and efficient.

The final topic I wish to discuss is the polarized views of the United States from both Americans and from non-Americans. It appeared there was shared idolized perspective of America from the Norwegians when it came to socializing and career opportunity spheres, but an aggressive displeasure when stating opinions about politics and controversial topics such as race and religion. In my own opinion, it felt as if these ideas of America were heavily influenced by modern media, which rarely does an adequate job of accurate representation these days. Even news on politics and social rights is framed in an overall negative manner. Yet Americans hold their own beliefs toward their country, which are equally polarized. We praise our country for rigor, commercial expenditures, and strength only to pivot on a dime to demean and complain about politics, social injustice, and the quality of each state. There is good and bad within everything and no country is perfect, yet the extreme imbalance I encountered about America caused unease within me. I felt shame at the divide in my country which had seemed to seep beyond our borders and frustration that the ‘American Dream’ wasn’t exactly as imagined. My fellow American classmates were just as baffled as why the Norwegians would want to move to America as Norwegians were that we moved away. As they say, the grass always appeared greener on the other side. Study abroad lets you stand on both fields, if we were to continue the metaphor. A world perspective is vital when considering opinions on injustice, government, and social atmosphere. It is wider and wiser. To look beyond one’s own country and see our role as a communal humanity provides clarity. The Norwegians asked so many questions about what is was really like for us. “I saw this on Instagram, but how is it really?” And many were surprised by our answers. Some even said, “I would have ever guessed.” The American students had similar responses when we asked about Norway. It turns out we are both more of the same than we thought in our struggles and strengths. As much as we need to respect and honor our differences, it is important to appreciate our similarities, our common ground as humans.


As I stated before, my semester abroad didn’t turn our to be the best experience of my life. Yet I would argue, so far, it has been the most enriching. Being put in the position of a true outsider helped me stand to my own ideals and strengthen the confidence inside me. It helped me reaffirm myself. I made many mistakes, but at the end of it I believe I grew into a better, more mature individual. No matter where you go, you are going to face the same troubles: fear, love, friendship, anger, and what some of us might consider “drama”. Those basic core feelings have little cultural boundaries and how we act upon them is the root to who we are. So at the risk of sounding both redundant and cliche, in order to really find ourselves, we might have to get lost first. I miss Norway so and cannot wait for the next adventures bring me.

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