Plan an intentional semester around your motivations to study in Norway

When you ride in a kayak, one of the first lessons you’re taught is to paddle straight. A rule of thumb is to look forward, pick a stationary point, and paddle towards it. This method will prevent you from being distracted by the unstable and shaking tip, or bow, of the kayak. Having a point to follow keeps you balanced, stabilized, and moving in the direction you want to be in – a straight line.

It can be challenging while in Norway to stay on your own course, not being distracted by the different goals of those around you. Living in any one of Norway’s breathtaking cities, from Oslo to Tromsø, will be one of the best times of your life. You’ll be surrounded by people from all over the world, vast fjords, and mountains that seem to soar endlessly into the sky. Each of these aspects, and more, are significant and meaningful for your experience, however, they are not the only reason you are here. Like each of these world travelers you’ll meet, you have a unique reason for being here and its important you remember what that is.

Imagine you are in a kayak paddling around a pool, training for the rushing rivers you will paddle through during June. In this analogy, the environment of the pool is Norway and the bow of the kayak is everything you will experience here, from the various student clubs and coursework to the socializing with international students and the night life. It is your job to identify your stationary point you will work towards to avoid being distracted and pulled off of your course while in Norway. Remember, picking your own point to focus on does not halt everything going on in the pool – the water will still surge around  and other kayakers will be still be floating around you.

Before I arrived, I finetuned my motivations for being here. I wanted to make career related connections with policy workers, get volunteer experience to help me prepare for a research project I’m interested in, figure out if I wanted a masters degree in comparative  and international education policy.

Answer the following questions to help to organize your time here:

  1. What experience do you want to have?  
    1. traveling, career development, build and expand network, learn about European and Scandinavian culture
  2. Be more specific, and decide what do you want to do while here?
    1. Go to Lofoten/Ireland, information meetings with organizations related to my field, make friends and do things with international students and/or Norwegian students
  3. What do you want to do here that you can’t do anywhere else?
    1. hike through fjords, fjord boat ride, seeing the Northern Lights, special conferences related to your area of interest, learn about cultures by hanging out with people daily (it’s not the same to build a relationship via Facebook)
  4. Skills you want to develop?
    1. be more outspoken, developing research skills, time management, being self-motivated, maintaining relationships, cooking a Spanish Paella or German beer
  5. Which organizations or activities will help you achieve that experience?
    1. join a sports club, volunteer with the RedCross or at a student bar, attending office hours, organize a weekly dinner with international friends where you each cook a different meal

I answered each for myself and they have helped me to stay on track with what I want to achieve by the end of my time in Norway. You semester or year abroad will go by fast if you don’t organize what you want to do beforehand. Don’t let this time pass you by without doing something about it!! Plan and do it! 

A kayak is sensitive to the movement of your body and the waters around you. If you lean too far forward or your knee presses too hard to the top of one side of the boat, you’ll find yourself veering off. It may be challenging to go straight following your own path, but if you pick a point to follow, you’ll find that you’re kayak moves just where you want it to be – straight ahead, accomplishing your intentionally set goals.

Ps. its useful to make a bucket list of all the things you want to do and places you want to visit while in Norway. I will write another post about that later.

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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.

 

 

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 

Application Process

 

The application process for attending universities in Norway is facilitated by Seng in the Sociology office. She is incredibly helpful. She provided a to-do-list that made applying and meeting deadlines much easier. The purpose of this post will be to go over the forms and offices you will need to contact in order to come to Norway.

There aren’t many forms, but what was most challenging about these forms was that each form required signatures from several offices. With that said, I had to email to each office and receive it before sending it off to the next office. Therefore, it’s important to keep deadlines in mind and be sure to start as soon as you know you plan to go to go to Norway.

In preparation for the University of Bergen, I picked up the Independent Study Abroad (ISA) packet and filled out the following forms:

  • Planned Leave of Absence
  • Course Evaluation
  • Consortium Application
  • UDI

Planned Leave of Absence

  • The advisor responsible for this aspect of the application responds quickly.
  • Deadline: Fall – October 15 and Spring – April 15
  • Cost: $70

Course Evaluations

  • This is essentially a summary of the courses you plan to take. It’s fast and easy and should be submitted to the Study Abroad Office.

