Victoria in her home, next to her wall of art. Photo by Alice Chapman © Social Streets CIC.
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This is Home: A Norwegian in Aldgate East

Norwegian student Victoria Brustad on breaking out of the bubble of her home city Oslo, and broadening her perspective on life by moving to the multicultural mecca of London’s East End.  

Victoria Brustad, 23, moved to Aldgate East from Oslo in 2021 when she was 20 to study Politics and International Relations at Goldsmiths University. She came to the UK to break out of Oslo’s ‘small bubble’ and meet people with different perspectives on life. She now studies journalism and wants to be a political journalist.

‘Even though Oslo is a big city, it feels like everyone is the same person. We all just think the same, act the same, and have the same opinions on everything. And if you don’t, then you’re kind of an outsider. I was so sick of that environment. I wanted something that challenged me more than what that city offered.’

Brustad lives in a three-bedroom flat just behind the East London Markazi Masjid Mosque with a friend from home and two people she’s met from university. The walls of her living room are decorated in an amalgamation of drawings.

 ‘When my housemates and I moved here, the place felt so bland and empty. We wanted to fill it with life and love. We get everyone who visits to draw a picture for us. Then we have a piece of all of our friends on the wall’. 

Victoria's wall of art in her home in Aldgate East
The wall full of friend’s art. Photo by Alice Chapman © Social Streets CIC.

Did you have any culture shock when moving to the Whitechapel area?

‘Yes, I think I did. Where I’m from, the majority are white Norwegians, and there is not a strong sense of religion. Whilst here it’s the complete opposite. There are a lot of people from different countries and cultures. That was a shock in itself. But it is also so nice to experience things like everyone heading to the mosque around the corner or seeing shops selling foods I have never heard of. 

I think every time someone comes to visit me from back home, they also get a bit of a shock. Not in a negative way. But just because it’s so different. I’ve learned to love it. I find it so refreshing.’ 

Do you feel a sense of home in Aldgate and would you see yourself living here longer term? 

‘I could certainly see myself living here for longer. I’ve lived here for a few years now, and I already feel a sense of home because everyone is so friendly. There’s so much charm and history in the streets. When you go into small shops the local business people are exceptionally welcoming.

As much as I feel a sense of home here, I would ideally like to travel after uni and make the most of being young.’

I don’t care if the train station is a bit dodgy, or if the park is slightly dirty. What I care about is the people. Things like remembering your face the third time you go into their shop, that’s what makes here feel like home, and that kind of thing is strong here.’ 

Can you tell me a hidden gem you have discovered here?

‘When I first moved here it felt like there were just flats everywhere. I felt a lack of community and open space. But after I explored a little and found Saint Georges Gardens, just next to Shadwell station, I suddenly felt safer. It relaxed me so much to see families enjoying themselves in the sunshine, people reading under trees, and appreciating the greenery’.

How do you and your Norwegian friends living here hold onto your culture? 

‘Compared to other people I have met from different countries, I don’t think we have a particularly strong sense of cultural identity to cling to. Although I am proud to be Norwegian, I don’t want to go around making a point about my nationality. It would feel quite wrong’. 

‘Although we try not to cling to our culture too much, we have a big celebration on 17th May. It is our constitution day. If we were in Norway we would go to the castle in the centre of Oslo and wait for the King. Then we would join a huge parade through the city.

 We can’t do that here though. So instead we have joined this group called ANSA (Association of Norwegian Students Abroad). We will meet people from that group and just have a small celebration with them’. 

Another thing I really miss is Norwegian chocolate. I think we have the best chocolate in the world. There’s a shop in Mayfair called Skandi Kitchen and it sells so much Scandinavian candy, and food that so many people miss when they are living abroad.’ 

How do you think studying here differs from if you had stayed in Oslo? 

‘Although I initially came here to study Politics and International Relations, after my first year I switched to Journalism as I needed something more creatively inspiring.

I want to go into political journalism and international affairs. If I had studied back home, my views on certain things would have been limited. Studying in London, where you meet so many people from different backgrounds, it’s like a punch in the face. I’ve learned that things are so much bigger than the bubble I grew up in’. 

Education is free in Norway so students do not have the same financial pressures as they do here. You can go to private universities, but it’s very rare that you would have to pay as much as you have to pay in the UK. It’s a lot more relaxed when it comes to debt. We also get a loan from our government to study abroad, because the government want people to experience different countries. So it’s very helpful.’

What do you love in life? 

‘I love people’s curiosity. Nothing beats meeting a stranger or someone you would never normally cross paths with and sharing your deepest thoughts about life. I love finding out the random stuff about people. Every single person you meet has a background, so much history and knowledge and random points of view. I think that’s the most beautiful thing ever, you can meet anyone, any single person and they would have something that they’re passionate about or that they can talk about or that they’re curious about and that’s amazing’. 

If you enjoyed reading this, you might like: This is Home: Michelle Lowe-Holder, a Canadian in Whitechapel

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