Adapting to Change: Lessons From A Young International Life

As parents, we often wonder if the choices we make for our family are the right ones.

When Petter Erik and I decided to uproot our lives in Norway and move with my two kids to Vietnam, we had no idea how it would turn out. 

Were we hurting the children by taking them away from extended family, friends and their familiar environment? Or were we giving them life-changing opportunities and perspectives by exposing them to different cultures and ways of living? 

My son Sigurd was 11,5 years old when we moved. In this candid conversation on Scaling Life, he opens up about his experience being transplanted halfway across the world as a preteen. Sigurd remembers feeling disoriented by the constant change and traffic chaos in Vietnam compared to the orderliness of Norway.

Attending international school, he was surrounded by a transient community where friends would come and go as families moved every year. He acknowledges this taught him to form meaningful connections quickly, but that the continual loss of people was brutal.

However, Sigurd also reflects on the positives of growing up abroad. Being detached from societal expectations in Norway gave him the freedom to figure out his own identity. With a diverse community, he developed adaptability and open-mindedness.

Sigurd especially contrasts the autonomy and choice he now has approaching university applications with the cookie-cutter path he likely would have followed in Norway. He recognizes studying abroad or pursuing unconventional options would never have occurred to him if he had stayed. 

As a parent, Sigurd’s insights reassure me that while challenging, our family’s move gifted him with expanded perspectives and possibilities. He eloquently describes it as a replanting – losing some roots in the process, but ultimately given space to grow stronger and bloom more fully. Of course doubts will always arise when making major decisions. But we can’t let fear hold us back from the changes that intuition tells us we need.

As Sigurd wisely states, “indecision is still a decision.” We have to take “outrageous chances” in order to learn who we are and what we’re capable of. What “outrageous” chances is life calling you to take? What roots might you need to untangle in order to replant yourself in new soil? I hope Sigurd’s experience provides some inspiration to trust your soul’s nudges towards growth, even when the comfort of familiarity pulls you back. If you’re on the fence about making a major change, consider what he said – we ultimately regret most what we didn’t do.

This episode makes me feel super vulnerable and amazingly proud.

