When things aren’t as you expected

In September 2017 we were two excited girls who had a lot of questions and excitement. We had just signed a contract with the Norwegian Red Cross and were going on an exchange to Nepal, Sunsari District, Dharan for the next 9 months. When I told one of my friends the duration of the exchange – he simply answered by saying “yeah, so it kind a like a duration of a pregnancy”.

And yes, he was right. The beginning of the exchange was kind of bumping – everything was new and exciting; the mid part was a pure pleasure and we were in a good routine and now, the end is full of emotions and has made us reflect on how to wrap up activities, tasks and responsibilities with Nepal Red Cross Society. It is so strange to think about that we are home in Norway in under 1 month (!). The time has sure flied.

In the beginning we had a lot of questions. How were the Nepalese going to be like, will I miss my friends and family or how much will I grow as a colleague or as a person. As you might understand the questions in my head were a lot and not easy questions to answer (read: even with google by my side). Even though the questions are many, I have learned new things every day and feel like I have been here longer than 8 months. Being exposed to a new and different culture for a long time has been enjoyfull, fun, memorable but also a big learning curve. Learning how to cook food (read: surprisingly I never cooked before I sat my foot in the kitchen here in Nepal), expressing myself in a new language (read: body language sometimes), or learning a new working system to mention something. And no, I still haven’t figured out the answer to all those questions I had in the beginning of the exchange or am I capable of giving a fruitful answer to a person that has never been or lived in Nepal (read: you sure have missed out of something).

Though by getting to know the Nepalese people and introducing the Norwegian culture to them has really made me reflect on how different Nepal and Norway are. There are some things that are very different from back home and things that I will bring back to Norway.  

Are people in Norway like you? That’s a question I get quite often here in Nepal and the answer is definitely no. Not in appearance (read; in Norway we look very different from each other), but not in personality either. I perceive people in Nepal and Norway as very different. In Norway, especially Scandinavians, we are very introverted and like our "private space” – meaning that if we have a close group of friends we don’t necessary take initiative to talk to new people or people from aboard. You as a foreigner must therefore take initiative to get to know us. It will sure take some time to get to know us, but in comparison we are very friendly (read: especially in gatherings, parties or social events) when you first get to know us. We just need some time to adjust. 

What do you eat in Norway? Well, if you ask the people who knows me they will probably say something like “Thanuya never cooks and eat oatmeal for every meal” (read: especially since I have had some episodes with the fire alarm going off in my apartment while cooking). Well, that’s partly true. I never cooked back in Norway - so I am not the right person to ask if you want a good and fruitful answer to that question. But in general we Norwegians eat a lot of vegetables, bread and salmon fish (read: which we are very famous for. You can even find Norwegian salmon in restaurants in Kathmandu). As Norway is a diverse country we eat a lot of different dishes inspired from other countries – such as U.S, Italy, Thailand, India and Latin/South- America (read: in Norway we have something called “Taco-Friday” where we eat taco to dinner every Friday).  In Nepal they eat a lot of rice, spices and vegetables to every meal – which is very different from Norway (and yes, luckily for me they do have oatmeal in the store here).

Are people always on time in Norway? Well, the short answer is yes. If we have a meeting at 10am in Norway, you are there on time. 10am sharp. If not, you let the facilitator(s) know if you are 5min late or let them know if you can’t come at all (read: at least 1 day in advance). In Nepal there is an expression we learnt very early in our exchange, namely “nepali time”. Which means that if you have a meeting at 10am – you can expect people to show up at least 30min later. Of course, it sometimes has to do with traffic jam- but on the other side, that’s a new culture we quickly learned. The social environment and time management is something which is completely different in Nepal and Norway. Last week, when me and Camilla where 30min late (read: nepali late) our local boss Kiran said "WOW, you have really have adapted to the Nepali culture" - so yes, we have really tried to live by the nepali culture.

I could probably write page up and down of all the differences and similarities Norway and Nepal has (such as we simply don't have monkeys in the street of Norway). Reflecting on the process from the beginning of the exchange until now is sure a lot. Things haven't always been as I expected, but it feels very nice. Firstly, because some of the questions I had have been answered through my experience here – but also because I have made the most of it. Learning about myself, experiencing a new enviroment, friends, colleagues and living in Asia hasn’t always been a joy, but that’s what a culture exchange is all about. Memoring the good times and learning from each other. I will sure take back with me a lot of new experiences and friendships.

All the best,

Thanuya