International Aberystwyth

Norweigan students pose for a photo on Norweigan Constitution Day - Ina Benedicte Sanne Mikkelson

Norweigan students pose for a photo on Norweigan Constitution Day – Ina Benedicte Sanne Mikkelson

THE FIRST couple of weeks at university is an exciting, but also slightly daunting experience for most new students. It is for most the first stepping stone into adulthood, a new place, new faces and – perhaps the most noticeable – new opportunities and responsibilities. If you throw a new culture and a new day-to-day language into the mix, even the best of us might feel an intense need to cling on to anything that feels even the slightest bit familiar.

I moved to Aber from Norway in September 2011. This was the first time I would spend more than two weeks under a roof that wasn’t the one I’d grown up under. I was moving away from a close-knit community where I knew everyone and everyone knew me, to a town I had only visited once before. Even with the safety of knowing I had a friend from school travelling with me, I spent most of the preceding summer getting mentally ready for the biggest change of my life so far, whilst pretending to everyone else that I wasn’t worried at all.

One of the first things I did during my process of getting ready for leaving was hitting the internet. In my nervous state, the most logical way to make sure I wouldn’t be stranded in Aber, alone and friendless, was to start making friends before I was there.

Beginning with, and soon after moving onto Facebook and Skype, I located both other Norwegians going to Aber, and like-minded people on my own course. Essentially this meant that I arrived in town for Sports Week already with a group of friends, and because of this, my experience was probably quite different from most people’s during their first Freshers’. Nevertheless, those first couple of weeks mostly revolved around meeting and getting to know new people.

It was incredibly exciting – it was sometimes as if everywhere I turned, there were someone else who just happened to be my new best friend in the making. Any little thing that could be used to connect us was dug out, and of course the main theme of conversation for me ended up being my foreignness.

It was something that seemed to unite us; the joy when going up to someone, asking where they were from, hearing Norway and then being allowed to start speaking your own language to someone you didn’t already know, in Wales.

I soon realised how easy it was to get caught up in a bubble of the familiar. Occasionally I would find myself in a room, locked in conversation with a fellow countryman, and completely ignoring the rest of the room.

Obviously, this made it practically impossible for anyone who didn’t speak the language to connect with either of us. I soon started making a point to speak to people in English, even though I felt clumsy and illegible next to the native speakers. It didn’t take long before I felt secure enough to talk to anyone and everyone; talking is by far the best way to learn the language properly and quickly.

However, there are some incredible, small communities in Aber for people of practically any nationality. There is a sense of homeliness that I imagine only Norwegians can understand in being invited over for homemade risgrøt or pinnekjøtt, or meeting up to celebrate the 17th of May in the good, old-fashioned way that we’re used to at home.

That little piece of familiarity makes it easy to join in on the occasional jokes about Viking beards and polar bears roaming the streets, and enjoy Aberystwyth for the incredible student town it is, no matter where in the world you’re from.