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Ep 04 Audio Episode Sigurd: [00:00:00] I feel like from people that are my age in Norway, I have grown and matured a lot faster and a lot more differently through being in a different environment. as a community. Being so small and having so many different cultures, having so many different experiences, people stand out generally. And I think you’re kind of encouraged to do something that makes you, you well in Norway, it’s less so, and you’re more encouraged. Okay. You kind of have to fit in with what most people assume that you’re going to do. And what most people think about you, ​ Maria: [00:01:00] yeah, yeah. Uh, so Sigurd, for joining your mom’s podcast. for having me. how do you feel about it? Sigurd: It’s interesting. What is interesting? I’ve never been on a podcast before, um, and I always felt that they were kind of funny. I, I don’t really know what this is about, so I’m just here for the ride. Maria: I love that. I love that. So tell me a bit about how, how much do you remember of like our old life back in Norway before we moved to Vietnam? Sigurd: It was cold. It was kind of dark. I have a very vivid memory of going to school while it was dark and coming back from school and it was dark. I remember a lot of moving around, don’t remember as much of like friend groups, of course family and such I still remember and I still have. Interact with [00:02:00] them, but it’s much less detailed than what I have now from like, it’s much less vivid than what I have from Vietnam, of course, which makes sense with time and everything. And you Maria: were around 12 when we moved? 11. Sigurd: 11? Yeah, 11 and a half, 12, yeah. Maria: 11 and a half. So what do you remember about moving the transition and how things were different? Sigurd: I have a vivid memory standing at the airport with a Minions luggage and me and my brother, we were just, okay. What is going on? We’re here now. it was like a wall of heat and humidity as we walked outside the airport. You and Peter Eric were trying to figure out how to get transport to our house. And I was just there like, okay, I guess, I guess this is life now. it was very different. One of the main things I remember, um, that was challenging was the traffic. It’s one, it’s one big thing. It was like, okay, cars are not stopping when I cross the road. There’s no lights. And it’s just go whenever, you know, go and then the hope that you don’t get ran over. Maria: I [00:03:00] remember one of the first days at school you had, you came home and you told us the story about Moses and, and like the separation of the traffic. Sigurd: Yeah, it’s basically you have to walk in and just hope that like they’re like Moses part of the Red Sea you part the sea of motorcycles. Maria: One of the things we have been talking about in this episode is how to live in like an international community because, uh, Patrik and I have been talking about in other episodes about how our life was back in Norway and, and how it’s very different here. now, because now we travel back to Norway sometimes for, for vacation and you meet with, with family. Um, what is your main kind of impression of the differences between where we live now and, back in Norway? Sigurd: It’s a very different mindset. now of course with family it’s a bit different from being with peers and with friends, but I feel like from people that are my age in Norway, I have grown and matured a lot faster and a lot more differently through being in a different environment. as a [00:04:00] community. Being so small and being, having so many different cultures, having so many different experiences, people stand out generally. And I think you’re kind of encouraged to do something that makes you, you well in Norway, it’s less so, and you’re more encouraged. Okay. You kind of have to fit in with what most people assume that you’re going to do. And what most people think about you, like here’s some people that think this about you, you should kind of try to fit their bill of what, who you are. Whereas here, it’s more, okay, whatever you want to do, there are so many, like, weird and wacky people, 100%, that’s all with, with love, I’m saying that, but it’s people that stand out, it’s people that are different, and that’s kind of what makes this community so special. Maria: Back in, I don’t even know when it was, but hundreds of years ago, there was a lot of people that left Norway to go to the U. S. And they, they were immigrants, and they, they took their life, and they moved over. And now there’s a lot of people in Norway that has, in, in U. S. But I always remember this, this picture. Somebody said, like, the adventurous people went. [00:05:00] And the people that were more drawn to safety were, were staying behind. For me, I, I had to leave to, to explore and to figure out things and I think sometimes also I, I can get a bit negative around like thinking about how it was back in, back in Norway because I think there’s also like good things about the, the security, the, the being with family, the staying in one place, the, the certainty that comes with it and I don’t think everyone is, is fit for the kind of craziness that, that happens When you go abroad. So what’s your thoughts about that? Sigurd: Traveling definitely causes inconsistency. I’ve seen this moving to Vietnam. I’ve seen this in my further adventures in a traveling school is that there is a lack of stability that comes with traveling around continually. And especially when you move to a country like Vietnam, consistency really doesn’t exist. There is nothing that you can say that is consistent while Norway stuff stays kind of. The same here stuff changes [00:06:00] every six months. There’s a new Like new business opened up new buildings are being erected. Someone moved some new people moved in somebody changed