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.

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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.

Resources

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

Grønerløkka

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.

Apps

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.

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.

Olivia

Money and Finances

Norway is home of breathtaking views and the land of the oil. While it has neat amenities, such as wifi on the metro and in stores all throughout the city, virtually free education, and good food at volunteering events (this is a personal one. Read about my volunteer experience at the Bergen Øl Festival.) However, with all of these amenities, comes the consideration of cost. Norway is in fact an expensive country to live and attend school in. It’s one reason I’m so grateful for Seng and the Sociology Department for supporting me as I attend UIB this semester.

In this post, I’ll discuss international credit cards, cash and ATMs, budgeting, and methods to stay on track.

Typically, when you go to another country and use your debit or credit card, your bank charges you high fees and awful exchange rates since Norway uses the kroner (NOK) instead of the US dollar. In my experience, when I swipe my card, I’m thinking about the already high cost of the product and the fee my bank charges me to convert the money. The cost to convert the fee is dependent upon the cost of the initial product sooo, the more expensive the product, the more expensive the fee. Granted, these fees are relatively low, but they will add up if you use your regular debit/credit card.

You may consider just taking out cash at the ATM (or mini bank as they are referred to here) to avoid the fees, but that’s not gonna do it. You’re still charged the fees. There are a few ways to avoid such high fees and be prepared when you come. Having access to your money is an important aspect to consider when traveling abroad.

Credit Cards

I read up on international credit cards on Thomas K. Running’s post regarding the best bank accounts. He highlights a few cards specific to several countries. For those living in America, he suggests Charles Schwab and Capital One 360. If you prefer to go through your existing bank, call them and they will suggest some options for you. A friend of mine has the former and has had a great experience on her exchange in Denmark. It allows her to withdraw cash without the fees and refunds her if a mini bank charges her a fee. Get this international credit card before you leave the states. Here is how to set up the account.

Some cards charge a yearly fee for use, while others like Charles Schwab do not. Try to find a card that doesn’t charge ATM fees or annual fees. Do not get an American Express because it doesn’t work as freely as Visa or Mastercard!

Cash

As I mentioned, you can pull money out of mini banks. They are found all throughout the city and are often in a Meny (the grocery store), the mall, near a bank, or at a Narvaseen or 7-11. Locate the ones that work for you. There was only one ATM that I could find that would work for me so it was an issue when that store changed machines. My card no longer worked and I couldn’t pull out cash.

To avoid not having access to your cash, either get the international credit card or go to your bank and convert your money in the states before you come. See how much the fees are from your bank, but this could be a better option for you than withdrawing money at mini banks.

Budget

Budget your money. (One more time for the people in the back.) BUDGET YOUR MONEY. Budgeting your money means you decide beforehand how much you will spend for the month on various bills and activities and sticking to that predetermined amount. If you don’t know what it means to budget or how to budget, refer to this post from

Consider what I have said here and refer to Paris Riley’s post regarding how to budget for study abroad, which includes details about jobs, saving, and planning ahead.

When you create a budget at home, you want to have a trial month where you keep all of your receipts and track how much you spend on the different aspects of your life. Select categories like groceries, fun, traveling, transportation, and rent. The following month, you decide how much you can spend in each category.

How to Stay on Budget

Staying on budget can be as easy as not spending more than the budget has allotted you regardless of what happens. That can be a little hard sometimes when there is so much to do and see in a new country, but there are a few ways to stay on track without saying no to everything. And know that there is still spontaneity in planning.

Stop drinking, eating, and breathing. If you can’t do that, you can also:

