Sunday, January 30, 2011

End of month one

As the month of January comes to a close, I look back on my experiences from my first month abroad and think to myself, “There were a LOT of things I wish I had known before getting here…”  That said, I’ve started to create a list of helpful survival tips to anyone planning to come here.
  1. Learn your alphabet and numbers.  It will help with pronunciation as well as help you not feel lost in an alien world when you want to buy a sandwich at the train station.
  2. Norwegians are very nice about speaking English to you if you don’t know any Norwegian, but it always feels better to ask them in Norwegian if they can speak English to you.  The phrase “Snakker du engelsk?” (snock-er doo eng-gelsk -> with a hard “g” not a soft “g”) means “Do you speak English?”  Also, “Unnskyld, jeg forstår ikke norsk” (oon-shilled yai for-shtor eek-eh norshk) means “I’m sorry, I don’t understand Norwegian.”  Put those phrases together and you’ve got it made.
  3. Ugg boots (or at least imitation ugg boots), while warm and fuzzy, will not give you adequate traction until you’ve been here for a couple of weeks and are confident in your ability to walk on packed snow.  Even with proper traction on your snow boots, though, you WILL fall down at some point.
  4. At grocery stores you have to ask for a bag and they will almost always charge you for it.  You’ll have to collect a few at first but never leave home without one if you’re planning on shopping.
  5. Laundry soap is powdered and goes in the middle slot in the washing machine (and only use a little amount).  The emblem that looks like a flower signifies fabric softener.  Don’t put your soap in there.
  6. When you do your laundry, after your clothes dry they will feel crunchy.  Do not panic.  They do not need to be rinsed again.
  7. When people tell you the snow sparkles here, it’s true.  However, you won’t have any comprehension of what that really means until you see it for yourself.  It is magnificent.
  8. If you go in the spring, take the class called “Individuals, Environs, and Society.” It is the best class ever.  Half of the time you are playing outside in the snow or skiing and the other half is spent learning about the history of Norway and why outdoor life is so important to Norwegians.  Our professor has been teaching us how to ski and it is so much fun!
  9. If you think you already know how to ski and you sign up for this class, you’ll soon find out that everyone of every skill level falls down at some point while learning.  We use cross-country skis here and my friends who have years of experience alpine skiing had a lot of trouble.
  10. People will talk about Kroa, the student club that has dances and parties and other activities, but I would recommend Nabo (the good neighbor) over Kroa.  Kroa costs money and while it’s fun, it gets expensive.  Nabo, however, hosts “wine night” every Monday which is when they sell wine for half price.  You don’t need to buy anything to drink, though, and they have dancing and tables to sit at (it’s a restaurant) and it’s free to get in.  It’s also an easier place to converse with Norwegians because it’s not as loud inside as in Kroa. 
  11.  Carry your hat with you always during the snowy months.  Even if it seems like it isn’t that cold when youget dressed in the morning, a frozen forehead is a terrible feeling.
I have truly enjoyed my experiences thus far, however, and learning as you go along is one of the biggest components to studying abroad.  I’ve become a lot braver in the experiences that I’m willing to try and even in this first month I’ve become a stronger person for that.  With the amount of times that I have fallen down while learning to ski, at home I would’ve given up.  Here, I just laugh it off along with everyone else and get up and keep going.  As Ms. Frizzle would say on The Magic School Bus: “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!”

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Made it!

On Tuesday, January 4th the plane's wheels touched down and I was officially in Norway.  After two flights and a four hour layover in Newark, New Jersey, I was ready to be here.  As soon as I stepped off of the plane and looked through the windows to the outside world, I was in awe.  There was snow everywhere!  I knew there would be, but coming from Oregon where a good snow day leaves a couple of inches of slushy snow on the ground, this place was heaven.  I'm sure the Norwegians walking past me were instantly labeling me as a tourist as I kept stopping to look outside and take pictures, but that was fine with me.  Never before had I seen such remarkable snow.  And to top it all off, it was snowing!  Snow in Oregon comes in waves of big, fluffy clusters and wet drizzles, but here it's a constant trickle of little tiny snowflakes.
After another four hour wait at the train station, I was finally on the train zipping through the cities and countryside.  It was about 3:00 pm when my train left the station so it was already starting to get dark.  It was a remarkable journey, though, as every city and hillside was also covered in that same blanket of untouched white splendor.  I couldn't believe that I was going to be living here for the next five months.  It seemed like a dream come true!  I couldn't wait to see what the little town of Bø would look like.
Once I finally reached the station in Bø, Lisa (the coordinator for students from the US) and a student assistant named Randa were there to great me.  They were both so nice and helpful and it was already such a relief to be speaking English to people.  (Clerks in stores will speak English if you ask them to, but it's daunting when everyone around you is speaking Norwegian.)  After a quick stop at the grocery store before heading to my apartment, I was moved in and left to my own devices.  At this point I unpacked a few things and tried to call my parents.  However, my cell phone didn't have service and the internet phone that I had purchased wasn't working because I didn't have any internet... nor did I have a plug adapter that fit into the outlets (the prongs fit but the outlets here are round and recessed so my converter didn't fit into them.)  So at 7:30 I crashed on my bed and went to sleep, feeling worried about my parents and not being able to let them know that I was ok.  The next day, however, I was able to get an adapter and get connected to the internet so that I could call my parents.  I felt much, much better after that.
The next two days after that the new international students had orientation activities that consisted of a tour of the campus (one building), a tour of the town, a trip to the local museum (we made bread in a brick oven!), registering for our classes, and receiving our residence permits at the police station.  I have already become friends with a couple of girls, Lisa and Megan (also from the US), and have met and had conversations with most of the international students from other countries.  Everyone is very nice and very excited to be here.  I have also met a couple of my apartment mates.  One of which, Julie, was extremely friendly and said that she would take care of me.  I was very happy at that, especially since I was expecting everyone to be very aloof.  A lot of Norwegians are (stereotypes do exist for a reason) but obviously not everyone is going to be.
I am looking forward to tonight, the international students are being treated to pizza in town and then there is a party at the student club, Kroa.  Then on Monday we start our classes.  The strange thing will be only having each class once a week, but one of the American students who has been here for awhile said that teachers here are more like coaches who help guide us through the learning process.  It sounds very different from school in America but I am excited to try it out!


PS.  The biggest "shock" that I have encountered hasn't been culture shock... it's been sticker shock!  The standard of living here is higher than in the US so everything is a lot more expensive.  A small pot cost me about $35 USD.  I am definitely going to have to be thrifty with my grocery money...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Getting ready!

This was actually written on 1/2/11

My flight takes off from Portland in just over 12 hours.  I must admit, I am both excited and a little scared!  I've traveled abroad several times before, but this will be the longest that I'll ever have been away from home.  Even when I am at Linfield I can easily be home in about 35 minutes.  So... 5 months of being in a different country with no one else that I know is a bit daunting.  However, I love going on adventures, so I just have to keep my chin up and trek on!  This will definitely be a learning experience for me in many ways.  Not only will I be learning about the beautiful culture around me in Norway, but I will also learn a lot about myself and how I can handle being completely independent.  My parents are very nervous about me leaving but  hopefully having a phone that they can easily call me at will help out a lot.
Well, I suppose I should probably finish packing... what an adventure that has been in and of itself!  I'll post again once I'm in Norway.  Happy New Year, everyone!