schools Suddenly the school curriculum has changed everything changes so much that I think adaptability and thinking on your feet It’s what’s mainly being encouraged you have to have those qualities in order to be able to move To an environment like this well in norway You have more of the kind of traditional, you can go back to the roots, you can kind of settle down and stay relatively still in an environment that isn’t going to change as much. And when people move out, when people move in, it’s a big occurrence, while here it’s every day. Maria: you mentioned, you were in, you were in this traveling school. So, and you talk about being able to adapt and being able to be flexible. Like, how do you see the other people? Because you have people there from all over the world. are the people there all able to handle it? Sigurd: with the choice of being in a traveling school, you have to have the ability to handle so much change and so much kind [00:07:00] of turbulence that comes with moving around and that comes with being in new countries. And I see that even the people that have stayed relatively still throughout their lives are still able to change so much. They are kind of remarkable people in the way that they can just A person can, like, be, okay, I’ve stayed in this one town for my entire life, suddenly I’m going to traveling high school, and I’m doing great. I’m doing fantastic. I have met people all over the world, I’ve experienced things that no one in my hometown might have experienced, and they’re all doing great. And I think in that way, it’s a group of remarkable people that are in that school because they’ve made the choice of, okay, I’m going to decide to move away from my hometown, move away from friends, family, organized sports, move away from whatever I may have, my roots, and decide to just try this new thing, travel somewhere, learn in that place, and if you aren’t able to change yourself, if you aren’t able to [00:08:00] change how you think, if you aren’t able to change how you learn, you won’t succeed. And so the people that I’ve met, because they’ve been in this school for so long, The people that weren’t able to change, most of them have left, and there’s only a few of them that did leave. Most of them were, through the process of applying to this school, they managed to change themselves enough to be able to succeed in such a different environment. I Maria: think this is what we talk about now is one of the kind of things that I think expats and the international community and, and like societies like the one we live in, we should actually talk about this more often, because it is. There’s a lot of, of great things about meeting people from all over the world, like learning about different cultures, understanding, I, I feel like there’s no racism, for example, here, because everyone is from everywhere, so it’s like, like, it doesn’t make sense. But also there are these challenges of, of the fluidity, when, when you are in a place and you’re [00:09:00] kind of putting down some kind of roots, and Then your best friends are moving away or like something happens. it’s brutal as well. It’s it’s the combination of there’s a lot of good things about it. But there’s also some things that is hard. And and as you say, we need to be strong to handle it. Sigurd: It’s most definitely a double edged sword. With every, with everything that, with every benefit that comes from it, having such a different environment, having such different people, those different people will also eventually move away. half my class, for example, moved away. Suddenly my class downsized from 12 to 4, and that changed everything within my school, but it also changed everything within my, within my friend group. I had to learn to be with the people that, The four people instead of whoever I had been with before and with so many people moving away. You have to kind of learn that It’s almost like loss is a natural part of the life Like it’s not like you’re losing them as if they’ve died or passed on But it’s [00:10:00] more that you’ve lost them in the sense that you might not see him ever again and the bonds you made with them Might break over time eventually they’re gone But you’ll still have the memory of them. That’s, I think, is a thing to emphasize, is that you will still have experiences and memories of great people who have done great things and who are genuinely great to be with. And then suddenly, they decide to move on, they decide to move on. And you just have to accept that. One of the things I love about being here is the entrepreneurial spirit, like the, both in Vietnam, but also amongst the people that we, we spend a lot of time with, like most of them have businesses, they are, they are travelers, they are multicultural families, um, and, and the Vietnamese society is a very entrepreneurial, like, society where people have a small shop in their backyard, or they have a restaurant, And as you said, they’re also shifting, like every six months it’s changing, maybe there’s a new business or started something else. Maria: so those are one of the things that I really, really love about being in [00:11:00] this community. And for me, one of the biggest differences between Norway and where we grew up and where we were and, and here is that kind of entrepreneurial spirit. so that’s also like challenging. I remember when I was, applying for university. So, since you’re applying for university now, that kind of brings up a lot of memories for me. So, I, I can’t believe I’m soon the mother of a university student. But, but, but I remember when I applied for university, it was like the Norwegian system that I just logged in, and I filed a list over ten universities, and it was like done in ten minutes. And now you’re faced with, like, the whole world of, opportunities and possibilities. And, and, um, how