I was a shy girl, who grew into a guarded teenager. I never had the nerve to try out, or join anything at school. I was afraid of failure and being made fun of, that’s why my only goal was to blend in with the crowd. I probably never even raised my hand at school and I’m sure half of the people there didn’t even know my name. Don’t get me wrong – I had friends, but never wandered outside my circle. I played it safe at all times.
I grew up and although I gained some confidence in becoming a mom, I still worried about what other people thought and kept my head down. On the heels of a nasty divorce, I left America and started a new life in Norway (not because I was brave). After visiting numerous times throughout my life, I thought I knew what it would be like to live there. I was wrong.
Learning a new language and adjusting to a foreign culture is hard. I felt more like a refugee in this small local town, than an expat. My children didn’t seem to have any problem; They turned into little Norwegians overnight. Again, I kept pretty much to myself and tried not to be noticed. I knew there were people who thought I was unfriendly, when really I was just scared. Afraid of saying something wrong, afraid of being judged.
Only in a close group of friends was I able to open up and be myself, or as much of myself as I could be – talking another language…
My husband is the complete opposite. Once a local football hero (back in the day) he never cares what anyone thinks and oozes confidence. He’s dragged me kicking and screaming to events, in which I was forced to smile and meet new people. Together we have done things I never imagined myself doing…
Like cycling through France.
Sleeping in an igloo.
Hiking 2.4 miles up to the top of Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen).
And publishing a book.
The whole time I was writing Fly Away Home, I never, EVER thought anyone other than family would read it. Why would they? I wasn’t a writer, or anyone famous, just a woman trying to explain her side of things.
There’s no hiding now…
Its fun meeting new people while traveling and hearing their stories. Everyone likes to tell where they come from and are usually excited about where they’re going. All around the world people are flying in and out of airports, crossing the globe and trading places.
I was recently on a flight from Norway to Amsterdam and sat next to a young woman from Geneva. After hearing I was American, she told me told me an incredible story about her first and only trip to the US. She was on her way back from a wedding in Canada and decided to take a twenty-four hour stop over in New York.
She checked out of her midtown hotel early the next morning and set out to explore the Big Apple. She planned on heading down to Battery Park, to see the Statue of Liberty and The World Trade Center first. But due to a mix up, she got on the wrong bus and found herself heading uptown instead. After taking a stroll through Central Park and checking out Time Square, she began making her way back towards downtown Manhattan.
She was suddenly stopped by roadblocks, turmoil and sirens screaming throughout the city. It was September 11, 2001 and she soon found herself stranded in a chaotic city, with no money and no where to stay. She turned to the Swiss Embassy for help and it was five days before she was able to finally leave New York. Sigh.
A few days later, I met a Scottish woman on my flight from Glasgow back to Amsterdam. We got talking and after telling her I live in Norway, she told me she had once rode her bike to Norway.
“From Glasgow?!” I asked.
No – she was an art student living in Denmark at the time. Her and her Danish boyfriend took a ferry to Sweden and then cycled all the way to Oslo. She felt so empowered by the trip that upon her return, she packed her bags, left her boyfriend and moved back to Glasgow to become a rich and famous artist. Ten years down the road and she’s still single and struggling. Her Danish boyfriend however, is married, has two children, lives in a beautiful house and owns a very lucrative art gallery. After telling me her story, she shook her head and said, “You know what the worst of it is Maggie? I felt so guilty after leaving him, that I paid half his bloody rent for a whole year.” Ouch.
Afterwards, while franticly flipping through the pages of my passport, an officer at the passport control counter in Amsterdam asks, “Why are you going to Norway?”
“Because I live there,” I answer.
He then asks if I have a Resident Card, I tell him no. I only have a stamp in my passport, which he points out has expired. (Oops) With a crowed of inpatient travelers grumbling behind me, he calls for another officer to come and take me away!
I’m taken to the Immigration Office, asked to have a seat, and then bombarded with questions… How long have you been living in Norway? Why do you live there? Why have you not renewed your Norwegian Resident Permit? I see you also have an outdated, Dutch Resident Permit in your passport, why? Do you have a Norwegian personal number (Social Security number)? I answer the questions, give him my personal number and he calls the Norwegian Immigration Office, in Oslo.
By now I’m wishing I’d simply told them I was going to Norway on vacation. I was also wondering if he had the power to ship me back to New Jersey. Then as if nothing happened, the officer hangs up the phone and says, “Okay, you’re free to go, have a nice trip.” Phew.
Is it like this when you travel?