By Shawn Lopez
When I moved to New Jersey to begin my freshman year of college at Rutgers University, I experienced a slight culture shock. Who would have thought my hometown in Baltimore, Maryland could be so different from that of New Brunswick, New Jersey. For the first time in my life I was told I had an accent; when running errands with a couple of my fellow blonde-haired friends I was asked if I was from California; and I was essentially late to all my appointments because I took for granted the convenience of u-turns and left turns. I had only moved one hundred and fifty miles away from home and yet I still had to make quite an adjustment. I thought to myself, “People adjust to places thousands of miles away from home all the time. How do they do it?” This question was answered by my teammate and friend, Kaja Stamnes.
Kaja, 20, a student-athlete at Rutgers University, is a junior on the Rutgers Women’s Lacrosse team. When Kaja was 11 years old, her family moved over four thousand miles from the least densely populated state in the US, Alaska, to the most densely populated state, New Jersey. Her father, a professor at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks accepted a job offer at Stevens University in Hoboken, New Jersey. While it seems this move would be quite devastating for an 11-year-old-girl, Kaja had no problem transitioning from place to place. She was an experienced traveler due to her father’s work as a research professor. He went on sabbatical every so often. When Kaja was seven she lived in Norway, where her parents grew up, for about six months and then she spent the following three months of her life in Australia and New Zealand.
Kaja spent most of the first eleven years of her life living outside of Fairbanks, enjoying a picturesque view of Mt. McKinley, the highest mountain peak in North America. In sixth grade, she moved from the mountainside to the more suburban town of Maplewood, New Jersey. Kaja explained she had “the best of both worlds.” She went from having a mountain as her backyard to making a twenty minute train ride from her home to New York City. Kaja went on to say how she could not have moved at a more perfect time because she was entering a middle school that had a mix of students from multiple elementary schools, so no one actually knew she was “the new girl.” She also grew up playing soccer in Alaska and she used that to make friends in New Jersey.
It seems like everything fell into place for Kaja. “What about the Midnight Sun,” I asked, “Was it strange not having it anymore?” I thought it had to be an adjustment from having nights with sunlight to what we are use to on the East Coast. Kaja replied, “I thought it was weird that it could be dark outside but still hot in New Jersey but it did not take much getting use to.” When asked what the hardest part of her transition was, Kaja answered laughing, “It wasn’t really hard. People thought Alaska was a really eccentric place to be from. I remember one of my neighbor’s, an adult, asked me if there was grass where I lived before. And then there was the occasional… ‘did you live in an igloo?’” Kaja found it hard to believe what little people knew about Alaska but by this time she had practically lived on the other side of the world so the questions did not phase her.
Because of her travels, Kaja seemed to be a cosmopolitan woman by the time she reached middle school. In addition to residing in Alaska, Norway, Australia, New Zealand and now New Jersey, Kaja has studied abroad in Italy and Greece. While most of us dare ourselves to step foot out of the state we grew up in, adjusting to new places has proved to be no obstacle for Kaja. Kaja’s childhood, “often spent on planes” has made her a flexible and intellectual individual, ready to face whatever challenges are thrown her way.