When I booked my tickets to Ukraine, I knew I wanted to take a detour back to Norway. Back to the place where this journey sort of started, but also to the place where my best friend is.
When leaving the states last week, I was nervous that I had made the wrong decision. What if seeing Alexa made me more sad. What if I was just anxious the whole time. What if...What if...What if...
But when I landed in Trondheim last Friday, after traveling for a little over 24 hours and only sleeping about three of those hours, I knew I had made the right decision. As the plane came to a stop on the runway, I started to tear up knowing that Alexa and familiarity was so close. I tried my best to hide my emotions from my fellow passengers on my left and my right. But my failure was almost comical as a young Norwegian man looked completely perplexed about how to handle my sudden outburst.
After de-boarding, I basically ran to the baggage claim ignoring everyone else with my eyes searching for one familiar face. When I finally saw Alexa in the middle of the baggage claim I completely broke down in a complex combination of exhaustion, anxiety, excitement, sadness, and relief. A few minutes of hugging and crying in a very un-Norweigian public display and I felt so much better.
When I was in Norway, I stayed with Alexa who is student teaching at a small school outside of Trondheim and her cooperating teacher, who is from Decorah but moved to Norway recently to teach at this school. Their apartment was small but cozy, a little home for me as I readjusted to the time zone.
When I was in Norway last year, I spent most of my summer in Oslo and with other international students. I did not necessarily get as much of the 'cultural' exchange as other students who study abroad. But being in Stjødal was a chance for me to get a feel for life in rural Norway.
Alexa and I spent the first day in Trondheim where we mostly walked around and enjoyed each other's company, taking lots of time to catch up. It was an exciting time for me to be in Norway because of the upcoming election (occurred on September 11th). I got to see Norwegian campaigning in action and even struck up a few conversations with people about their politics.
We spent Sunday in Frosta, Norway which was even more rural than Stjødal. We went to this adorable restaurant and took time along the way to take lots of pictures of the beautiful fjords. At the restaurant, I had the best salmon I have ever tasted and we got to sample beers brewed in the basement of this little place.
When Monday came, it was time for school for Alexa and her cooperating teacher. With permission from the principal (ANOTHER Decorah native), I got to go with! The school that they are teaching at is small and growing. So in my one day, I got to meet almost all of the kids. It was a really special privilege to also see my best friend do her thing in the classroom, engaging with kids, adapting to problems, having fun (most of the time), and making it all look easy. I picked up some tips from her and her fellow teachers about tips and tricks I might use in my new classroom.
With Tuesday morning came the dreaded 'g' word. And while it was hard to say goodbye to Alexa, there is something really special about a best friend that has been with you through some of your best and most of your worst. Someone who understands you and what you need maybe more than you do. While it was hard to say goodbye, it was not hard to imagine how we will continue to love and support each other this next year, even from afar.
After goodbyes, hugs, and just a few tears, I boarded the plane in Trondheim for Oslo where I had an extended layover. Just enough time to reconnect with two of my friends from last summer, Victoria and Anatolii. It is amazing to have friends from around the world who you can meet up with and ease back into conversation like time had not passed since you last saw each other. My catching up with Anatolii was going so well that, for the first time in my life, I almost missed my flight. After rushing through security and running to what felt like the complete other end of the airport, I boarded the plane with just a minute or two to spare.
So now, today is the day. I am in the Amsterdam airport after staying in a Yotel last night (check it out...it was pretty cool and they have funny videos describing the rooms). I had a hearty breakfast and a strong cup of coffee and I feel ready to go to Ukraine, which is good because tonight I will find myself in a bed, in a hotel, in Kyiv.
In hindsight, I am so incredibly grateful for this transition period that I gave myself. For the time to readjust. For the time to process the upcoming changes in my life. For the time with friends, old and new. In an odd way, I think it also help me re-realize my ability to be a strong, independent woman who is ready to take on the challenges that the next 10 months are sure to bring.
Thanks for sticking with this incredibly long post. More to come soon about orientation, my new home, and my first day of teaching next week!