Finding full acceptance 7,000 kilometers from home

Austin and two friends relaxing on a bench in the sun.

Many students who relocate from abroad to pursue a degree in Norway experience an adjustment period as they adapt to the unfamiliar culture and customs of a new country.

There is the new language, geography, and weather patterns to acclimate to. There are new holidays and traditions. Finally, there are the people.

Austin Lavender enrolled in OsloMet's International Social Welfare and Health Policy master's programme because he ended up feeling more at home in Norway than he did in the United States, where he grew up.

Lavender was blown away by the acceptance of his sexual orientation he experienced on exchange in Norway, some 7,000 kilometers away from his native Tennessee. Now, he feels more comfortable in Norway than he ever did in the U.S.

Austin and a friend hanging out outside the royal palace.

Life in Oslo is quite comfortable. Photo: Benjamin A. Ward / OsloMet

Fitting in

One of the first things Lavender did after starting his master's program was audition for Oslo fagottkor, the Oslo Gay Choir, a group that turned out to be a lifeline in his new city.

"It's been my biggest social saviour because I know international students can struggle to find a network here. So I was lucky in that sense," Austin reflects.

"Because of the choir, I'll go somewhere, and I'll tell people that I sing in the choir. They'll say, ‘oh, I know this person in the choir, I know that person in the choir,’ and it immediately creates connections for me."

Austin and a friend are having lunsj at a seaside cafe in Oslo.

Austin decided he wanted to make his home in Norway while studying here on exchange. Photo: Benjamin A. Ward / OsloMet

In Norway, it's common to meet new people through shared activities, clubs, and groups. So Lavender's friends in Oslo encouraged him to try out for the choir. This decision helped Austin make almost instant connections.

The American native had a small group of friends from when he previously lived in Norway as an exchange student, which also helped him settle in socially when he began his master’s at OsloMet.

His integration into Norwegian society was further helped when he met his now-partner Vegard after arriving in Oslo.

Austin and three fellow students laughing and enjoying the summer sun.

There are lots of public spaces in Oslo perfect for hanging out with friends on nice days. Photo: Benjamin A. Ward / OsloMet

A safe place to live, study and be yourself

The safety and security offered by the university and throughout the city is another attractive element that international students often note.

Lavender enjoys moving about the city and country connected by subway, tram, busses, and trains without concern for his wellbeing.

"My favourite thing about Oslo is the public transport system. My hometown in the U.S. has literally one bus line—the Greyhound bus, which is not always safe to ride. So the fact that I can take public transport safely and go wherever I want makes me feel so wonderful," he says.

Austin catching a frisbee in a park.

There are plenty of recreational areas and parks in Oslo where you can relax in the sun or have fun with your friends. Photo: Benjamin A. Ward / OsloMet

Austin feels similarly at ease in his personal interactions. As a gay man, he feels a sense of assurance that he can be himself openly without fear of how others will react to his sexual orientation.

"I go to Pride here, I go to the gay bars and clubs here with my friends—when there isn’t a pandemic—and we don't have to worry about getting beaten up on the way home."

"I know it's still a possibility, but the chance of anything happening is much smaller than where I came from. Honestly, I just feel so relaxed wherever I go here."

Drone view of Campus Pilestredet with its brick and glass buildings in the middle of the city centre. The Oslo Fjord is in the backgrouns.

Austin is happy with all the support he has gotten during his studies at OsloMet. Photo: Mattias Müller / OsloMet

Broadened horizons and personalised support

As a student at OsloMet, Lavender has both immersed himself in his academic field and learned a great deal about Norwegian society.

"For an international student, I honestly feel that learning how the education system works here and seeing how everything functions while getting the opportunity to see this kind of government system and economy is eye-opening and can show you different aspects of the world."

Austin has secured several part-time positions at the university, including a research position last fall. The US native has been impressed by all of the support he has received along the way.

Austin and a friend in a colourful hammock.

Feeling safe and at home in Oslo. Photo: Benjamin A. Ward / OsloMet

"A lot of people genuinely care, like my faculty. If you email them with concerns or worries, they will respond. They'll do what they can to help you."

Now that Lavender is nearing the conclusion of his master's studies, he plans to find permanent work in the Oslo area so he can continue to build on the relationships he has made in his new home.

He misses family and friends in the U.S., but the life he has found in Norway is one that he is not interested in trading for that old familiarity anytime soon.

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