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.

 

 

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! ❤

The Holocaust Memorial

The Holocaust Memorial, also known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, is located in Berlin a short walk Brandenburger Tor. The memorial is composed of rectangular pillars of varying heights, arranged in a grid-like pattern. You can look down one pathway and see through until the end of the memorial. You can see the curves of the ground as the entire grid is set on a wavering ground pattern.

The memorial is composed of 2,711 concrete blocks with 87 blocks going in one direction and 54 in the other. Aerial views of the memorial show that the ground is a bit hilly and almost makes the top of the blocks seem like a flickering metallic sheet.

I began my walk into the interactive memorial. I walked past the first of the stones that made up the memorial. They were low to the ground and mostly seemed like comfortable places to sit. With friends going down a different, yet parallel pathway, I walked further and deeper into the rows. The stones gradually raised in sized and they were quickly at shoulder length. I could see children and other tourists running around playing games.

I remember looking into the eyes of one teenager as he held his arms in the position of a fake gun with a huge grin on his face. I thought it was strange and insensitive to play such a game in a place like this – a space dedicated to thousands of murdered people. It shows how with enough time and lack of information, people forget the emotional connection these historical events have on us. That young man probably knows what the Holocaust was, but the event feels so far back in history that it’s not a big deal to pretend to shoot another person among the pillars of this sacred place. It makes me wonder how many years must pass for it to be okay to behave as if we don’t respect a space dedicated to such a significant moment in history? My friends returned to the safe outer limits of the memorial as I ventured on.

As I moved a bit further, it was nearly instantaneous that the shoulder length stones shot into the sky. It was an interesting trick of the eyes. The undulating ground steeps downwards as the pillars reach higher and higher into the sky. I became smaller and smaller twice as fast as I expected. One moment, it was a carefree atmosphere, surrounded by friends and kids playing make believe. And the next moment, I couldn’t breathe. I was overwhelmed and suffocated by the height of the pillars. It felt like the inescapable space was closing in on me. The parallel rows I had seen reach to the end of the memorial, now seemed endless. I spun in a circle looking for a way to escape – to escape the anxiety produced weight on my chest and the towering structures. I looked forward, right, behind me, and even to the last route of escape before I returned facing forward with an infinite number of pillars bounding beyond me. When the weight of the memorial was too much for me, I rejoined my friends.

I slowly walked out of the maze of pillars. They disappeared just as quickly as they appeared moments ago. I was taken aback that any memorial could have a physical affect on me. The memorial was remarkable because in some ways, the interactive manner of the piece helped me, and likely others, feel what the holocaust was like for those trapped within the walls and chained fences.

When we had finished, we walked away and shared our experiences. I find it necessary to point out that just like that, we walked away when we were finished feeling suffocated, overwhelmed, and lost in a maze. If only it was as easy for the victims of that historical event.

Martin brought up the location of the memorial and said there was great debate over where it would be. I looked up information on the location and choosing the center of Berlin was intentional. For example, it is set at the same location as the ‘death trap’ from the Berlin Wall. This section of the wall was a minefield filled with numerous traps, which would later kill an estimated 1,200 people. The location of the memorial is worthy of attention, yet I made a few other observations during my visit.

The towering structures of varying sizes all seemed to be about the same length. They looked like they were about the length of a casket, but a few inches longer. It seemed like their increasing size symbolized the increasing number of deaths and those thrown into the mass graves. However, I’m not sure if this was the intentional symbolism. In addition, from the outside, no one can feel or see how people feel what it’s like being trapped in the maze. Similarly, from an international perspective, people knew what was happening, but they didn’t know to what degree. They couldn’t imagine how disorienting it felt being in there.

The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, Germany is one of the most impactful monuments I have seen and experienced. The interactive design pulls viewers in and makes them feel how the Holocaust may have felt like to those involved: suffocating and inescapable. The memorial engulfs the person slowly and then all at once, the same pace as the Holocaust. While it is uncomfortable for the monument to produce such feelings, I think it’s necessary. It brings us closer to the events that happened years ago. This connection makes history come alive and hopefully, prevents us from allowing these moments from repeating themselves.

