Oslo – Spring

I’ll be in Oslo for the Spring semester and before the semester has moved too far along, I want to introduce you to the city, the university, and my motivations for coming here.

Why Oslo?

Since the moment I arrived in Norway, the most common question I hear is “Why did you choose Norway of all places?” Each person asks it with such surprise and disbelief, that I am forced to reaffirm why I am here. First off, the nature is spectacular and offers some of the most remarkable views I have seen in my life. The fjords, constant flurries of snow, frozen bodies of water, and views as far as the eye can see are some of them. While I came here to be imersed in this natural type of environment, I also came for the academics

What UIO offers

Oslo is a hub for research in Norway and also has an expanisive selection of courses to choose from. Some places for research are the thirteen Centres of Excellence (abbreviated as SFF for the Norwegian translation), tweleve of which are connected to the University of Oslo. Here the researchers focus on specific, long-term research of high international calibre. Quality is a dominant focus for the reseach and there is a good amount of researcher training here as well. Each center seems to have a different focus, so if these are related to your areas of study, it could be useful to check out the the link above. Consider contacting some of the researchers there and learn more about their work. You may even find yourself involved on a project.

I’m interested in education policy and since the Education Department at UIO is one of Norway’s largest departments for education research, it made sense to come here. My courses are in Sociology, social geography, and education. I am most excited for my Comparative International Education course. The classes is full of people from all over the world, therefore, it is a perfect opportunity to learn about the varying models. By the second class, we each gave a presentation of our school systems in America. I was surprised to learn that Germany has a system whose structure can and very clearly limits social mobility. The discussion also helped me draw out some features of our system that I take for granted. No one else seemed to bring up the appearance of charter or magnet schools in their systems. It could be that they don’t have them or that they are under a different name, but it is worth exploring nonetheless.

Student Associations at UIO

There are dozens of student orgs at this university ranging from politics and sports, to music and even Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), if that’s your thing of course. I’ve joined a kayaking club and SAIH, which is an org I am continuing from my time at UIB. I have a club meeting for each org once a week. The kayaking club is awesome because our weekly practice in the pool will lead to trips through fjords later in the summer.

Demographic and City Vibe

Oslo is a more diverse city due to the increased number of immigrants who come here. (I should be able to tell you why when I finish my course on migration…hopefully.) There are migrants from all over the world, many of which are Polish. With the crisis in Syria, Norway has also seen an increase in the number of Syrians who enter the country. People migrate for many reasons and it isn’t always limited to dangerous wars that have caused them to flee, effectively making them refugees. People migrate for work, to rejoin their families, or even because they are forced to by the state or government. Migrants come and stay in Oslo for numerous people and it continues to add to the beauty and diversity of the city.

Vibe in the city is similar to other places in that you feel the energy which comes from the meshing of people and an internal desire to continue looking forward. At the edge of the city, near the Oslo Opera House, is the Barcode District. The collection of buildings that make up this area add to the memorable and modern landscape of Oslo. Come here and you’ll see the modernization of Oslo paired with the nature of the open harbor.

Things to do

There are tons of things to do in this city. One can check out the museums and tour the city, or become one with nature on a hyttetur (cabin trip) lost among the trees. Making dinner with friends and sharing recipes is a great way to remember this experience through your tastebuds. There is tons to do and so little time. Do yourself a favor and enjoy every bit that you can. You won’t be sorry to share these experiences with others.

 

 

Taking the Language Classes at UIB

To be brief, don’t do it. * (Regarding the intensive language course, Norwegian 1 and 2.)

You think it’s going to be a great idea. You’ll be in another country and you figure the full emersion makes it the best time to practice your language skills. While you have casually learned what you know up to this point via Duolingo, you think being in a classroom surrounded by students will help you hold yourself accountable. By default, you’re certain you’ll be encouraged to study more often and memorize all of those vocabulary words. You believe that learning from a professor will somehow transform how you memorize the idiomatic expressions and grammar rules.

