When I started this blog, I had every intention of updating once a week, but I’ve lived in Norway for almost a month (3 weeks and 4 days) and I haven’t posted anything since I first arrived. I feel somewhat sheepish about this... hopefully, I will find the motivation to write more often in the future.
In hindsight, I’m actually grateful that I did not blog after my first week here, because I was pretty miserable during my first few days. I was feeling very homesick. Now I’ve made friends, and things are going much better. Overall, my experiences so far have been a pretty mixed bag. I think I had very romanticized ideas about studying abroad before I left the states; I presumed everything would seem new and exciting, that I would meet many wonderful people, make interesting, intellectually-curious friends, and most of all, that I would love Norway and never want to go home. But sometimes I do want to go home because, let’s face it—moving to a new place can be difficult and lonely, especially when you leave behind all of your friends and family and you barely speak the language. Some days have been really great, and others have been disappointing. So, it’s just real life—ikke sant? (Norwegians use this phrase regularly in conversation. It means, “is it not true?”)
Here are some of the positives:
I am making obvious progress in my ability to understand and speak Norwegian. When I first arrived, I understood almost nothing that Norwegians said. I found this incredibly frustrating. (“What have I been doing for the past three semesters?!”) I still am unable to comprehend the general ideas behind what most people say, but at least I can now pick out words and phrases, and often I can fill in the gaps of what I don’t understand using contextual clues. It doesn’t feel like I’ve made a sudden breakthrough or anything, but it seems that I’m headed in the right direction.
As a side note, the Norwegian language is incredibly varied (despite the fact that it is spoken by a mere 5 million people)—which makes learning rather complicated. I don’t think I’ve ever really appreciated just how homogenous American English is by comparison. For the most part, all 300 million inhabitants use the same system of spelling, grammar, vocabulary and yes, even pronunciation. Norway, in contrast, has two official written languages—Bokmål and Nynorsk, and over 50 spoken dialects. Another unforeseen hurdle is that I’ve encountered both Swedish and Danish in the classroom, as all three languages are mutually intelligible. At Luther, I have learned only Bokmål, which is the preferred system in Oslo, so I was unprepared for all of the linguistic variety I’ve encountered in Bø.
Another wonderful aspect of Norway has been learning to cross-country ski! I was concerned we would need to pay a fortune for our own gear, but the school has equipped every single one of us in my Frilufttsliv class with high-quality gear to use at our leisure for the entire semester, free of charge. (Friluftsliv is a Norwegian ideology and way of interacting with nature that translates roughly to “free outdoor life.”) I’ve fallen down a lot, but I’m learning—and it is delightful! Especially since we’ve gotten what seems like a meter of snow in the past week, falling down has been extra cushy! On Friday our class went on a skiiing excursion around the track behind the school, and at one point we were gliding through a pine forest with snow flakes falling quietly around us. It was just so pleasant! I wish I had had my camera, but pictures always seem to take away the magic of the moment anyway.
There are no student groups run officially through the school, but I’ve joined a community choir in the area. It’s so refreshing to sing at least once a week, and all the other members have been very kind and welcoming to me. Even though most of them are one or even two generations older than me, I feel I’ve connected with them more than any Norwegians my own age. We’re currently preparing for a concert in March, and I’ve truly enjoyed our rehearsals. (Though I still miss being in Collegiate Chorale at Luther....) We also practice in on a rotating basis in several area churches. These buildings are small, beautiful and medieval—almost 1,000 years old. Unfortunately, I haven’t taken any pictures of the ornate illustrations on the inside, but here’s what the church in Bø looks like from the outside:
One of my coolest experiences so far was singing Gregorian chant in Nynorsk inside Nes kyrkje (Nes church). It felt like drifting back in time to take part in something ancient and spiritually significant.
Most of the friends I’ve made here so far have been other international students. The majority come from either the United States, Spain, the Czech Republic, or Slovakia—there are probably about a dozen students from each of these four countries. Additionally, there are one or two each from Latvia, Lithuania, France, and Germany. I’ve only really met two or three Norwegian students so far. I was hoping for a something like a community feel when I moved into my house in Breisås (I miss you, second floor south cluster—especially my roomie, Hannah Strack!), but with the exception of Kim, the man who lives across the hall from me, I basically can’t tell that my other housemates exist (I still haven’t met two of them)—until they start to party, that is. I’m a pretty light sleeper, and last night they kept me up until 6 am. I’m still kind of sore about that. Since this is shaping up to be a pattern, I’ve seriously started to consider moving.
In general, something that has been difficult for me to adjust to is that social life in Norway—at least among young people—seems to be so contingent upon participating in the party culture. Celebrating all night until dawn and then sleeping until mid-afternoon seems to be pretty typical weekend behavior here in Bø. I can keep up with this pace for a little while, but I find it extremely draining. I miss talking to people one on one or in small groups, and doing low-key, largely sober activities.
Speaking of parties, the international students had an 80’s-themed party in the Breisås common room last night. It was fun to see everyone in costume, but the best surprise was discovering that some of the Europeans had spent the entire morning constructing an elaborate ice bar out of snow! Check it out:
I also got a video of some of the Czech/ Slovakian men singing this traditional (I presume) song while we were outside. The video quality is pretty poor, but I was impressed with the impromptu performance:
If that doesn't work, here's the link:
Having all of this snow is pretty nice, but I must admit that I really miss the sunshine. It’s almost always cloudy these days. My new friend Kari from choir (who happens to be a former Luther professor) said that “it feels like crawling out of a suitcase” when the light finally comes back. What a perfect image. I can't wait to get crawling.
But it’s still beautiful now. Here’s one more view from my window: