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June 21, 2019

Friends Make a World of Difference for Pernille Gilje ’18, an International Student From Norway

by Nii Akrofi Smart-Abbey, M.F.A. '20 (anticipated)

The college years are a time when many students get out of their comfort zones. For Pernille Gilje ’18, college presented an opportunity to test the limits of life outside her comfort zone, both emotionally and geographically.

Gilje hails from Skien, Norway. She describes herself as quiet and shy, not exactly the type of person who would be comfortable crossing the ocean to attend school in another country.

She was, however, driven by her desire to grow and experience new things, and by the stories she’d been told by her grandparents. They came to the United States in the 1950s to build a new life. Her grandfather had worked in the Chrysler Building. When his father died, he decided to return to Norway to take over the family business.

“Growing up, I always heard these stories,” Gilje said. “I wanted to share that experience with them somehow.”

To prepare for her study-abroad experience, Gilje enrolled in the American College of Norway (ACN). The institution has prepared Norwegian students for the past 27 years to attend partnering colleges and universities in the United States, one of which is Adelphi University.

Gilje was drawn to Adelphi for “the personal contact” and “the smaller classes where the professor gets to know you,” she said. “I don’t like to be in a classroom with 100 people.”

Despite her enthusiasm for being in New York, her first year away from family and friends was a challenge. “Coming here, I was really shy, really quiet, and it was just hard to reach out to people,” she said.

She found herself grateful for the attention from professors.

Kimberly Lavery, an adjunct professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, told Gilje she could reach out to her any time. Gilje said, “Whenever stuff was going on, I would see her after class.”

Shannon Harrison, director of the Center for International Education, became another friend and confidante. Both she and Professor Lavery became mother figures, she said, adding, “I’m so grateful for what they’ve done for me. My mom is also happy they took care of me the way they did.”

In her second year, Gilje began to form friendships with her fellow students—friendships that have stood strong to this day.

She joined Tri Delta and the Levermore Global Scholars (LGS) program. In LGS, she met Isuri Wijesundara ’18. “She was very friendly, sweet, outgoing and so easy to talk to,” Gilje said. The two worked on assignments together and had what Gilje called “tea dates, where we would meet up over a cup of tea and rant about everything that was going on and try to support each other.” They even traveled to Los Angeles together for spring break.

In Gilje’s senior thesis class, she met Catherine Fontano ’18, a communications major who would become another close friend. They worked on a group project together but also went to the city, to fitness classes and shopping at the mall.

“I took 18 credits that semester, worked three jobs on campus and was involved in a sorority. I was very overwhelmed by all that I had to get done, and meeting with Catie to take a break from everything else meant a lot to me,” she said.

While transitioning to life in New York was a challenge for Gilje, she said, “That experience of standing up for myself and not having anyone else to lean on did me good. I’m not the same person I was when I first came here. I think I trust myself more and know eventually things will work out.”

Gilje returned to Norway after graduation but is considering returning to the United States for graduate school.

Her advice to other students about studying abroad?

“Do it,” she said. “It’s difficult, but you will get to learn so much about yourself, and that’s so valuable.”


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