does that make you feel? Sigurd: Honestly, I’ve figured out that the world is not made for unconventional systems. With the way that my school does everything, with the way that my past schools have done everything, being for such a small community as Hoi An, it’s made kind of the entire process more in a kind of fun but also frustrating [00:12:00] way. Like there’s a certain, this is kind of getting into the exact details, but there’s a certain code that you need to put in. In order to say which high school you went to. I don’t even know if my high schools here have said code. Because of the fact that it’s a small town, they might never have any university students before this, and now I have to go chase them down for this one code that I need for applying to university that any normal high school would just have on their transcript. the same thing with grades. The grades that I got here are so different from anything else. They’re not regular grades. And that’s also made it harder to report what I’m getting. And so, with so much different, so many different systems, there’s a lot of them that are made for, okay, you go to the school to this country, you go to high school in this country, and then you apply to university in the same country. You’re not applying to university in another country. And international applicants do exist, but they usually come from systems that are similar to the system that you want to go into. For example I’m moving from a system with no tests [00:13:00] To a regular university So however you transfer I don’t have any standardized test scores How would you transfer those grades over? I have a certain number of irregular credits Like I have a credit in public speaking, which is not a regular credit you can get in any normal high school. How do you transfer that over? It’s all been a challenge, but it’s also been great fun because it’s kind of shown how different I am as a number one university applicant and number two as a general student. And so in that sense, I think it’s again, both a positive and a negative. It might be challenging for me, but if a university looks at my credit and sees, Oh, that’s weird. This guy has experienced so many different things. So many, Learn so many different subjects that have the people in this other school haven’t even touched It might be a benefit or it might be they think it’s confusing and they just rather Maria: discard it what in your opinion are the the Kind of the skills or the personality traits that you need to have to to survive this international Environment because we [00:14:00] talked about there’s a lot of challenges like but not not only the practical challenges But also the emotional challenges that we talked about Sigurd: well, first off, I want to say that I don’t think it’s essentially kind of traits that you have to have already. You can develop these traits by going into such an environment, by pushing yourself out of this comfort zone, and by deciding to do something new, you can develop these traits. And not everybody will succeed, but I think if you truly decide to, okay, I’m going to take the jump, I’m going to go for it with all my heart, I think you will succeed eventually. But of course, the main things that we’ve already mentioned, adaptability. Open mindedness, the ability to make connections quite quickly, and make genuine connections. Because if you have such a changing and such a different environment, if you can’t make genuine connections with people fast, you won’t have anybody, you won’t have any friends. Except the ones that stick around, the few that stick around for a long period of time. There’s no time to fake connections, there’s no time to pretend to be friends with someone in such a small community. [00:15:00] Because it’s either. You know them well, or you really don’t. And you kind of have to decide, Okay, I’m going to go in here with an open mind, I’m going to try to make friends, I’m going to try to be as open minded as I can, and I’m going to speak to people. That’s, it’s really it. It’s adapting to this new environment, speaking to new people, meeting new people, and being open minded to think, Okay, this person has a different experience from me. What can I learn from them? This person has a different experience from me. What can I learn from them? What can I take from these two people? That can make myself better. Maria: So I know that some of the fears that, for example, my family had when we were taking you and your brother to go here, was that you would become ruthless. So is that, now you’re nodding, like, does that mean that you, you feel Sigurd: like you’re ruthless? No, I feel like, you know when you, you know when you repot a plant, you take a plant from a small pot and you move it into, like, a plant pot? Like a potted plant. You take it from a small pot where [00:16:00] it has no space and you move it into like a big field and all the roots grow even stronger. That that’s, that’s what it felt like. with. The moving, of course, in the uprooting process, you lose some roots. Suddenly the plant roots are not as strong, but I feel like the fact that I have connections to both places doesn’t make my roots weaker. They just make them more spread out. And I have feel like I have a stronger connection here because I’ve learned what really matters, what roots really matter over time. I’ve realized that, okay, the roots that I have with my friends in Norway are not as important. Because of the fact that I was moving around so much, because of I was going to so many different schools, my friend group was not established. My family, however, still strong. And so I’ve learned that here, that if I want to connect with people, if I want to have roots that can last, I need to have the family bonds. I need to have the bonds that stayed. Those are the bonds that I had with my