I’ve always liked learning new things and part of me was excited to go back to school. I’m in Norwegian language courses, or as they call it “norskkurs” (NORSHK’ koosh).
My first class was in a small suburb of Oslo and I was struck by how many people from different countries were there. We had students from Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Turkey and two Americans. The other American was a sweet chic from Minnesota. (Hi L!)
I’ve had many classes since then and met people from Iran, Iraq, Syria, China, Thailand, Nigeria, Ethiopia, England, Turkey, France, Australia, Lebanon, Nepal and more. Each class is essentially a miniature assembly of the United Nations.
It’s neat to learn little tidbits about the other cultures. Of course my limited exposure to a handful of people can’t possibly represent an entire country, but there’s certainly interesting insights.
For example, let’s say you’re sitting at the lunch table with my classmates from the Philippines or the Horn of Africa and you don’t have anything to eat. One of them will divide their food in half and give it to you. Not a small corner of your sandwich like you would at most American lunch tables, but half. Even if you say you’re not hungry, you’re getting half of whatever they have. Even if they just met you, you’re getting half. If there’s a bunch of people at the table, everyone ends up with equal parts.
The generosity is humbling.
And then there’s the air/cheek kiss greeting thing. In some countries you air kiss on one side, other countries it’s two kisses (one for each cheek) and then a handful of them call for three kisses. No one really tries the kiss-kiss thing with me. I think it’s pretty clear that most Americans don’t kiss as a greeting.
But most of my classmates think it’s weird that we Americans hug so much. For them, that’s more intimate than the kiss greeting.
Despite the varying cultures, most times my class is like going back to the good parts of high school: You’re hanging with your friends, you laugh obnoxiously at the inside jokes and bemoan upcoming tests.
It’s really refreshing to sit in a room with people from all over the world and to focus on what we have in common instead of our differences. It’s easy to feel today that we’re so divided since we don’t do a good job of listening to and respecting one another. But everyday, just for a few hours, differences in politics, religion and ethnicities aren’t highlighted because our only goal is to learn Norwegian. And it’s something we do together.