Which monuments and memorials move you and make you feel something you didn’t expect?

New Years In Berlin, Germany

Okay okay, so I’m at the airport in Sweden coming from my New Years in Berlin, Germany. This was a short, yet amazing first experience in such a historic city ,and country altogether. I spent time learning about some cultural differences, maintaining relationships formed with German exchange students in Bergen, and seeing as many significant sights as possible. The few days spent in Berlin were filled with moments of excitement and fun, but also the weight of what has happened here.

Berlin is the capital of Germany and one of the largest cities within the country with approximately 3.6 million people. I walked out of the airport into a cold, dreary day. The trees were withered and it was clear summer was long gone. The metro is a short walk of 5 minutes from the exit of the airport. I looked up information on the transportation system before I flew in so I quickly purchased my ticket and jumped on the train…the wrong train I later found out. As I rode the train into the city, I was transported back to a different time. One moment I’m filled with joy to see friends for New Years and the next, I’m imagining all of the Jews, blacks, and disabled people who were shipped to Auschwitz during the Holocaust. The freezing cold weather, withering trees, and the trembling and shaking of the old train added to this new atmosphere. I didn’t go into the train thinking of the awful Holocaust, but the sounds and images around the train brought the images flooding into my mind. Interestingly enough, the power of how my senses interpret the atmosphere would impact me later when I visited the Holocaust Memorial located at the heart of Berlin.

I finally arrived at my friend’s house in Mobit. We spent the first couple of days catching up and just living. We enjoyed meals together just as we had done sharing the kitchen back at Fantoft. It was so so good spending time with her again. Our other floor mate joined us a few days later. Lasse is knowledgeable about nearly every topic. When we walked around the city, he, Eva, and Martin were able to give historical context to what I was seeing. When we reached the different points in the city commemorating the Wall of Berlin, Eva and Lasse explained how it divided East and West Berlin, separating families and friends. It created an economic divide between the regions as well. While one side thrived, the people on the other side were struggling to survive. Even today, one side pays more taxes to make up for the disadvantages faced by the East.

We also visited Museum Island, which is a block in the city with five major museums very close together. The Berlin Cathedral is also in this area as well and it provides a great view of the Berlin Television Tower. On my last day in Berlin, we walked over to the Brandenburg Gate and the Holocaust Memorial. The interactive memorial is one of the most moving and impactful monuments I have seen. Walking though it physically and mentally changed how I felt in that moment.

The memorial had such a profound and memorable impact on me. When you experience something so moving, it can change how you perceive the world and your relationships with others.

 

Pepperkakenbyen

Back in November, I wrote a post about an event I hosted with ESN Bergen where we built gingerbread houses. Dozens of international students came to the event to roll dough, cut shapes, bake the fragrant dough into houses, and decorate them in different candies and chocolates. Mine was lovely because it was so tiny and had stained glass windows (yes, stained glass windows made from melted hard candy.) Each of these houses help make up the Pepperkakenbyen, also known as the WORLD’S LARGEST GINGERBREAD CITY!!

Each year, the innhabitants of Bergen come together to  build this gingerbread city! Children, students, and even organizations build their own houses and deliver them to the venue and they receive free tickets for entrance in exchange, otherwise, it’s 70 kroner.

I did this very Bergen activity with my American friend since it was one of his last days in the city. It was such a Bergen thing to do and it was well worth the experience. If you don’t participate in an event that gives you free acess, just know that the 70 NOK student discounted is well worth it!

As soon as I walked in, I was struck by the detail of the gingerbread titanic! It was amazing. When we walked further in, the magic of the event hit me. The first time I came to this venue was for a electronoic pop music night. The room was completely transformed. Painted walls were put up to help the visitors escape into a winter wonderland. The room was massive and was actually a giant, empty pool. As I walked around the room, the wave of gingerbread hit me repeatedly!

The collection of houses was massive. It replicated in good detail the city of Bergen from the Bybannen to the red stave church up on the hill. The best part was finding the gingerbread house I made during the ESN event.

There was giant slide for kids and a cafe/bar type thing for adults! Check it out!

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.