I like to say that with the Norwegian capital I’ve had a serious love affair. We first met in 2007, a bunch of sunny April days; Oslo was the destination of a spontaneous trip with my parents. We never take spontaneous trips in my family, but 2007 had not had a good start and a spontaneous trip somewhere new was what we all needed to heal our wounds. Oslo healed my wounds. I was young, I fell in love so desperately.
When boarding the plane that would have taken me back home I promised that colourful city I would have returned one day. Three days had not been enough. So I applied for an Erasmus exchange – first destination choice: Oslo – and on the 8th of January 2009 I was finally back. My committment was a full semester this time. I would have had 6 months to properly get to know that city and for that short time allow myself to become a part of it. That was also the first time I moved out of my parents’ house, got to rent my own room in a student house and went living on my own. It was Oslo, and no other place, the background to this important event in my life.
I arrived during that time of the year when the days are the shortest and the temperature is at its coldest. Yet I loved everything about it. For the first time in my life I felt like I had found the perfect climate for me. The harshest days were the most beautiful. I was absolutely overwhelmed. I loved going out in the nature and finding it so big. You couldn’t underdress, you couldn’t take the sunlight for granted. I had never experienced anything like this and this harsh side felt absurdly welcoming. It was as if I had found my element. As winter slowly turned into spring I came to realise how long every day was getting. I had never been so aware of the sunrise and the sunset. Spending a winter in Oslo taught me a humbling lesson and made me realise how dependent we are on nature. It was the greatest lesson I could get at that time when I was teaching myself independence.
During those six months I made unforgettable memories and friends from all over the world. They took me on all sorts of adventures and it was through them that Oslo revealed to me all its secrets. I got to find my favourite place for coffee, my favourite subway train, my favourite place to enjoy the sunset. When, years later, I met my boyfriend, Oslo was one of the first places we went to together. I took him to all my favourite places there. That semester in Oslo had been one of the greatest turning points in my life, a time when I got to grow immensely and got to know myself better. I felt that it was only by taking my boyfriend to those places that I could really get him to know me.
The best thing about my stay had probably been that great sense of independence that living in Oslo gave me. I started travelling alone and relying only on myself. On my knowledge of English. On my gut. For the first time in my life I had to take care of everything myself and I discovered I had a real talent for managing my finances. I had a limited scholarship, yet I quickly learned to use it wisely. There was so much that I wanted to do and so many places in Scandinavia that I wanted to explore. So I learned to budget. The greatest lesson I learned was to shop for food efficiently. Soon I got to know the ethnic shops where to get cheap food and I opened my senses to a whole new array of flavours.
My life was not multicultural only on my plate. In my student house I was sharing the kitchen with six different nationalities and the use of my mother tongue was only limited to a small portion of the day. Eating different foods, speaking a different language, I felt like I had taken up a whole new identity and I fully embraced it. I made room for some shopping within my strict budget – I had arrived with only one suitcase full of stuff, after all – and my wardrobe filled up with new fabrics and new patterns. New life, new style. Oslo is where I came out of my cocoon as a fully grown butterfly.
The Norwegian capital is filled with beautiful sights and its incredible weather spectrum surrounds it with a different light every day. Be it under a pink winter sunrise or a grey stormy sky that city never ceases to amaze me. I don’t know exactly what I was looking for when I longed to go back, but I certainly found it. Oslo was the background of a greater journey, one inside of myself. When I look at the pictures I took of its landscapes I feel like they are all self-portraits.
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Time of my stay: January-June 2009.
Favourite place to get lost: the Bygdøy peninsula.
Greatest adventure from there: cruising the fjords from Bergen to Trondheim on a Hurtigruten ship.
Best lesson learned: smart budgeting; dressing for the weather.