Was it all a dream? Did all of that really happen? How can I even begin to explain to my friends and family back home about my experiences studying in Sápmi? I have identified closely with the stages of reverse culture shock in the past two weeks. I miss the Sámi culture and the closeness I developed with my hosts and random people that became friends. Before returning home home in Northern Illinois, I spent six days with my mother in Oslo which is the largest city in Norway. After studying so closely with the indigenous peoples, it was a shock to be surrounded by so many Norwegians and little evidence of Sámi presence. Spending the time with my mother was wonderful because we got to spend quality time together doing really fun things in a city neither of us had been to before, but I couldn’t eloquently express what I was thinking about after such an intensive month of immersion study. Fortunately the only stories I have to share are happy ones, this program couldn’t have gone any better.
Part of me thinks I will be back there someday…maybe for a holiday or to visit an old friend. Part of me can’t imagine the next time I will ever get the chance to go to this part of the world…will any of those new friendships last the test of time? The last ten days back in small-town Illinois have been excellent, but complicated. I’ve been spending time with family and got to visit an old friend and explore downtown Chicago but mind is trying to adjust to American ways of life…and also knowing that I am leaving to study in Costa Rica soon. As an environmental studies major, I can’t help but find myself comparing the ecological health of place I visited in Norway, the Chicago river I walked beside, the tropic rain-forest I will find myself in for the next month…its too much for me to process in a short amount of time.
Things I have been so happy to have back in America are non-dairy milk options, the overwhelming choices available in any shopping or grocery store, and lower prices compared to Scandinavia, and the beautiful prairies and forests I grew up among. Thing I miss about my host country is the lower population density, vast and lush natural landscapes, being surrounded by foreign languages, and the general nomadic travel component of my particular course, and most of all the people that I got to share enlightening experiences with. The ego check that comes along with culture shock has taught me a lot about myself and what I would like to change.
I now know my strengths and weaknesses better than I had a month and a half ago the day I began my international journey. I can also identify qualities in other people in a way that I couldn’t before this experience; I feel like the more people who are different that you meet and interact closely with, the more about human behavior becomes apparent to you. People are so diverse, even among close communities. Generalizing and comparing one culture to another doesn’t do any good, but recognizing those beautiful and challenging uniquenesses is important. I wonder if I will ever see someone wearing the beautifully colored gahkti, or if I will ever eat reindeer or whale, or surf above the arctic circle again? Will the friends I made there ever come to visit me in America? So many people hear a lot about America and want to visit so badly, and I hope to be a good host to anyone who finds their way here.
What will I do now? Well…I’m going to be studying in Costa Rica for 23 days! It will be my final course of study for my first bachelor’s degree in Conservation Science and Management from the University of Washington. The course is in environmental science and restoration ecology through the school of environment and focuses on biodiversity and sustainability. I wish I could tell you all about it, but my Gilman International Scholar’s duties have come to an end with this final blog about my experiences in Sápmi. I look forward to seeing sloths, observe hundreds of species within each taxa, to eat exotic fruits, practice Spanish and scientific sketching, and to have the best final class any undergraduate student could ask for!
It’s been a pleasure writing for all of you. Peace.