Who are you? – Well, my name is Ellen Margaret Guyer and in that name I guess there’s already quite a lot of who I am: “Ellen” is my grandma’s, great-grandma’s, and great-great grandma’s name. “Margaret” came from my great-aunt. I think, above all things, family defines who I am. My family’s story is also inextricably connected to where we live, so I also identify as a Montana ranch girl (corny as it sounds).
I come from a cattle ranch homesteaded by my great grandfather 15 miles outside Ekalaka, Montana (USA), a town of 436 people. When I went to school, there were just 10 kids in my class (only one was a boy.) We all were very blessed by our community; for example, all of our school club trips were completely sponsored by community fundraising. Through these I was able to travel the United States and have the experiences that made me a good scholarship candidate. The scholarships then allowed me to go to university for free, including this time in Norway. This has changed my life in such a huge way, and I can’t be grateful enough for all my small town has done for me. I study Cell Biology and Neuroscience at Montana State University and hope I can use my education to help those who’ve helped me.
Why did you choose Norway? – For many people, it seems random that an American chose Norway for study abroad, but it never seemed anything but almost expected for me. It was very important to me to pick a place with natural beauty to enjoy and explore. I also wanted to experience a significantly different culture. My first thought was Morocco, but I originally underestimated my language incompetence! I could basically go anywhere that spoke English, and of all my options Norway seemed most exotic. I love that the community in Trondheim is relatively smallish which allows you to make it your own. And most people are equally excited to get outdoors.
How do you perceive the Norwegian culture? – Before I came here, I expected Norwegians to be relatively reserved, at least not engaging. Nice, but not friendly. I think this is generally true, but I’ve still found people to be more open than expected. I think the most identifiable characteristics of Norwegian culture are Equality and Independence. These both play into Norwegian politeness, which boils down to not wanting to bother people unnecessarily.
There’s a lot about the culture I like, particularly the “Norwegian elbow” at the dinner table. Instead of bothering someone else to hand you food across the table, you just reach across them and grab it yourself. Although it’s considered rude in the lot of other cultures, I think it’s just practical. That might just be my country-folk manners showing through though!
One surprising aspect of the culture I have found has been what I perceive as the Norwegian focus on image. It might be related to striving for equality and making sure that you don’t appear to be superior to anyone else, but I’ve found a lot less people expressing individuality than I had expected to see. The general population seems more homogenous than what I have seen in American culture. There seems to be more interest in following a certain style, or fad, than attempting to stand out in the crowd, so to speak. An example of this that I have observed is an overly popular, fur lined, navy blue coat with an American flag design stitched on the left shoulder. It’s odd for me to see so much of the same coat, but it’s even more odd to see the design realized as American patriotism/promotion.
Volunteerism also seems to be different in Norway. As Norway is such a huge welfare state and has a core value of equality, I expected to encounter a greater variety of volunteers. What I have seen instead is that many of my foreign exchange peers and few Norwegians that I’ve met volunteer for student activities, like at the Samfundet, Student Games, or UKA. I am thrilled that people do volunteer for causes they believe in, but I’m surprised that there are not more people volunteering in the hospital, warming centers, or sexual assault centers, for example. It is possible that these problems are not at such a critical level in Norway as they are in America, as I have many friends volunteering at these facilities back home, and that’s perhaps why haven’t met people that do that in this country yet.
Do you have a dream? – It sounds cliche’, but I really want to make a difference in the world with everything that I can offer. I study pre-medical major right now, but am still deciding how exactly I want to work in the healthcare field. I love the idea of meeting people on an individual basis and helping them in their unique lives as a practitioner would, but am also really drawn to public health and how you can make widespread changes.
A realistic version of my dream may be to make a difference in a small community, since that is where I come from, and am very familiar with the needs of such. Hopefully, any change I could promote would be successful, applied elsewhere, and create a ripple effect of benefits. My measure of success would be if others could see value in perpetuating it.
My goal is just a matter of hitting the sweet spot of getting in the travel, using the education for something meaningful, having a family, and having time to explore other engaging interests in addition to healthcare. So my dream has not been fully developed outside of the general idea, but focused on service to others that brings about positive change in our world. And that’s the important part.