Alumni Spotlight: Silje-Mari Geithus

Give us an intro!

A young girl posing for a picture.

Silje-Mari: Hello! My name is Silje-Mari. I will be a studying Chinese at the University of Bergen this fall which I am very much looking forward to. I finished high school a year ago and spent half of my now ending gap year in China teaching some really cute kids English. I'm from wet and cold part of Norway and I love traveling, international music, learning new languages and meeting new people.

What do you wish someone had told you before you went abroad?

Silje-Mari: I knew relatively much about China before I left Norway, but despite that I encountered a lot of situations I never expected to. I also wish that I would have asked more questions and not have hesitated as much (that's really the best foreign perk - you can just say "it's completely normal to ask that question in Norway" and get away with it).

What is the most important thing you learned abroad?

Silje-Mari: I would say it's the language. Being able to communicate is really important and when they understand you it feels really great. Learning Mandarin was very hard, and picking up some Changsha-dialect (where I was placed) was even more challenging.

What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?

Silje-Mari: Be prepared and know what you're doing and why. Don't be ignorant and try to soak up as much knowledge as you can about the country you're in.

What was hardest part about going abroad?

Silje-Mari: Leaving family and friends behind. Also finding proper bread in China is challenging.

A group of young students gathered together.

What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?

Silje-Mari: I always tell people about my students and how they used to tell me that my hair was yellow and the way they called my name and gave me drawings and how they said "helipocter" instead of helicopter.

What made this experience unique and special?

Silje-Mari: This program makes you so independent. There are a lot higher expectations of you than I have heard from other programs and you are taken very seriously. It gives you a really good perspective on what it's like living in China.

Tell us about an experience you had that you could not have had at home.

Silje-Mari: The fact that I don't look Chinese gives me an overwhelming amount of attention in China. We went to the Summer Palace in Beijing and me and another girl went a couple of meters away from the group to check out the view. A person asks if his family can take a picture with us, (or more like shaping his hands like a camera and saying "ok? ok?" ) and of course we say yes.

And then another family lines up behind them and another family behind them again. Eventually it ended up with us having to excuse ourselves and squeeze out of the crowd and jogging to reach our group again. That there's a line of people wanting to take a photo with you because of the way you look is very foreign to me.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

A group of people posing for a picture.

Silje-Mari: Do your best and don't give up. The look on the kids faces are worth all the hard work and sweat. It's challenging, but when you get the hang of it, it gets easier.

What made this trip meaningful to you, or how did this trip change your perceptions, future path?

Silje-Mari: It really helped me figure out what I wanted to focus on in university and what I wanted to work with. As a person this program has shaped me in so many ways and I have grown so much stronger physically because of it.

It's a once in a lifetime experience and I will always remember my cute students and the great friends I have on the other side of the world.