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.

Souvenirs!

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?!?!?!?

A NORWEGIAN-MADE WOOL SWEATER!!!

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

Christmas With Tine!

Christmas and the wintery months are my favorite time of year. Not because of the cold temperatures, but because of the warmth of the atmosphere. I’m surrounded by family and since the semester is generally over, I’m also with friends who have come home from their respective universities. This year, I’m a little far from home, but have been lucky enough to share the holiday with Tine and her beautiful family. This Christmas was even more special than usual because I got to experience a true Norwegian Christmas with the unique traditions.

December 23rd is the beginning of the Christmas celebrations. It’s a little earlier than most people in America celebrate and this day is full of neat traditions. This day is known as “Little Christmas Eve” and for me, it is a cozy way to start all of the festivities. When I arrived at the house, the family immediately started speaking with me in Norwegian. It threw me off since most people begin with English when they know you’re not Norwegian. I quickly realized Tine told them to only speak with me in Norwegian to help me practice. It was challenging, but I was more comfortable by the end of the night.

On the 23rd, most families decorate the Christmas tree. Tine’s sister went with red and silver theme. The kids decorated as we watch and ate delicious snacks. When they walked away for a while, Tine and I rearranged some of the ornaments and luckily they didn’t notice.

We celebrated Little Christmas Eve by eating risengrøt and drinking gløgg. Risengøt is a creamy, rice porridge, which is served with butter, cinnamon, and sugar. An almond is hidden within the porridge and the person who finds it, gets a gift or some kind of surprise marzipan pig. The youngest girl, who was maybe 7, tried to eat as many bowls as she could to increase her chances of finding the almond. They told stories of kids making themselves sick just to find the almond. Tine actually found it in her first bowl and hid it in her mouth until everyone finished. We also drank gløgg, which is similar to the German Glühwein. It is a drink made with many tasty spices, like cinnamon and cardamom. Raisins and almonds are also added. It has become one of my FAVORITE beverages because it is the essence of Christmas and the warm atmosphere that comes with generosity and spending time with family and friends.

We ended the evening by watching TV programs and writing Santa a note. Every year, NRK, the Norwegian public media platform, shows a children’s Christmas show. The season lasts the length of the December month and there is a new season every year. It’s tradition to watch this show and it’s heartwarming to hear older Norwegians remember watching the same program when they were kids. When the program ends and before the kids prepare for bed, the youngest girl who still believes in Santa Clause wrote a note to Santa Clause. She also left out a bowl of risengrøt for the reindeer. It was the cutest thing!!! As kids, we left Santa cookies, but it was thoughtful and endearing to leave items for the reindeer too.

We headed to sleep and woke up to Christmas Eve, the day full of action. This day is full of breakfast together, presents, and dinner later. The breakfast was an assortment of pålegg, or things you put on top of an open-faced sandwich. There was salmon, hollandaise sauce, and tomatoes, and eggs, and my god it was delicious. We had some tea and moved onto a few presents.

Generally opening presents is an all day thing so Norwegians start unwrapping in the morning. At home in the U.S., we open all of the presents on Christmas day. Each person is surrounded by their presents and goes to town ripping off paper. In Norway, one child is assigned the task of handing out presents. One person will open their present, say their thanks, and the next gift is opened. This way seems nice because it forces people to slow down and show their gratitude and appreciation for each gift.

In the middle of all of these presents and sandwiches, it started snowing. As Tine drove me home, I reflected upon my first true Norwegian Christmas. It was such a neat experience. The traditions were new and I hope to continue some of them. I loved the food and the gløgg. I loved the idea of a Little Christmas Eve where you just eat loads of candies and snacks and watch tv and eat some more. Anything involving food are things I am interested in.

Special shoutout to Tine for inviting me over and sharing such and intimate time of year with me! ❤

Phone Services

When you land at the Bergen airport, you’re going to want to jump up either because you’re full of excitement or you need to walk off that twelve hour flight. Regardless of your reason, you’ll nonetheless want to take pictures and post everything you see. You might notice that your phone isn’t working, internet isn’t connecting, you essentially have no connection to the outside world (regardless of standing in the middle of an airplane surrounded by people.)

