There is always time for a little bit of life between the big things

My weekend of taking time to live with an impending exam

I’m in the middle of studying for one of my final exams and reflecting upon how my study habits have developed while being abroad. The change has to do in part with the environment I’m in and the structure of the examination style.

In terms of environment, I’m in Norway! It’s beautiful and like everyone else, I must go outside when the weather is nice, which is a rare occasion leading up to summer. It is typical to drop what one is doing as soon as the sun breaks past the clouds and the rays hit the colorful trees.

When it comes to exams, they are far different than what I have experienced at UC Berkeley. We have an exam period. That means that at the end of the semester, students have one week off, referred to as Dead Week by many, where they study for all of their courses.  The following week is essentially finals week where the majority of finals take place. Some unfortunate souls have professors who insist they take finals before this week.

My experience in Norway has been a bit different. Everyone’s exams are at different times and take place over the course of what feels like two months. While I have just started my finals, some friends are finished and off traveling Europe.

I am used to staying at my desk or with friends trapped in a library for upwards of twelve hours leading up to an exam, but that hasn’t been the situation this weekend. I found myself taking time to attend the annual Culture and Language Festival for a couple of hours, taking an evening out with friends, and even walking around Sognsvann.

This afternoon was bittersweet. A Scottish friend returned my water bottle that I had long ago forgotten and some chocolate cake he had made. He leaves tomorrow and to say goodbye, we took a walk around Sognsvann, which is the lake outside of my home. The weather has been impressively beautiful and I’m so grateful to have spent the afternoon with him. The rays from the sun provided some much needed warmth to my soul. There was energy and such life all around the lake, from children learning to ride bikes to couples running through the woods. When the sun comes out, you can be guaranteed to see every Norwegian with an ice cream and today was no different.

We walked over to one of the decks floating over the water and soaked up the sun and friendship for a while. It was soothing to feel the rocking wooden deck beneath me. The wind blew my hair around my face and pushed the current quickly towards the edge of the bank. When we had our fill of sun and children’s laughter, we headed back to the trail. Before heading home, we picked some yellow and white snowflake flowers that sit on my desk now. We parted with two hugs and a reenactment of the Lion King and the ‘long live the king scene.’

I tell you this story to remind you that there is time to live your life between the big events that we work towards. Yes I have an exam in some hours, but there is time to take a walk around a lake with a friend I enjoy being with. There is always time for that.


Managing Mental Illness While Abroad

Mental illness comes in different forms, from depression and anxiety to bipolar disorder and body dysmorphic disorder. Our symptoms show up in a variety of ways. For some, it is isolation and for others, it may be self destructive behavior, such as binge drinking to the point they can’t stand. I struggle with both depression and anxiety and have since I was in 7th grade.

The point of the article is to validate that although you may be in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, you can still struggle with your mental illness and it’s okay. Wherever you run or travel to in the world, you’re always there accompanied by your mind — you can’t run from yourself. The article is also meant to be a subtle reminder for you to check in with your self and ensure you are continuing to take care of yourself. Sometimes these things have a hold on us and we don’t even realize we’ve been pulled under again. You will find tips and resources that will aid you in checking in with yourself.

Know your signs for when it is showing up again

I point this out because a couple of days ago, I started feeling really bad. I was sad, which I linked to my lack of a strong community in Oslo. My two biggest signs are when I isolate myself and my room is incredibly messy, messy beyond a few misplaced shirts. The combination of these three things reminded me that I wasn’t okay and that I may be getting depressed again. Depression, like many mental illnesses come in waves – one day you’re fine and the next, you’re questioning everything you’ve ever done and doubting your progress. It does come in waves, but it’s easier to avoid drowning when you have the foresight that it’s happening and the resources to uplift yourself.

What are your signs that you notice each time before your mood swings or your mental illness reemmerges?

What makes it worse and minimize factors

You can’t always avoid your mental illness all together, but you can empower yourself by actively minimizing the factors that make it worse. The best way to do this is to actually figure out what these factors are. You might already know what they are, but if you don’t, it could be helpful to do some research and figure typical factors associated with the mental illness. As time passes, pay attention to your emotions and figure out which factors are unique to you. Keeping a log book of your emotions, behaviors, and your daily activities can show you what might influence you.

For me, lack of sleep, excessive drinking, and negative self talk exacerbate my depression. While not taking care of myself is a symptom, it is also a factor that makes it worse. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, you could feel even worse as well. You mental illness, depending on what it is, could be made worse by putting yourself in a situation that would make you stress over a test, like not going to class or procrastinating on a take-home assignment. It could even be a lack of vitamin D (Oslo definitely lacks sun during the spring semester).

