Archive for Month: June 2017

Bite the Dust

Every time I come back to Norway for the summer I suddenly see my country with a different set of eyes, and things that used to be familiar and normal have a tendency to seem a little odd to begin with. That’s okay. I’ve lived in the US for three years, and the fact that I’ve become more “Americanized” with time should come as no surprise. But there’s one thing that has started to bother me more and more each time.

With the fear of sounding like some kind of a traitor, I’ll try to pick my words carefully, but this one Norwegian “characteristic” has become so annoying to me that I, at one point, told myself I could no longer see myself living here.

The concept is hardly unique for Norway, but from my experience it is far more prominent here than in the US.

It’s the “Law of Jante.”

If you’re not familiar with this crippling concept—good for you—but I’ll try to explain it anyway.

This may sound harsh to some, but for the purposes of demonstrating my point, I’ll say that to Norwegians the Law of Jante is what the Pledge of Allegiance is to Americans; in the sense that it’s so deeply ingrained into the culture that people don’t even think of it as a tad bit strange anymore. It’s noticeable as soon as you enter the domestic part of any Norwegian airport, and it reads as follows:

Picture: https://nthestorygoes.wordpress.com

I hate it!

I never noticed how bad it was until I moved away, and I’m sure our society doesn’t even realize the grip Jante has on it.

I don’t think people necessarily mean any harm by obeying to this law, I’m just saddened to—once again—discover the tremendous impact it has on people’s lives and behavior.

The effects of Jante can be very subtle, and it can be very obvious.

Just because the general philosophy says that you shouldn’t stick your head out too far, or raise your voice too high, people rarely have the courage to confront you if they think you’ve put on too much of a show. But subtle or not, there will be consequences for not adapting to the law; backbiting, rumors, lost friendships and a constant feeling of swimming against the current, to mention a few.

This is the recipe for insecurities, inferiority complexes, stagnation and broken dreams, and it makes me feel trapped; trapped inside a room that was built for people who’s been taught to walk with their heads down.

“Don’t stand up too tall — you might get noticed. Don’t speak up — someone might hear you. And whatever you do, don’t try to be good. And actually, now that you’re at it, you may try to hide away those talents of yours, too. Just in case.”

It’s claustrophobic beyond measures.

Sometimes I want to use a sledgehammer to tear down the low ceiling in all these Norwegian rooms that makes it impossible to stand with your back straight.

I’m not saying that cockiness and arrogance is any better, but confidence, dreams and joy cannot thrive in these conditions. We need encouragement, support, enthusiasm, respect and a feeling of self-worth before we can even begin to talk about growth, progress and — happiness.

Imagine if we paid more attention to the reasons why the people around us will succeed, why they’re important, what makes them beautiful, and what they have to offer.

Jante, you’re not going to win. I’m not afraid of using that sledgehammer when I have to, and consider this my first swing.

I encourage every single one of you to internalize these words.
Live, teach and breathe them!

Your voice does matter.

Bless you,
Maria

With a foot on each continent

This month has, in many ways, helped me ease out of my life as an Augustana student and into what feels like a layover while I wait for my next flight. Don’t misunderstand; I love my family and my country, but shifting between continents has a tendency to make me want to stand with one foot on each side of the Atlantic Ocean. It works for a few days, but for every hour that passes, I can feel the pieces of land sliding further and further apart and before I know it, I’m in splits.

Unless you’re a gymnast or ballet dancer, I hope you can relate when I say that sitting in splits can get rather uncomfortable for prolonged periods. I can only free myself from the discomfort by placing both feet next to each other, but that means I first have to pick one. Choosing one in front of the other is hard when you love them both so dearly, but this is the price to pay.

I have to understand that parts of my identity now belongs to America and that certain traces of it don’t always make it through customs when I go to Norway.

When I’m in the US, I’m a student, a classmate, a filmmaker, a public speaker, a foreigner, an activist and an artist.

When I’m in Norway, I’m a daughter, a sister, a native, a former track athlete, a former bodybuilder, a former-a-lot-of-things and a girl who goes to school somewhere far away.

It can be frustrating, draining and confusing.

But even if it may seem a little cynical, I would not have traded it for anything, because I found a place where I can spread my wings and be myself—my whole self—and I know that I’m loved despite my shifting geographical coordinates.

This year, however, the transition felt smoother than before and I didn’t even have to try to sit in splits; I got to bring a piece of America with me instead. My family got to meet with some of the people who have influenced me greatly over these past three years at Augustana, and I realized that a few of the things I thought I’d left behind weren’t gone after all.

With the family Anderson Friesen in Bergen.

 

With Augie president Rob, prsident-to-be Stephanie, Dr. Nitz and the selfieographer Donn outside the Grand Hotel in Oslo.

Even if it was just for a moment, my two worlds united.

Love,
Maria

Thank You

I left you hanging a little longer than I would have wanted after my previous post, but so many small details had to be put into place before I could share the big news. Now, however, it’s time!

I apologize to the few individuals who already know about this but started expecting some other big news after reading my last entry. If I already told you it means you’re a part of my inner circle, so try to see that as something nice.

If you’ve read the blog regularly, you probably know that the three letters N-Y-U have been the source of a lot of excitement—and despair—for me over the past few months. You may remember my post, “So very bittersweet,” about how I got accepted to the graduate film program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and about how I was $30,000 short and couldn’t go. I was heartbroken, but I told God that I wanted to walk on His path, with or without NYU. I let it go, right there in that moment and chose to trust His ways, while I started looking at other—and more affordable—ways to fullfill my dream of becoming a filmmaker.

But then, some things happened behind the scenes, and I wrote the follow-up, “Mysterious Ways,” where I shared that I was suddenly just $15,000 short. Changes in the budget and several donations from family, friends and strangers made the whole thing seem a little less impossible — but still not quite within reach.

In the weeks that followed, I was asked to do a number of interviews with the media, and I told all the reporters that “Yes, I’m going to NYU, and I look forward to starting my studies there in the fall.” When I didn’t say anything on the blog, some of you probably thought “oh, she must have found a way to pay for it then.”

At that point I had only told a few people about my secret because I wanted to wait for all the paperwork to to be completed. But now I can finally write the words:

Thanks to God’s amazing grace, my family’s support and the tremendous generosity of Mary Hart and Burt Sugarman, I now have the money I need to attend the first year at NYU!

I honestly don’t know what to say. I’m still blown away, and I realize that this sounds like one of those stories you only see in the movies: “Foreign girl without financial resources gets accepted to prestigious university, and a Hollywood-couple—whom she has never met—watches her zero-budget documentary and decides to give her the help she needs to fulfill her dream.”

This is the short version of the story, but the truth is that most of this happened without me knowing. My family did what they could to help me on my way, but when they couldn’t go any further and had to let it go, some people picked up that near-doused torch before the relay eventually ended up in Los Angeles where Mary and Burt ran the final leg of the race.

God surely works in mysterious ways.

I did not see this coming, and words cannot express how grateful I am. I laid down all my plans of going to NYU that day when I wrote the first post about it, but there was a way there all along. I just couldn’t see it on my own, and I needed help to run the distance. I don’t know how I’ll finance my 2nd and 3rd year in New York, but I believe there’s a way for that too.

I want to thank my family for doing everything in their power to help me make this happen, as well as my friends and the Augustana community for their support and encouraging words.

I want to use my talents to honor God, and I will do my absolute best to make sure these resources are well-spent.

Love,
Maria

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