That brings me to my next post: cellular devices and data. As I have mentioned several times, free wifi is of abundance in Bergen, Norway. The people and the city are all quite generous when it comes to this luxury. The free giving of it shows how they may perceive it as a right as opposed to a privilege especially in an age of mass consumption of technology. Wifi can be found on the bybannen, on buses, and free at most restaurants. You even have access to EduRoam as a student of UCB or UIB.

This post is for the people who want service in between these frequent hotspots of wifi. You may just turn on your roaming data and use the data from your plan at home. I will tell you first hand, that is a massive mistake. – One more time for the people in the back – Don’t do it! Your bill of $40 will jump up to $300 faster than you can say, “But I need to post this!” or “People have to know what I’m doing.” Don’t do it.

Avoid unnecessary fees by purchasing a SIM card at your local narvasen or 7-11. They will sell you a sim card for some phone company and you follow up with them. There are two kinds of SIM services: prepaid and pay as you go. I bought a sim card that’s prepaid, meaning I buy a plan with a certain amount of data and phone calls and I have it for a month or up to 30 days for the data. Pay as you go is more like you’re charged for what you do. I like the former option. It’s worked best for me.

How to Activate SIM Card

Buy the SIM card at one of the aforementioned mentioned stores and bring your passport. They will have you fill out a form which includes your passport number and other details. It will be activated in no more than 48 hours. If your phone doesn’t work, go into the store and tell them so they can resubmit the form.

SIM cards and their contact information:

My call <- mine. Great experience. They have sales on data during Christmas time, such as buy one MB of data for two MB. There is also a chat function on the website. They can charge your card on file from their end, which can be convenient.

Chess Their website is in Norwegian, but they have a chat feature and most Norwegians know English.

Tips

  • Pick up a SIM card in the first week.
  • Don’t use your data from home! It will put a dent the size of Texas in your funds.
  • Be aware of the status of your phone. Depending on your situation, your phone may need to be unlocked in order to use other SIM cards.

 

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 

Getting to Bergen and Fantoft

The purpose of this post was to essentiallly describe with detailed pictures how you reach Fantoft (assuming that is your home) from the airport. However, Stand Heistand, the international student blogger for UIB, has already written a clear post about arrival. Therefore, I will simply tell you about my experience arriving and an alternate transportation option to reach Fantoft.

When I arrived in Bergen, I was incredibly lucky because I already knew Norwegians who lived here. I met them back in Berkeley and have kept in touch with them. My friend Lune described which bus to take to reach the city center and greeted me when the bus arrived.

After getting off of the plane, I already had a good idea of how I would find them. But let me say, I arrived and my phone didn’t work. I failed to get a travel plan with my phone company that would allow me to make calls and have data, etc. I couldn’t connect to the internet and I was kind of freaking out. My first time seriously out of the country and I was already a nervous wreck. I finally figured out how to reach my friend and all was good. I made it and you will too.

I took the bus to the city center where I met Lune. She helped me drag my heavy bags up the hill in the direction of the Student Center and her home. She was awesome because she hosted a party, kind of in my honor, to help me meet more people. Over the next two days, I became more familiar with the city, public transportation, navigating the university, and even began building my community of friends.

After picking up my keys from the Student Center, I was ready to head to Fantoft. As I walked out of Lune’s house with my two suitcases, her roommate asked me where my rain jacket was. He was nervous for me when he realized I didn’t have one at the moment so  he kindly lent me his sister’s jacket.

That soft drizzle turned to a downpour as I began my walk to the bybannen. Walking through Nygårdsparken, my arms started getting tired and I honestly wasn’t sure how I would make the rest of the walk through pouring rain and carrying such heavy bags. As I struggled down a set of stairs in the rain, I was fortunate enough to come across a woman who would end up helping me reach Fantoft. Since she was already walking to bybannen, she carried one of my suitcases and guided the way. She helped me buy a ticket, practice a bit of Norwegian, and lucky for me, find my room in Fantoft since she also lived in this student accomodation. Later into the semester, she even gave me three Norwegian grammar books!!

I am so grateful to have met such a kind, remarkable person here in Bergen. She was my first experience with Norway and the meeting, has been the essence of my time in Bergen.

Useful Website: Norway Railways and Bergen Bystasjonen

Tip: Take the free 1F from the airport to bybannen at the end of the line.