What I just described are likely your expectations of what it will be like to take a language course. You know what? You’re probably right if you take Norwegian 01 or 1, both of which are beginning courses. Let me say, I do not think this is the best time to take the intensive language course that I did.

There are several reasons why taking the intensive language course in Norway is a bad idea, why learning a language in beneficial, and alternative methods to learn Norwegian while you are in Norway.

Circumstances

Atmosphere

  • Students come from all over the world with different intentions for attending this particular school. Some students come to focus on studies, while others go on Erasmus just to party. Remember that some universalities in Europe are free so it’s easier to not dedicate themselves to studies. Unless you are clear for yourself why you are in Bergen to begin with, you may find yourself influenced by what others involve themselves in.
  • Traveling while in Norway or throughout Europe takes time. If you weren’t in a class and just casually learning, you could go around

Time Commitment

  • I took the intensive 1 and 2 course, so that means it’s a 30 unit class aka a full schedule aka 8 hours a week. This can be quit challenging if you chose to take an additional-15 unit class like me. Furthermore, many Americans don’t have experience learning a second language since most US schools don’t focus on languages as much as European countries. Therefore, Americans may not know what it takes to learn a language, let alone level 2, intensive Norwegian.
  • I bring up teaching methods because the professors don’t talk about what is needed to master the language well enough to succeed on the exam. I think the professors make some assumptions when hosting these language courses. Norway is an interesting place in that as the country becomes increasingly heterogeneous racially, they encourage people to adopt the language and assimilate. They provide courses so people can learn, but I noticed that the method of teaching is full immersion. From day one, the texts are written in Norwegian. This wasn’t terribly awful for me as I took a course before this, but it is deterring. Small barriers like directions in a language you are just learning can make it challenging to fully understand the information. Unfortunately I left my coursework from home in California, so to best learn the language, I resort to Google translate, my Norwegian-English dictionary from home, and lots of online resources (which I’ll share with you).

Benefits to Language

Although I have just outlined several reasons why I don’t think taking the intensive language course is the best, learning a second (or third, fourth, and fifth language for many Europeans) can be highly beneficial. I have found it to be great for a few reasons:

  • You can better connect with the culture of Norway
  • Build relationships with Norwegians. Many of them appreciate it when you make the effort to learn Norwegian.
  • Increase your skills. Learning a second language makes it easier to learn even more
  • Not taking a formal class gives you more time to take other academic classes more relevant to your interests

Alternatives to a Formal Lecture

You may choose to opt out of the formal language course whether that is due to the fact that there weren’t enough seats available or you relate to what I have said. Regardless of what prevented you from learning the language, there are numerous options to learn the language including:

  • The Bergen Public Library offers a casual space to learn Norwegian through conversation and activities with others
  • Online websites such as Sett i Gang, Pågang, and NTNU Now, all of which are below under Tips.
  • Practice conversations with Norwegian friends. They are just as excited as you are that you are learning the language. Set up a weekly meeting!
  • Tandem Language program offered by UIB where they pair you with a Norwegian student to practice with

Tips to learn a language:

Settigang – Flashcards, grammar, exercises, games

Pågang  – Grammar/Exercises

NTNU Now – Trondheim University grammar practice

*You’re wrong if you take intensive 1 and 2.

** I say all of Europe because did I mention how cheap flights are?!

4 Academic Must Do’s While Studying Abroad in Norway

At the moment, it’s 4 am and I have my last exam at 9 am. I can’t sleep because I find myself thinking a great deal about the exam and how well or not I will do. The exam is for the intensive Norwegian language course I took. It’s been fun learning more about the grammar rules, but I still find myself quite anxious for the exam. I even resorted to looking up articles on what to do if you fail a class abroad. I learned about grading systems across countries, internships abroad, and how expensive it is to study in France. The feelings are tied to how students are taught in Norway in terms of often having a single exam at the end of the semester as opposed to numerous assignments during the semester. I’m anxious and can’t sleep so with that, I write this post with the intention of helping you avoid this stress by giving some tips to be successful in your courses and by default, succeed on the final exam.