  • Plan ahead – Flights through Europe are cheap, but if you’re buying them the day before New Years, the prices can easily triple. Decide on a few big things you want to do while you’re here, such as traveling to Ireland; find some friends, and start planning. Plan your trips around you, not people.
  • Preparation – Prepare dinners in bulk, prep lunches for school, bring snacks to avoid buying out.
  • Grocery store sales – Find the cheap grocery stores, such as Rema 1000 and Kiwi Pris. Compare prices and find the stores that are cheapest for you. I have had friends use the FlashFood app, which is used to fight food waste by giving grocery stores and hotels a platform to sell extra food or food that is close to expiring for incredibly discounted rates.
  • Buy alcohol at vinomonopolet or the airport when you take international trips, rather than buying drinks while you’re out at clubs and bars. A typical drink is around 70 NOK ~ $8.
  • Take advantage of student discounts on airlines, bybannen, train tickets , and museums. Look at the link below for more options.
  • Find ‘Free Days’ with companies. For example, KODE is free on Thursdays with your student ID.
  • Stay on track by deciding what you want ot do before you even leave California. Read about the post on hard boundaries and planning the type of exchange you want.
  • Expand your social network and you will learn of cool, cheap stuff to do. These are struggling students too so allow yourself to pick up some tips from them. Through your connections, you could end up sharing a dinner on Christmas with a bunch of international students.

I hope this post has helped you get a handle on the finance side of traveling abroad. Recognize that certain acpects of your finances should be dealt with before you leave California. You may have come to this post wondering and stressing about how you will manage living in one of the most expensive countries in the world. I hope you leave with resources to balance a semester of fun and studying, while not going into debt.

Tips 

Fløyen and Rundemanen

I hiked up Fløyen and Rundemanen with some friends from ESN, Erasmus Student Network, which is a student organization I joined. We’re planning a hike next week and today was the practice run to make sure we know the course. I wasn’t feeling so well so I planned on not going, but I got a message from one of the guys encouraging me to come. Although I was a bit late, I threw on some clothes, grabbed some apples, and jumped on Bybannen (the metro).

I met Benjamin and Robert with his three friends and we started up the path to Fløyen. It was just as challening as I remembered. The trail starts as a zigzag trail up the mountain – up flights of stairs and brief, yet steep paths. Even though it was challenging, it was a beautiful path! The three friends of Robert seriously work out and are in GREAT shape. They moved up the mountain really fast, but stopped now and then to wait for us…well, me… to catch up. I was lucky because Ben and Robert were super wonderful and walked at the same pace as me and helped me feel more comfortable about walking a little slower.

We reached the top of Fløyen, which is where I stopped last time, and saw it differently. I saw more troll statues and they were the neatest thing. There were a bunch of them – there were kid trolls, mom trolls, dad trolls, and even old trolls.

We continued on up the path and at this point, it was incredibly challenging. I felt kind of bad for holding up the three more advanced people, but over and over, they waited for us to catch up. We reached our destination, the grills that would be used during our hiking event, and went over more details about the day. I had lots of energy and wanted to walk more so we went higher. The crowds of tourists thinned as we trekked higher and gradually, the views of Bergen got better and better.

My lesson today: Build and maintain your network. It’s important to have people in your life who will support and encourage you when you feel especially low. The guys made sure I came and even offered to pick me up a sandwich for the top of the mountain.

Bergen Rain – Det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlig klær!

I went to the Humanities Library to get some studying in and I came across all of these umbrellas drying at the entrance. I thought it was so funny because there were SO MANY of them sitting there – different colors, sizes, and patterns. I shouldn’t have been so surprised since it was pouring outside.

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The city of Bergen is synonymous with rain. When anyone thinks of Bergen or describes the city to a visitor, they always talk about the constant rain and broken umbrellas. Up until this point, my experience in Bergen has been nearly void of the constant rain. My days have been full of sun, hikes, and jean jackets. The sun was quickly replaced with the heavy, constant rain that breaks umbrellas with ease.

Seeing all of those umbrellas showed that my warm Bergen summer was coming to an end, but also revealed more about the culture of Norway. The fact that everyone was so willing to leave their umbrellas at the entrance like this was an example of the deep trust Norwegians and Scandinavians as a people feel towards others and between one another.

Although the rain was a bit of a surprise, I’m more prepared for it and have a better idea how to dress. Norwegians would be proud of my progress considering they often use the phrase, “Det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlig klær.” It means there is no bad weather, just bad clother. Dress for the weather, and you’ll be plenty comfortable. I might pick up some of those rain pants I see so many wearing.

Byparken (the Village Park) is the first official park of Bergen houses the Grieg Sculpture.

Byparken (or the Village Park) is the first official park of Bergen. The Grieg Sculpture is at the center of the park and shows Edvard Grieg, the famous composer.

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Two umbrellas. This guy has the right idea with the powerful winds and rain coming from every direction.