Consortium Application

  • This is the form you pick up from the Financial Aid advisors in the Study Abroad Office. They will email it to you if you physically cannot go into the office. This was the most bothersome form because it needed signatures from three offices. GET THIS DONE. One page is sent to UIB exchange office to sign and this same form then must be signed by the Sociology advisor. The Sociology advisor signs the other form.

UDI

  • UDI is responsible for issuing visas. There are two parts: online application and a physical appointment at an embassy or business that processes these forms. To set your appointment, you must complete the online application. They essentially only need names of your parents, siblings, addresses, and names of schools, etc. At this point, they don’t ask for scans of passports.
  •  When this online app is submitted, you set an appointment, which could be up to a month away. To this appointment, you will bring several things: your printed online application, colored copies of your passport, passport pictures, admission letter, bank statement, etc. Again, pretty easy. By this point in the process, it’s the end of the semester and you may be putting off the application. Let me say, just fill out the online application. You’ll get an appointment sooner.
  • I was in Washington DC when I completed this part. The appointment dates were lacking so I was able to sign up for an emergency appointment. This just meant that I was leaving the country soon and desperately needed them to review the information. Avoid being in that position.

Tips:

  • Watch for deadlines! I don’t have relationships with the people handling my forms in Norway so you may not have that wiggle room you’ve previously used to finesse you’re way through deadlines.
  • Independent Study Abroad packet can be found at the Study Abroad Office, Admissions (Sproul 103), or you can print it online. The form is updated yearly so be sure you have the updated copy if you find it online.
  • Just finish the online application for UDI. It asks for basic demographic information. You don’t need forms until you walk in for your appointment one month later.

 

 

My Housing

Since my room is in some kind of order, I figured now would be a perfect time to show you where you’ll likely live. I’ll describe both my own living situation and in another post, describe other possibilities and more details on Fantoft. Many places are considered student accommodation, like Alrek, apartment style places in the city, Fantoft (where I live), and more.

Fantoft is a student housing option operated by Studentsamskipnaden, also known as SIB. SIB runs housing and some additional areas such as gym access. Fantoft is composed of five buildings, referred to as blocks (block A, B, C, D, etc.) Some buildings are as high as eighteen floors and accomodate hundreds of students. There is a gym onsite and the Fantoft Klubb, which I’ll talk about later.

I live in a private room with my own bathroom. I share the kitchen with about eight students who live on my floor. We have separate spaces in the refrigerator, a lockable cabinet, and share the task of cleaning the kitchen. My room has desk built into the wall that spans across one wall of the room with five spacious shelves built above it. There is also a cozy bed (you need to supply your own sheets).

The closet space is quite generous too. To my right of the entrance is a double closet (about five feet wide) with an overhead shelf. On my left is the set of drawers. There are five large draws, a large cubby space, and two smaller drawers higher up.

I live on a higher floor and have a view of the forest. It’s relaxing to hear the wind blow through them at night. It’s even more beautiful to see the colors change over the course of five months.

Fast Tips:

The earlier you arrive, the more room options you have! I arrived on August 5th and although I selected something like this on my application, they gave me a choice as to the type of room I wanted in Fantoft. *Ask what are my options!

Bring one or two sets of sheets from home. They easily fit in your bag if you prioritize them over that pair of shoes and it’ll save you money when you arrive.

I bought an inexpensive quilt here! You could get lucky and do the same.

Two methods for buying gently used items: the Facebook page similar to free and for sale and 2) the “Fantoft Garage” hosted at the beginning of the semester until the stuff is gone. It’s a physical room where you can buy Ikea tables (as seen in the picture) for 15 NOK ($1.70), hiking boots, pans, etc.

Is 34 degrees too cold for sandles…? (Must haves to bring to Bergen during Fall semester)

It snowed yesterday!!! Temperatures dropped and in the midst of an evening out, it started snowing. For someone from California who spent her last vacation in a tropic place, a few snowflakes suddenly made me feel like I was in a winter wonderland. I stood outside surrounded by Australians and Columbians catching snowflakes on our tongues. It looked like a scene from a movie, especially with the unfazed people standing under cover watching our eyes light up with the unexpected flurry of flakes. By morning, the seven mountains surrounding Bergen were covered in snow.

As the days get somewhat colder, I consider which items I’ve needed for the fluctuating weather of Bergen. I didn’t take seriously the necessary preparation for living in a country with such a different climate from California. While I am comfortable now, there are some items that I would have preferred to bring from home.

