Norwegian Hege Hanssen lives on Maui, Hawaii, with her husband Sean and son Noah. She shares her thoughts on living abroad after 10 years living and working on Maui.
As I am writing this, I have just reached 10 years abroad—all of which I have spent living on Maui. I honestly never thought it would come to this. 10 years! It is a milestone I have reached because Maui has taken me in, and I have completely fallen in love. I never dared dream 10 years ahead when I first left, and I moved away with a very strong feeling that this was only temporary—at least that’s what I told myself and others. Norway is the best country in the world and who in their right mind would want to leave forever? Well, that was me 10 years ago. Now I am not so sure anymore. Don’t get me wrong, one can probably argue that Norway is the best country in the world, but Maui is a magical place that has cast its spell on me, and I am not sure this island paradise will release me.
12 years ago, I met my American husband during a study abroad program in Spain. He is the reason I made it to the states. Now, with 10 years abroad under my belt, I feel like I am in a good position to reflect on some of the aspects that make life away from all things familiar different.
#talk – choosing your words wisely! This blunt Norwegian has caused quite a few jaws to drop over the course of 10 years. I have not made enemies in the “Land of Aloha,” however, not all can appreciate the sudden outburst of truth. I used to think that I was doing people a favor by letting them know that they had failed at the simple art of color coordinating their outfit, but my social skills have evolved, and today I appreciate diversity and the art of silence. Americans are masters of small talk, which goes an astronomical number of miles beyond a Viking’s ability to hold a conversation. Where we would talk about the obvious like the weather and then stand in silence next to each other at the bus stop until the bus arrived, an American can truly talk about anything. Without even making it personal! Enviable! Despite this, an elevator ride is equally awkward in the US as in Norway. Stuffy silence. “How are you?” is a confusing question. Often exchanged as you pass someone. It is simply just a form of “Hi,” and way too many people landed on my “rude list” before I realized this simple little secret. Why did they ask me and then walk away while I was answering the honest truth about my day (often long-winded) just to see their back by the time I came around to returning the question?
#goinghome – for multiple weeks and annually! Since I moved away, I have yet to take a trip home without trying something new. Spelunking, hiking to a new waterfall or mountaintop, exploring the coastline by boat, checking out a new family park, and anything really. The opportunities are endless, and I never used to fully appreciate them when my home address was in Norway. A trip home now means trying some of those things that are on the bucket list of those travelers who want to journey to Norway because I too have become that tourist. The only difference is that I don’t have to search the aisles for what snacks to put in my backpack on these adventures. I already have my list of favorites that I must indulge in while at home, and I do them with good friends and family. Farewell hugs have become way too common as well. I never focus on the time I am about to spend apart from family and friends, but rather pretend I will see them again tomorrow. “Fooling” myself always works. Once I am on my way, tears that might have been looming are quickly diminished and daily routines fall back in to place. Saying goodbye will never be easy, but it is something that comes with the territory of living abroad.
#weather – sunny every damn day! There is always sunshine on Maui—at least somewhere within driving distance. In Norway, we have a healthy habit of enjoying a day outside when there are blue skies. It is ingrained in us to soak up the cheerful rays whenever they decide to peek out from the (oh too) common gloomy clouds. After all, there is no telling when you get to feel it again. It took me about 2 years to let go of this habit. Kicking back on the couch was never an option. It was sunny outside! Things have changed for the good of my home, which now is cleaner. Relaxing on the couch with the sun high in the sky happens, because tomorrow is another sunny day.
#friendships – have no age limit! I think this is a Hawaii thing, but friendships truly have no age limit here. There’s not much to say about it other than the fact that I appreciate it! You create special bonds with your friends here too. Many of us are far away from family, so during the holidays, we become each other’s family. It is fantastic to be around so many like-minded people. The aunty and uncle titles are not reserved for those with the same bloodline, but rather those around you who care.
#Maui – life in paradise! This island is full of people from all over the world—vacationers and residents alike. Every part of the island has its unique mix of people and incredibly diverse landscapes. What I truly love about this place is that even though the annual number of visitors is in the millions, there are plenty of hidden treasures to escape to for some peace and quiet. To put the numbers in perspective, Maui has close to 150,000 residents, and in peak season we see more than 200,000 visitors monthly. And in all of this, I can spot a Norwegian a mile away. More and more Scandinavians make the trip, and running into these long-haul travelers is always fun. The distinctive look of Adidas-branded shorts and slippers or the “metro” look stands out in the crowd. But I appreciate it! Giving some helpful advice and learning their story while speaking Norwegian often becomes a highlight of the day. With tourism being the biggest industry, there is no such thing as a distinct Monday through Friday schedule. The machine has to run 24/7, which means it is always somebody’s Friday. An after work “happy hour” is popular any day of the week, and the drinking culture is a strong contrast to what I was used to back home. Stumbling out of a bar at 4 AM is history because after all, a morning surf check is only 2 hours away, and nothing can come close to the feeling of riding a glassy wave as the sun rises up over the razor-sharp ridges of the West Maui Mountains. I can’t really think of a better way to start the day.
#travel – the world! Hawaiian life certainly does not give the flexibility of quick weekend trips, but it has given me easier access to other parts of the world, even though I probably am on the most isolated island chain in the world, which is approximately 2,400 miles (3,800 km) to California. “Island fever” is a well-known term among the people living here, and it essentially means that you have the itch to get away for a little while. The island only feels small when you have not traveled for a while and you start longing for different views and seeing new faces. It is easy to fall in love with a vacation destination, but with Maui to come home to, it’s never hard to get on that return flight knowing that the vacation days are coming to an end. Now that is a big positive. This island is full of travelers. It is inspirational. Travel often and travel far.
I have often been told how brave I am for making this move—and even more so for staying abroad. I have come to realize that this has nothing to do with being brave. If you want something bad enough, you will find a way—including the courage it takes to get you there.
Reach out if you find yourself on Maui.