Deciding to spend a semester studying overseas has undoubtedly been the greatest experience I’ve had to date. The people, the culture, the course and the nature all combine to make this experience what it is.
I’m in Norway studying Outdoor Education and Nordic Friluftsliv. I’m located in Sogndal, which is a town along the second largest fjord in the world. Some would describe the area as ‘eye candy’. It’s absolutely incredible here and my poetic ability does not do this place justice. Every morning I’m greeted by the mountains, rivers and the ocean. It’s an adventure seekers paradise and with many outdoor activities so accessible, it’s common to go on an adventure in your time off. It’s as if there is a contagious vibe to go out and ‘get amongst it’. Norwegians call it ‘Friluftsliv’ – the outdoor way of life. That leads me to my course.
When studying Friluftsliv it is more than likely to spend some time outside and I have definitely received my fair share; rain, hail or shine (Or snow and gail winds in my case). As my lecturer (He’s a Scandinavian Bear Grylls) would say, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, there’s only bad clothing.” He also believes in the concept of learning by freezing! The outdoors have been my classroom largely but with winter approaching we will be retreating to four walls and a blackboard more often – less learning by freezing and more learning by blackboard!
The educational approach here places a high value on authentic/real life experiences and we have certainly encountered plenty of them over the last 3 months. Here are some: hiking countless kilometres through mountains, forests and roads; picking way too many wild blueberries and raspberries; sea kayaking around the islands in western Norway; making friends with stray sheep and goats; walking and climbing in and on glaciers; seeing the northern lights; endless hours of fishing and general campsite activities. We still have an intro to skiing day and a multi-day winter excursion to come. With that said, the course isn’t all fun and games and we do cover a fair amount of theoretical content. I’m not complaining though!
Part of what has made this experience so great is the people and the culture. Deciding to uproot from where you live and move to the other side of the world for 6 months brings on a number of emotions. It’s exciting and daunting at the same time. I was pleasantly surprised with how quickly I made friends and became comfortable in my new home. I guess being surrounded with so many like-minded people in the same situation makes it easy to create friendships and integrate. I have made some friends for life and yet I’ve only known them for 3 months. When you share the same tent for a few nights every week you get to know each other pretty fast.
Blending into a different culture is not always smooth sailing however. I still get weird looks from people as I walk down the street in November while wearing shorts. People think I must be from the north pole and are shocked when I say I’m from Australia. Maybe when the snow starts to fall the shorts will be reconsidered. Perhaps the biggest challenge I’ve encountered over here is shopping. My first time in a Norwegian supermarket was similar to a ship entering the Bermuda triangle – I thought I’d never make it out! By the end of the ordeal I had become a guru at using google translate and had befriended 5 older women after asking them which food product was which. I thought I had won the battle but the next morning at breakfast I discovered that I had brought sour milk instead the normal stuff. I was devastated and ate my cornflakes with water – A situation that will bring even the toughest men to tears. It’s safe to say I won’t make that mistake again. Norway 1 – Dave 0.
All in all, being an international student is an absolutely incredible experience and I would recommend it to anyone. It is a great way to satisfy the travel bug whilst studying. It is a great way to fully immerse yourself in a different culture and it’s a great way to meet new people. Thanks for reading.
By David Clancy