Ways to prevent or side step that mental illness

As my struggle is predominately depression, these suggestions may seem to fit that best, but some could also apply to you.

Recognize when you’re starting to feel bad. Before you are in the depths of your depression and you can’t find the surface, catch it and do things that generally make you feel better

  • Reconnecting with my community or feeling a sense of accomplishment by completing tasks make me feel better. If you’re isolating yourself, grab a friend when you do these activities. They’d be more than happy to join you
  • Moment of gratitude –  Take a minute to remind yourself of how great you are and the cool experiences you’re having. This is useful if your depression is linked to depreciating thoughts about yourself
  • Get out of your head and go outside, it’s even better if you invite a friend
  • Get up and take a shower, clean your room, remove the dirty dishes from your room
  • Have a health check – you might have low iron or vitamin D because of the lack of sun. Maybe buy vitamin D tablets
  • Go work out. Try a yoga class or go hike somewhere. You’re surrounded by mountains
  • check in with your community back home. Having that connection with your close, familiar friends or family could be what you need. They may even be the ones to notice that you’re not doing alright
  • See a counselor if this stuff isn’t cutting it. I saw one in Bergen, related to the growth I was doing as a person. It’s an option if you want it.


Uni of Bergen Counseling office – Request to see the actual psychologist. The first person you speak with is not a psychologist/therapist, but a counselor. Great to talk to, but I don’t think they have the same qualifications as the aforementioned.

Uni of Oslo Counseling Office – I haven’t used these services, but the accessible layout of the website is promising.

If you’ve paid the student fee, which you have, these services are available for you.


How to survive in a city with a $12 Big Mac

As I finished up making some really delicious and vibrantly colored mango salsa, I got to wondering what another exchange student, such as yourself, would want to know regarding food and grocery shopping when they arrived to Norway. I want to provide you with a few helpful tips that will show you how to save money on groceries so you can travel through Europe to survive.

Grocery stores owned by minorities or immigrants

Oslo is one of the more ethnically diverse cities in Norway and with that said, there are more opportunities to benefit from this diversity, such as the grocery stores. These stores are found in the more ethnically diverse neighborhoods of any city and are sometimes referred to as ethnic grocery stores. Some people debate the use of the term ‘ethnic grocery store,’ so to focus on the topic, I’ll define these as grocery stores owned and operated by minorities, immigrants, or those with ties or within the social network of minorities. The items they offer may be influenced by the ethnicity of the people who own the shop. For example, a Chinese-owned shop may offer more products related to that country than another store would.

So, these ‘very long definition’ grocery stores are great because they offer diversified products that are often not found in an average store, support minorities, and are super cheap. You now have the chance to possibly find foods that you’d find at home, reducing your homesickness or sharing your culture.

Grønlandstorg Frukt Grønt

** My preferred place although I have not see all stores mentioned here

Smalgangen 1, 0188 Oslo
Tel: 22 17 04 92
Open: M–F 10.00–18.00, Sa 09.00–16.00


Helgesens Gate 18, 0553 Oslo
Tel: 22 35 60 26
Open: M–Sa 08.30–20.30, Su 10.30–20.30tf

More Options: Asian owned; Various; Many not strictly under this category of store (look to comment section as well)

At the moment, I’m living in Oslo therefore, some of the places I suggest are easier to find here than other places in Norway.

Dumpster diving

231, 000 tons of food are thrown away each year  according to Østfold Research Co, however, the number is decreasing through active participation by consumers and grocery stores. I hadn’t considered this as an option while in Norway even though I have heard of it in the U.S. Many of us have this misconception of Norway that they are the ideal country and are progressive in nearly every way. I assumed there wouldn’t be a need or access to dumpster diving as a food choice option, but I argue this may be one of the best countries to do it in.

Norway is a country of abundance and in that state of mind, people may be more wasteful, expecting higher quality of food. The closest I’ve come to dumpster diving is is my own kitchen, which I share with Norwegians. I have found avocados, grapes, and apples – imagine my surprise. I have eaten numerous meals from products found by a friend.

Go after closing and check it out. You can also do more research and figure out how exactly people do it, especially if you haven’t tried it before. You’ll want to check the local laws regarding it as well.


Rema1000 and Kiwipris both have apps that seem to work as our club cards at Trader Joe’s, for example.

Rema1000 app, called Æ, gives you 10% off the top 10 items your most often purchase.

KiwiPris app – seems to give you 15% off of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Time to purchase

The last thing to consider to find cheap food in Oslo is considering the time in which you purchase food, especially at the ‘very long definition’ stores.