Go to class

I know this seems like a basic one, but it’s worth mentioning. When you are in Norway, you’re going to want to travel and go places and do things and expose yourself to everything the country has to offer. That can include delayed flights or getting home too late after a Christmas party, both of which may result in you hitting the snooze button. Don’t do it! You’re not here to sleep through your classes. You’re here to learn and to do that, it’s helpful to go to class.

I remember taking Psychology 167: Stigma and Prejudice with Professor Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton. (He is a phenomenal professor so if you can, I highly encourage you take any course with him.) He was often casual about our grades. He told us not to stress because we get the grade we deserve. So if you you’re going to class and showing up and doing your part, you’re going to get the grade you want.  If not, you probably won’t do so well. Remember, it is in these lectures where you are doing the learning. At the end of the semester when you’ve missed a few key lectures, don’t act surprised that you didn’t get that A. Although we have differing learning styles, you have to go to class if you want that A, or whatever grade you define as success.

Do the reading

My courses at Berkeley are predominantly Sociology related as that is my major. This particular discipline is like other social science classes in that there is a lot of reading to do. It’s not uncommon to have 60 pages in a week for one class. The final exams are often rooted in these readings. One of my courses at UIB is Scandinavian Politics and similar to my Sociology courses, there was a good amount of reading. There were articles, books, and sections from journals to review, but it had to be done.

Reading is one of those weird homework assignments where after a long day of classes, you almost feel like you don’t have homework because you don’t have to turn anything in. On some of those rare sunny days in Bergen, I didn’t feel much like reading. In addition, there felt like there were barriers to getting this aspect of the work done. At UCB, we often buy readers where the professor has kindly brought most, if not all, of our readings into one place.

I have yet to be given a reader and I am forced to log onto the online syllabus, click links redirecting me to the UIB library database, connect to the VPN, redirect to the academic journal, (sometimes having to create an account), download the material, and finally, read 40 pages while annotating. Regardless of these bothersome barriers, reading is still important and can play a significant role in your understanding of the course material.

Look to this post, which I will add after my exam, to find tips on how to start strong during your semester abroad.

Meet your teachers

Meeting professors through office hours has become an expected task of being in a class at UCB. The relationship you form can help you later when you want to ask for that strong letter of recommendation and this person you’ve sat with for a few hours over the semester actually knows who you are. Going to office hours is highly encouraged by professors in that they even include their hours on the syllabus.

Based on my experience so far at UIB, office hours are not an institutionalized thing here.  The relationships with professors at UIB seem to be more casual from the start. For example, you call them by their first names. The Canadian on my floor told me about a time at the beginning of the semester where he, a classmate, and the professor went out for a beer. The syllabi didn’t that they should go get a beer and talk. However, my point is that even though there aren’t flashing lights on the syllabi telling you about office hours, it is still important to work to build these relationships with professors. (Note: Informational meetings are another great way to get to know them.)

Figure out your Resources

The last, but probably one of the more important points is to learn what, where, and who your resources are. I will post separately about this because I think it’s such a significant part of your success at Bergen. However, I’ll give you a few general things to think about when you consider how to answer the what, where, and who. The ‘What’ question, and subsequently the remaining questions, can be answered by asking what is important to you as an exchange student, such as class, mental health, community, and social outings.

For class, you’ll need to know what are the exam requirements, what should be your study timeline, where to locate online reading and course material, where are the good libraries, and who will you study for exams with.

To maintain your mental health, you’ll ask what are you doing to maintain your physical and mental health, where is the psychologist’s office, where can you find the contact information, and who is your community network in Bergen.

Developing a community in a new city is an imperative aspect of surviving and thriving in a new place. With that said, consider what do you want your community to look like, where and which organizations can you join to build this network, who can you include in this network who pushes you to be better without compromising your values. These are some of the important questions you will want to ask yourself when defining your resources.

