Today marks the day that we travel back to the United States. This past year has been an amazing experience on so many levels, not just for myself but for my family as well. I know that it will take some time for the events of this past year to truly sink in, a process that will involve re-acclimating ourselves to life back in the US. Even with this knowledge, I wanted to take the time to discuss what this past year has meant to me, both professionally and personally.
When I submitted my application for a Fulbright back in July 2017, I had a feeling, that continued to surface, that I would get the award and we would move to Norway for the 2018-2019 academic year. My wife, on the other hand, was unsure. She would continually tell me, “Don’t get your hopes up.” After my initial interview in late November with faculty at the University of Bergen (UiB), she started to think, “This may actually happen.” They told me I probably wouldn’t hear about a decision until sometime in March, but on December 20, 2017, I received the email that I had been selected as the Fulbright Professor of American Literature at UiB.
Needless to say this news caused a lot of excitement and anxiety, for a myriad of reasons. While my wife and I had traveled to Canada and Mexico, we had never traveled outside of North America, let alone 4,000 miles away from family and friends. I am forever grateful to my wife for handling the logistics of this move. Her organization skills helped with filling out residency forms, going to the consulate, figuring out housing, and so many other details. I would be utterly lost without her foresight and attention to detail.
Back in August when we moved, I knew that this year would be a monumental year on so many levels. At the outset, though, I did not realize how monumental it would actually become. The connections I made, both professionally and personally, have enriched my life in ways that I cannot fully express. The places I have been able to see and the things I have been able to experience only adds to this feeling of overwhelming moments that defy, in many ways, expression. All of this, ultimately, has made a lasting impact on my worldview, one of the goals of the Fulbright Program. As William J. Fulbright stated, “The Fulbright Program aims to bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs and thereby increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship.”
This melding of knowledge, reason, and compassion is something that has occurred over the course of this year. Being in a city and a nation where 1/5 of the population are immigrants brought me into contact with people from around the world: Germany, Argentina, Chile, Somalia, Brazil, Nigeria, Uganda, India, and elsewhere. The truly international community in Bergen added a deeper level to Fulbright’s goal of fostering knowledge, reason, and compassion across national lines.
These connections have allowed me to learn about numerous topics such as the ways that nations limit the immigration and movement of individuals from Africa to the rest of the world, marriage traditions in India and Uganda, differences in higher education between the US and countries in Europe, specifically Norway, France, Germany, and Austria, and the ways that nations construct history. These, or course, are not all of the things that I learned this year.
Along with all of these things, I had the chance to travel to various places to present my research. I went to Oslo to present on teaching comics nd graphic novels in the high school classroom, I traveled to Bordeaux to present on Black Panther to Warsaw to present on Frank Yerby, to Tour to talk about Loving v Virginia and interracial intimacy, and to Klagenfurt to present on various topics and to meet with graduate students about pedagogy in higher education. In conjunction with these talks, I presented at three conferences over the course of the past year: American Studies Association of Norway, the Southern Studies Forum, and the Nordic Association of American Studies. These conferences, like my visits to various universities, presented me with the chance to network, meet new people, and learn more about numerous topics.
Even with all of this, the things that I will remember the most are the daily things. Norway has become, in many ways, a home. While we knew we would only be here for a year, thus putting a known time limit on our residency, the feelings that arise when leaving Bergen are akin to leaving home. At every moment this past week, from his last day at school to his last time seeing friends, my son has said, “This is the saddest day.” For all of his longing to go back to the United States to see family, he has come to view Bergen as home. For him, home is not a place but a feeling, a feeling of togetherness with those you love and cherish.
My daughter has the same feelings. She flourished this year, making friends from Syria, Somalia, Lithuania, Russia, and more. Around December, she started attending completely Norwegian classes. By April, she was fully in Norwegian classes. This immersion opened her eyes to the world beyond the United States. It has stirred within her a desire to study abroad, both in high school and in college. It has stirred within her a focus on the plight of others. In essence, it has solidified her passion for people, befriending them and learning from them.
I’m going to miss seeing the mountains surrounding Bergen when I look out of my window. I’m going to miss going to Bunnpris or Kiwi for groceries every other day, occasionally picking up a boller. I’m going to miss Freia chocolate. I’m going to miss being able to walk outside on a weekend and hike, wherever I want to hike. I’m going to miss walking through the park to get to the library and checking out books. I’m going to miss playing football on the field above our apartment as we look at Ulriken. I’m going to miss the playground on top of Fløyen. I’m going to miss the places and things that have made Bergen feel like home. You know, I’ll even miss the rain and the ways the clouds hang loosely over the mountains.
This is a very rambling recap of this past year, and it barely even scratches the surface of what we experienced. My wife has done a great job of keeping track of a lot of the things we have done over at her blog, Notes from Norway. There, you will find numerous pictures and videos of our time in Norway from hikes to food tasting.
There will be more posts about projects I started while in Norway, so stay tuned. Until then, what are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham.
If you enjoy what you read here at Interminable Rambling, think about making a contribution on our Patreon page.