The food tends to be discounted the days before they receive new shipments. As I was walking though Grønland with a friend recently, I noticed how crowded it was was new shipment boxes filling each aisle, leaving a narrow space to walk. I suggested that I would note the date they get their shipment and come afterwards. She told me that the owners decrease the price at the end of the week, which I can only assume is to get rid of old food and make space for the new.

With all of that said, I hope this post has provided you suggestions and resources to find inexpensive food in Norway. I use these options myself and have saved a considerable amount of money. I hope you do too.

** The Big Mac’s don’t cost twelve dollars, but it’s more expensive than the U.S. Check out the Big Mac Index and determine how many hours one must work to buy a Big Mac.

Perceptions of Multilingualism in Europe Compared to America

The Arabic Film Festival is this weekend in Oslo. The festival is the only one of it’s kind in Oslo in that their films are completely from and about the Arab world. It’s one useful way to shine a light on the way of life for this population of people. I’ve been busy with school work so I wasn’t sure I wanted to set aside time to attend, but I’m grateful I chose to go. I was invited by Nadine, one of the Norwegian students I met at the dinner with the Cal reps. We were going to see Min Arabiske Vår. 

I met Nadine and her friends inside of the theater after the lights went down. I didn’t have reception inside the theater so figuring out where she was was a hell of a challenge, especially for someone who doesn’t want to walk in and see the dozens of faces peering back at me at I eagerly search the crowd. I walked in and stood off to the side, just on the opposite of the partition separating me from the crowd. I watch the movie from there for a few minutes. I noticed that the film was in Arabic with Norwegian subtitles. The website showed said the film would have English subtitles and that was not the case. As I was too nervous to go find her in the crowd, this was nearly reason enough to walk away. Ah the struggles of social anxiety, right? I continued watching the film even with the Norwegian subtitles.

A few things happened in that short span of time. One, I was incredibly surprised that I understood what I was reading and two, a woman walked in behind me and with just a few words, I joined the crowd of movie goers. She asked me if I wanted to sit down and I told her it was just too crowded. She told me I could sit anywhere and with that, I followed her in. She might have assumed I didn’t know where my seat was, but it didn’t matter. I point this out as an aside to the story. I am appreciative of those who support others in such small ways. I don’t know if she recognized what those few words meant, but they gave me the encouragement to walk in even though there was a slight language barrier with the movie, I still didn’t know where my friend was sitting, and I was truly looking for any excuse to leave.

I walked into the theater and very quickly found Nadine. She sat in the second and the seat she kindly saved for me was at the very end of the row. It was helpful that she chose such a seat because I no longer had to worry about disrupting the other viewers. I watched the rest of the movie, Norwegian subtitles and all. It wasn’t so bad. I laughed at all the appropriate times and understood the film beyond the pictures I was seeing. *I’m incredibly proud of myself for understanding it!!

The movie was essentially about a Turkish car salesman who is getting married shortly.  As with his culture’s customs, his family selected the bride and his input wasn’t so significant (even if he did have the internal strength to voice his needs at the time). When he goes to another city to sell these cars, he meets a woman at the hotel he’s staying in. She’s a dancer with the hotel entertainment and full of life. He feels alive when he’s with her and this feeling with her makes him question whether or not he wants to get married. He inspires him to speak up for himself and his needs. When he finally tells her that he’s actually engaged, she’s obviously upset. However, he later tells her that they will move to Paris and be together. Days later when they meet at the airport to leave, he tells her that he can’t leave. The film ends there with her crying, but getting on the plane nonetheless. She knew it would happen this way.

The movie ended and the director and moderator came to the front where there was a brief discussion about the movie. Aside from me being proud about understanding the subtitles, I realized what a strange situation I was in – a situation I don’t expect I would experience in America. I was an American in Norway, watching an Arabic film with Norwegian subtitles. The discussion that followed was a Turkish man speaking English and French.

The beauty of Europe and its open borders is the appreciation of languages. The skill of knowing other languages is seen as useful and a way to connect beyond the boundaries that language can often create. The discourse in America is often one of division. There is them and there is us. There is English and there is everything else. I’ve seen cases where someone will be speaking Spanish at a grocery store or somewhere around the city  and some wretched person will say ‘Stop speaking that! No one understands you! Speak English when you are in America!’ These people are also sometimes criticized for their accent. I haven’t seen that in Norway. When I hear a heavily accented person speaking, I’m more wowed that they have gone through the trouble of learning another language. Their broken second, third, or fourth language is more than a person’s monolingual self.

