Cultural shock: Uganda and Norway

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Barbara Nambozo, left, with new Norwegian friend, Ingrid Johanne, who she met on a bus

By Barbra Nambozo

Being a first-time traveller across country borders comes with a lot of excitement, some surprises and occasional frustrations. I was one of two-master’s students from the Uganda Christian University (UCU) Faculty of Journalism and Media studies to experience those feelings recently in Norway.

My UCU student exchange programme between UCU and NLA University College at Gimlekollen in  Kristiansand, Norway, started in August of 2018 and lasted six months. NLA University is a private Norwegian Christian university with its main campus is at Bergen. UCU has one of 50 international exchange programs with NLA and is the only one from Uganda.

Bus stop in Kristiansand, Norway
Bus stop in Kristiansand, Norway

Most of the time, I was engaged in classes – learning more about such topics as how journalism is practiced in other countries, gender development and research methodology. But the cultural immersion went beyond curriculum.

As a first-time traveler to Europe, I was excited. Friends who had visited Europe had shared several experiences, including cultural shocks such as harsh, cold weather. Psychologists describe cultural shock as an experience a person may have when he or she moves to a cultural environment that is vastly different from his or her own.

During my stay in Norway, I was impacted by three particular cultural differences: Trash disposal, time management and interpersonal relationships.

Norway is listed among the most beautiful countries on earth, according to an on-line tourism site called Travel Away. The country is famous for its natural attractions such as mountains, the midnight sun, lakes, breathtaking sites and a vibrant cultural life, among others. But sustaining such natural endowments is pricy. The cost, partly, calls for every person to act responsibly.

Learning something as basic as responsible recycling was not a “walk in the park.”

It is common to find “No Litter” signs along the streets reminding you to act responsibly. The streets and environment are clean, especially compared to Uganda. Back at the university dormitory, the trashcans are clearly labeled to guide users on how to dispense different garbage. For instance, you do not mix broken glass particles with waste food or plastic bags. During the first few weeks of our stay, it was common for students, especially from Africa (who perhaps, were accustomed to indiscriminately disposing of trash), to receive emails from the housekeeper reminding us to sort the trash, according to the procedure set by the facility management. However, a few weeks later, every occupant seemed to have mastered the skill.

Time management is at the top of everybody’s agenda in Norway – a bit of a shock compared to Uganda where time is relaxed. From arriving in time for the lecture to the bus stop, or going for the doctor’s appointment, everybody keeps time. Torbjorn Larsen, a member of the Misjonshuset Church in Kristiansand, in his late 50s, said: ‘‘Personally, I arrive in time for any meeting as a sign of respect to the host. It also helps me to be organized, and to reflect on the purpose for the meeting and my contribution to its success.’’

Once I tried to chase a bus that was leaving the bus stop, but I paid dearly. My phone fell and got smashed. I realized I could have saved the energy lost in the chase, and the phone, of course, if I had managed my time well.

Being a regular traveler on the bus from the university to Kristiansand city was a good experience. I learned not to judge people, but understand why they behave they do. During one of the orientation meetings for international students at the university, we were briefed that Norwegian people are more reserved than Ugandans. For example, some would not take up an unoccupied seat on the bus, beside another traveler nor engage in a conversation with a stranger. A few times, I observed that on the bus.

Coming from an African environment, where commuters on a taxi (even as strangers), chat all the way to their destination points, discussing anything from politics to fashion, I found this unusual. But one day, while on board a bus, I decided to demystify the belief. I purposely occupied a seat next to a lady. We exchanged pleasantries and engaged in a conversation about Africa. Before she departed from the bus, we had become friends, and we have kept in touch since. Sometimes, all you need is a courteous gesture to turn a stranger into a friend. Do not be hasty to judge.

Since my return to Uganda, I have made more new friends, including an American friend on campus. I am a better steward of the environment, and I try to manage my time appropriately.

It is always a wise idea to read a book beyond its cover.


For more of these stories and experiences, visit If you would like to assist a current student or otherwise support the university, contact Mark Bartels, Executive Director, UCU Partners, at or go to

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