family, that I had with really close people. And that’s kind of what I learned here. That’s why I want this open [00:17:00] mindedness, is because I’ve learned that open mindedness and The ability to genuinely connect with people is what makes the roots strong, you know? You don’t necessarily have a connection to a place, you more have a connection to the people. And if I want to have a roots that can stay here, even after I’m gone to university or wherever I may be off to next, I need to have those connections that are as developed as family connections. Maria: I love that metaphor of yours, and I hadn’t heard it before, so I’m standing here almost, almost crying from it, because I, I very much also recognize this for myself, that I, that, that pot was just too small, and I had to somehow expand it, if I was, if I would continue to be there, I would have kind of exploded the pot and somehow or, or kind of contain myself, and it, it wouldn’t allow me to really expand my roots and understand who I am and what I’m here to do and, and, and explore the world. The pot [00:18:00] Sigurd: was specifically kind of, in my case, limited by kind of societal expectations, family expectations. But without the pot, you are able to bloom more. I’m able to become more myself when, ironically, with more distance from the people that know me, right? With more distance from family, with more distance from a kind of traditional. Cookie cutter society. I am able to express myself more. I’m able to figure out, okay, who am I, not what my grandma thinks I am, not what society thinks I am, not what my classmates or my teacher think I am. Who am I? And I think that also comes with changing communities so many times. Every single time you change a community, you have to redefine who you are for that community. And so it makes it a new opportunity. Blank slate. These people don’t know me. I can essentially paint a picture of myself that I want them to see, because that’s essentially what everybody does, depending on how they act in front of people. But if I act as myself, they will see me as myself. I’ve reset my perceptions and instead [00:19:00] of having to fit what people previously thought I was, what friends from an old school thought I was, what my old teacher thought I was. I have now reset WhoAmI, and I have a blank slate to on. Maria: so it’s pretty touching for me as a mom to, to hear you say these things, because I know that, that fear that my family had when we took you and, and moved you away and kind of Yeah, took you out of, out of the pot. It is a very vulnerable moment. And of course it was vulnerable for me as well, because I was out of my pot as well. I think that I used a lot of time during these last years when we’ve been in Vietnam considering If I was doing you a favor or a disfavor, if I was some kind of hurting you and because I realized that, for example, when you were starting to talk about university applications, that I made that thing so much bigger for you than it was for me, because for me, it was just a simple [00:20:00] application in the Norwegian system. And I didn’t even think about going anywhere. But for you, like all the universities in the world is your is your is a possibility. And then, of course, the choice is getting Harder and the responsibility is bigger, But I, when I hear you say what you say, I just realized that what I hoped that you would get out of this experience is actually what you are getting out of this experience. Um, and I love that I invited you because this is giving me so much happiness just to hear you talk about these Sigurd: things. I also want to catch what you said about not thinking about applying elsewhere, and that’s. That’s kind of the point is that if I had stayed in Norway, I would most likely not think about applying elsewhere. And that’s, again, it’s made it harder because there’s millions of universities that now are on my plate essentially, There’s so many different countries, maybe not millions, but there’s so many different countries, different places, different subjects, different teachers, different. Communities, essentially, that I could [00:21:00] decide to go into, and I could decide to look into. And, whether or not I actually do decide to stay on a more traditional path, or if I decide to go somewhere wacky, for university, It’s still, the fact that I have the choice, in the first place, is remarkable. Because, most people in Norway would not have that choice. Most people in Norway would not look at, okay, I can go to Anywhere I want. I could go to Australia for university. And even that in itself is kind of a weird thought. It’s on the opposite side of the world. But now with me, number one, being in Vietnam, going to a travelling high school that has now been to Australia, I now have connections to Australia. I now know kind of, at least specifically Melbourne, what it’s like to live there. I’ve been there, I’ve looked at the universities, and I’ve kind of visited them. And I would never have that opportunity without it. It would be a challenge to go from this known kind of what I’m used to in Norway to suddenly Australia. But now that I’m used to everything being different, [00:22:00] I’m used to not being used to things. And that’s opened up so many more doors. And so yes, it’s made it harder, but it’s also made it ten times more exciting and opened up so many new Maria: frontiers. I love that you said, I’m used to not being used to things because that’s what I say about the comfort zone. When you Actually practice getting out of the comfort zone when you’re used to being out of the comfort zone. It feels less uncomfortable being out of the comfort zone. So it’s exactly what you said. I think that’s a super good point because I think many people needs to get out of the comfort zone and Sigurd: practice it. The outside of my comfort