Granted, these perspectives are not so for every person. There is more appreciation and understanding for populations who know multiple languages themselves, come from diverse populations where it is common to know many languages, or have traveled around and have seen how knowing multiple languages is a skill and useful rather than a negative thing. What you should get out of this is the need to be more open to others who speak numerous languages, broken or not.



First Volunteering Shift with the Red Cross

I woke up at 5:30 am this morning. I rolled out of bed, almost simultaneously pulling off my candy cane stripped pajamas. I pulled on some black jeans lying over a chair and stopped for a beat considering which shirt would be appropriate. I was going to volunteer at the Red Cross at an overnight housing center for male immigrants and homeless men. I pulled up the approval email and read over the rules. I needed to wear neutral colors and cover my chest and arms.

I found some old t-shirt and pulled a jean button up over it. I walked to the kitchen where I grabbed two Baby Bell cheeses. It would be enough to hold me over for a couple of hours.

I took the elevator downstairs and entered the still dark plaza of Kringsjå. I walked towards the train thinking about how with the time change the day before, I could see the sunrise and not have to wake up so early in the morning.

At 6:20 am, I arrived at Majorstuen and followed my phone’s GPS in circles for a few minutes until I orientated myself and began walking in the correct direction. I found the address just across the street. I wasn’t sure where to find the entrance at the intersection. From the corner of the street, I saw a church in front of me and walked further around the side of the building. I tugged at two door handles, but they didn’t budge. I looked at the names on doorbuzzers but none of them read Røde Kors. As I looked walked back up the street, I saw a glass window that showed into the basement of the church. I went to the entrance where I met Khalid, the volunteer who would get me started.

He had been here since 9 pm the previous night and had not slept. Khalid pulled the laptop from his lap and introduced himself. I read over the information and filled out the form. I grabbed a vest when the second volunteer of the morning arrived. I learned she was from Boston. She took her Masters in Norway and never returned.

As we stood in the churches foyer, we asked questions about the those who were sleeping in the beds below. Most were Romanian immigrants who came to Norway to work or were homeless. Most spoke Romanian or a little English. Red Cross offers shelter in the church for a symbolic 15 kroner a night, which is about $1.60. Each person interested in one of the 51 beds comes to the church at 9 pm and reserves a space. They pay and can have the reservation for 5 days, paying 15 kroner for each night they stay there. If there are extra beds for the evening, they are given away on a lottery system.

Each person gets an IKEA bag with a duvet, a sheet, a small hand towel, and a cot that sits 18 inches off the ground. I arrived for the morning volunteer shift so I saw the process for the handing in of this large, blue bag instead of the distribution of it.

My primary role today was to pick up the cots and stack them in the storage room. Each cot had a small, square blanket that was excluded from the IKEA bag, and used by each member. After the other volunteer, Fey, and myself understood what we had to do, we got started.

At 6:30 am, Khalid woke up the sleepers by turning on the lights in the large room of the church where I would have expected to see pews. The men woke up a few at a time. They pulled on their clothes, washed up in the restroom, and folded up their blankets stuffing them back into the IKEA bags.

When I could start my job, I descended the stairs where I saw trollies with numbered sections for the IKEA bags. To the left was a large door where I saw dozens of white cots, surly with sleeping bodies beneath. As I walked past the threshold of the door, I was assaulted with such a strong odor. I imagined many of the men hadn’t had showers in days or it could have been the accumulation of their bundles.

I began picking up the cots one by one and taking them to the back room. I folded the blanket that was on each cot, which I assumed acted as extra cushion or sanitation. I maneuvered through the cots of men still sleeping to the storage room in the back. Beds were lined wall to wall.

It took an hour to get everything folded and stacked up. I would occasionally walk to the numbered trollies to make sure each bag was in the right order and it was then that I could see some of the men prepping themselves in the bathroom. As I stacked more cots, I observed some of the men. Some men were joyous and shouted good morning for all to hear. One man was well dressed and had good quality duffel bags that reminded me of a professor for some reason. Another man was ethnically white and had backpacking gear. It’s as if he knew about this resource and used this instead of staying in a hostel, then again, I don’t know his story.

One by one the room was cleared. When everyone was gone, I gathered my things and walked to the Tbane.

I wanted to become a volunteer because I have become increasingly interested in immigration and the narratives behind the bodies. Some people come here as refugees, escaping danger in their own country. Others come for seasonal work or rejoining their families.