The items I suggest to you are merely suggestions, but the list should get you seriously thinking about what your time in Bergen will look like in terms of which activities you will participate in and how cozy you want to be.

The weather in Bergen is generalized as being very rainy. Last year, it rained about 274 days out of 365 days. That’s about 75% of the time. I expected that, but the weather this fall was incredible. There were many sunny and even more days that it didn’t rain at all, well … hard. Since weather is unreliable, it’s best to heed Norwegians’ common phrase ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing,’ and be prepared for anything.

A good coat

  • You NEED a rain jacket. You need something that is going to be water resistant. That can be something that ends at your waist or something like mine that reaches halfway down my thigh. When it rains here, it rains from every side so it’s nice to have a bit more protection on my legs.
  • It also gets very cold so it’s nice to have something with more bulk, like a wool pea coat or a thick waterproof jacket. I prefer the latter. If you shop around, you can find a two layered jacket that has a rain jacket and winter jacket that you can wear together or separate.

Rain pants

  • Some people even go as far as getting rain pants, which are worn over their outfit for the day. You’ll see dozens of Norwegians wearing these. I don’t have them and have survived

Wool Socks

Long Underwear made of wool

  • I didn’t think I needed these, but they have saved me on those 30 degree days. They are even thin enough to wear under your tightest skinny jeans

Hiking boots/ Rain Boots/ Running shoes with traction (Nike Freeruns aren’t going to cut it)

  • If you’re smart about how you shop, you can find waterproof hiking boots that could be comfortable enough for daily rain and weekend hikes

Sweaters

  • Bring a wool or fleece sweater that you can wear daily and on hikes.

Scarf/ Beanie

  • I like knit scarves, but those tend to be bulky and get in the way for daily use. I found a cozy one here on sale for $12. Some people wear beanies here, but I have lots of curly hair to keep me plenty warm

Gloves

  • Mittens or gloves made of leather, wool, or something cozy. It’s nice when they have cozy material inside

Waterproof backpack cover

  • This isn’t clothing, but just as important as a good jacket

Bring that one clothing item you take for granted

  • I love my pullover Cal hoodie. I didn’t think I would need it, but I realize this is one of those things that actually makes me very comfortable

Layering is your friend. Learn how to do it properly to be as comfortable as possible when the temperatures drop in Bergen.

Useful Apps

From the moment I arrived in Bergen, I realized there was an app for everything – from searching to the northern lights, to finding a bus driving to the breathtaking waterfalls of Voss. The list highlights apps based on both personal and friends’ experiences,  that have turned out to be incredibly useful. Another plus is that they were all free!

I encourage you to download these before you arrive to both avoid using your precious data and to familiarize yourself with each of them before you need them. Although all of these are available for Iphone, you’ll have to double check if there is an option for other phones.

Whatsup App is what everyone uses to communicate with one another. It’s great because it uses data or wifi and allows you to contact anyone regardless of which country they are from. There is texting, group messages, audio messages, and even face time. The app also links with the exisiting contacts in your phoen.

XE Currency allows you to quickly see currency transitions.

Skyss is the app responsible for local transportation. You typically buy a Skyss card, with the student discount, when you first arrive in Bergen. The card allows you access to most of the busses and bybannen, or metro. Keep in mind, I mostly use Skyss Reise.There are three apps that will help you go further in exploring Bergen and the surrounding regions.

  • Skyssbillett allows you to buy tickets via app instead of using the kiosk. This is useful when you want to skip the lines, which is long when you take the night bybannen (metro). You have to buy special tickets trips after a certain hour.
  • Skyss Reiseplanlegger (online websitehelps you plan trips. It’ll tell you which buses to take and where to catch them. I’ve had great experience with it.
  • Skyss reise gives a time table for the bybannen and shows the entire line and stops.

Visit Norway shows you numerous activities you can be doing all over Norway instead of sitting in your room.

Norway Lights shows you when is the best night to see the Northern Lights. It’s awesome because it includes a bunch of cities. I have’t seen the Northern Lights yet, but with the help of the app, some of my friends have!

Maps.me is a resource I recently downloaded with a friend’s high praise of it. It gives you access to an offline map. Maps are organized by different region and the map for the region you are in will pop up on the screen. Note* you must download that particular maps information before you can use it offline. With that said, don’t go on an unknown hiking trail expecting to use the map if you haven’t downloaded both the app AND the maps you need.