zone is my comfort zone. Yes. Yeah. Maria: I knew when we left that we had to go. And for me it was a life or death decision. I asked my soul what would happen if you don’t go and it said you will die. it was really serious. And, but I used quite a lot of time on thinking about, am I doing you a favor? Am I doing you a disfavor? And I, I’m, I’m kind of also embracing the, [00:23:00] the both sidedness of, of decisions like that. Because every time you make a big life choice, some great things happen, but some other things, some other consequences are maybe kind of, More, more challenging or creating more trouble or, or making things more complicated. But I just know that, that for me, I, I had to do this and I, I did it for myself, but I also did it for you. Because I felt at some point when I grew up that things were just too limited. And, and for me just being in a place where I get stimulated, where I get new. Um, understandings where I meet people from different places where, whereas you say, I’m free to define who I am, like, I feel like I’m doing that, I can do that very often, much more here than, than back home because, because it is just freer and more open. So for me, that, that exploring that [00:24:00] was, was something that I had to do. And I think a lot of people in Scandinavia, especially, Because everything is so secure and taken care of. They need some, like, push or, or somebody encourage them to actually do those things. Because I think a lot of people dream about it, or they have an idea about it, or they want to somehow explore. But because it feels so safe, it’s just easier to think that it’s not for me. I would regret more if I didn’t go and figure out that this was a catastrophe or disaster, I had to go back than if I was just staying back home and not trying. So, and I think that sometimes we have to take Outrageous chances or choices to figure out what what our way is through everything. And I am definitely not regretting that I did this after listening to you. Sigurd: Well, indecision is still a decision. If you’re making indecision out of fear. It’s still a decision. This is one of the main things that I also had to face in my specifically. Uh, talking about university especially [00:25:00] is if I decide not to do something because I’m fearful of what can happen, that’s a choice that I’ve made I might say to myself, Oh, I’ve chosen nothing, but you have chosen to do nothing. That is your choice to do nothing. And the same thing with moving away. If you’re, if you’re saying, okay, I’m too fearful. I already have my established community here in Norway, here in Scandinavia. I know who I’m with, I know where I fit in, I know I have, like, my kids go to this school, they do sports every Friday, they have this established life, they have this established routine, think to yourself this, if you, would you make the choice to say, okay, I’m going to stay here? If you had to make the specific choice, I’m going to stay here for the rest of my life, would you make that choice? Maybe not, but if you had to make the choice, am I going to move somewhere else? You’d say, no, no, no, no, I’m not going to move anywhere else. But then you’ve made the other choice. You made the choice. I’m going to stay here for the rest of my life. instead of saying, okay, I’m not going to move away. Say, [00:26:00] am I going to decide to move here and stay here for the rest of my life? That’s really the choice that you’re making. If you’re deciding, okay, I’m not going to do any of these other ones. The one choice that you’ve already done is the one choice. That you’re going to stay on and shows that they’ve been made already are less scary because you know, how they worked out, but you can’t know how a choice worked out without making the choice. You’re fearing what’s going to happen if you do something outrageous, but you’re never going to know what’s going to happen if you do something outrageous without doing said outrageous thing. This is very, this is very out of character for me. I’m usually very risk kind of avoid risk, but at a certain point, if it comes a time where you have to say, okay, I’m going to do this. I’m going to do this really weird thing. My family might dislike me for it. My family might say, okay, no, you’re crazy. You’re gonna just kind of come right back. Maybe you do come right back. Then you’ve learned from your failure. You’ve learned from, okay, maybe this was not for me. Maybe I should stay here. Maybe I’m happy with what I have. I’m happy with seeing my kids grow up in this one community. I have deep [00:27:00] roots here and hundred percent, if that is for you, hundred percent, go for it. Whatever makes you happy, really. But, If you haven’t decided to do something outrageous, you can’t say, Oh no, it’s not for me, because you haven’t tried it. It’s like saying you don’t like a food without trying the food. We always tell children this. that you don’t like a food without trying the food. You can’t say that you don’t like a type of life, an international type of life, living outside your country, without trying to live outside your country. [00:28:00] ​

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Business Strategist and Visionary

Petter Erik Nyvoll has worked in sales and has been an entrepreneur for 20 years. He has sold courses and conferences, sponsor packages, consulting services, shares, investment opportunities, telephone and server solutions, ads, exclusive memberships, and network marketing products.

He loves to keep up with what’s happening in sales and marketing around the world, is continuously testing new marketing strategies by himself and helps online entrepreneurs implement new sales and marketing strategies. He is well known for challenging his clients to double their price , to think creatively and to break out of their comfort zone!