Based on conversations with a few Norwegians, there seems to be a general, while not unanimous, attitude towards immigrants. Norway is the land of let’s work together so we can all benefit. Immigrants should be doing their part to support the benefits they also enjoy. Part of them doing their end of the work is apparently learning the language, because it is very challenging to get a job here if you don’t know the language. I have several qualms with those Norwegians who are angry at immigrants for not learning the language or not learning it fast enough. Yes there are resources to help them learn, but we don’t know their stories and there are numerous emotional, social, and cultural reasons it can be challenging for them to learn.

Although I couldn’t talk to any of the inhabitants of this church beyond good morning, I did see the diversity of their appearances. I want to know their stories and the why  and how they found themselves sleeping on a cot in a church in Norway. I continue to think that by listening with empathy, we can better understand others’ experiences, be less prejudiced or discriminatory, and shape policies to better address their needs.


Red Cross

Make an account, sign up for shifts – it’s that easy. This place is for the men’s shelter. There are other resources for women, children, and reception centers (where you can hang out and talk with them) that I am still searching for.


Olivia’s with Cal Reps

Thursday was such a relaxing and rejuvenating day. I went to the migration course and heard such an informative and clear lecture about citizenship. I stayed around the university, working at my own speed. I rewrote notes and finished a solid draft for a semester assignment. It was so relaxing for my soul honestly.

I say all of this to say that a dinner with Kristi and another Cal rep added to this day. She invited me a bit last minute, but I’m so glad I had an open schedule this day. She was in Norway for meetings encouraging Norwegian students to go on exchange at the beautiful and unique, UC Berkeley.

Tbane took me into the city where I met up with Kristi and the other students. Most of these Norwegian ambassadors went to Berkeley Fall ’16 so they were there during the election. Goodness, it was interesting to hear about their perspectives on America. One student, Nadine, appreciated that American were so direct. The other student loved the energy of the campus.

As we talked I wondered what I could do to make my experience in Norway more rich and memorable. Each of the students wished they had broken out of their bubble of Norwegian friends and met other students. One student knew she wanted to join a soccer team and as time went by faster and faster, she didn’t get around to doing it.

I discussed my experiences and when they asked about making friends, I shared that it was difficult, especially coming to Oslo mid-year. The offered to hang out together so by the end of the night, I made sure to get their contact information.

The lesson for me: figure out what you want to do, how you’re going to do it, and DO IT! Don’t let your time fly by.

I am full of gratitude today. Speaking with the Norwegian students put my experience into perspective. It’s easy to take these experiences for granted, especially when I’m thinking about what I will do career wise when I get back to Berkeley. There is a lot on my mind, but today, I’m grateful for the Ravioli av Fungi I had at Olivia’s. I’m grateful for the beautiful sunset, the clean air, the tasty water from the tap, and I’m grateful for friends who are excited to go new places in Norway and friends at home who hold me accountable.



As the months tick by, you’re going to start wondering what you can bring back to the states to remember your time here. Aside from the memories of eating a German apple thing or walking down thirteen flights of stairs for a 3 am fire alarm, you might want a tangible item.

I’ve thought about this for months. Most things are crazy expensive here so at first, I settled for a cheese cutter because as most Norwegians will tell you, it was invented here. (Interestingly enough, I bought it in Denmark, but don’t tell them that.) Over the last few days, I’ve been admiring some of the clothing I’ve purchased here. I promise it was all necessary. Since I’m from California, I can get away with shorts and sandals most days of the year so before coming here, I didn’t actually own any ‘real’ clothes. This is the first time in my adult life that I own a rain jacket! Can you believe that? Me either.

With that said, I’ve grown to appreciate practical items that serve a longterm purpose. What you ask is the best souvenir you will ever lay your hands on?!?!?!?


If you’re not lucky enough to have a Norwegian mom make you one and don’t want to spend more than $300 on a sweater, go to a second hand store!! I found myself wandering the streets when I first arrived to Oslo and stumbled upon this wowow second hand store named Uff. There were real fur and leather jackets, ski clothes, boots made of weird deer (?) fur (as seen in the picture), and loads of clothes from the 60’s.

Norwegian boots

I also saw this sweater, as pictured, months ago. I loved it. The blue and white stitching had such ornate designs. The swirls of the silver buttons seemed like they popped right off a vikings sweater. I couldn’t bring myself to buy it because it was $40 and as I said, I’m not used to buying ‘real’ clothes. I’m grateful the first sweater I feel in love with was still there.

Who knew that months later, I’d find myself in the same store ready to throw down 40 bucks for a well-made sweater probably stitched by someone’s mom and warm enough to keep me warm in the heaviest of snows. If you buy anything in this country, make it a wool sweater. You won’t be sorry!

Links to two second hand stores

Find an UFF or Fretex near you