With all of that said and done, don’t feel bogged down by these “administrative tasks”, if that’s what you want to call them. Remember that this is exchange and it can still be a time of growth, change, and exploration. All of which can be found by even doing your readings.

Fast tips:

  • Go to class
  • Do the reading
  • Build relationships with professors
  • Locate your resources

Sniffeling and Blowing One’s Nose

 

As of 9:15 this morning, my first exam period at a Norwegian University began. I’m at the SV-Library preparing for this three to four thousand word paper with two Norwegian girls from class. Outlining is going well, but unfortunately, I’m sick. I keep sniffeling. There is mucus in my throat and filling my nose. The timing is unfortunate, but it happens.

I’m prepared in that I brought a role of toilet paper, but I’m still sitting here sniffing and blowing my nose. When I pulled out the toilet paper this morning, one of the Norwegian girls asked why I had it. It seemed obvious to me, but I told her it was to blow my nose.

Later, after I’ve sneezed a few dozen times and blew my nose twice, I was struck by a cultural difference. Apparently, it’s preferred to sniff repeatedly instead of blowing your nose. If you do blow your nose, you must go to the bathroom. The Norwegian girl told me I was breaking a cultural norm by blowing my nose in front of them. The only reason she told me was because she was certain I wouldn’t know. Since I was with friends and we’re studying, it’s normal for me to feel comfortable to blow my nose.

Breaking a social norm can be an uncomfortable experience. Generally, people won’t tell you that you’re doing it. Often times, they will pretend like everything is normal as to not draw attention to the behavior and to protect your image. But I was called out this time. She did it in a joking way, but I felt bad only in that I likely made them uncomfortable by my willingness to deal with a bodily issue in front of them.

My advice for incoming students: be you and do what you want, but also be aware of these norms. Disrupting deeply ingrained social norms can negatively impact your ability to make Norwegian friends here and you may not be lucky enough for someone to tell you.

 

Classes

Now that the semester is nearly over, I’ll share what my experience has been like in the class room. I have two courses, Scandinavian Politics and Norwegian. Let me say, it is a much different experience than what I have experienced at Berkeley in terms of teaching and exam style.

Students take 30 ECTS worth of classes and that’s the equivalent of Berkeley’s full course load. That breaks down into two or three classes depending on how many hours that course is worth. With that said, a person could take one class if it’s worth 30 ECTS. My classes are worth 45 ECTS since the the Norwegian course is such an intensive course. The amount of work associated with each class doesn’t feel as hectic as Berkeley classes but I think that has a lot to do witht the ideology rooted in the education here.

Norway and other Scandic countries are known for creating an education system that fosters personal responsibility. They’re serious. That means although a student may not have many, or any, homework assignments or midterms, they are still expected to keep up with the readings. The expectation that you keep up with your  reading is common at Berkeley too, but there are check points to ensure you are completing your work. At Berkeley, the structure of the classes and how the teaching style provide us an opportunity to engage the material. We learn to critically think and question the topics.

Education is like rock climbing a massive cliff. The American system uses carabiners attached to hooks in the mountain, while the Norwegian education system is like free climbing.The end of the climb is equivalent to taking that final exam. When you climb up a mountain, sometimes a climber will attach carabiners to fixed bolts in the wall. The idea is that if the climber falls while ascending the wall, these attached carabiners will catch him and prevent him from falling to his death. In this analogy, carabiners are eqivalent to the homework, quizzes, and midterms. The classes I take at UIB don’t have these carabiners, or safety nets. As I continue to climb this perverbial wall, I’m hoping the final exam doesn’t leave me free falling to the ground.

It can be a challenging experience transitioning from a system that constantly confirms you’re keeping up and understanding the material, to a system where it is your responsibility to learn the material by reading and completing the readings on time. While I feel like I’m easily scaling Mount Everest without the  assigned tasks, I hope I don’t slip and fall when I reach the top. I have some daily habits I use to ensure I don’t fall off the side of the mountain, but that’s a post for another day!