I never had the opportunity to travel as a kid, but I was always intrigued with life outside the United States. In high school, I met a Norwegian exchange student and that put me on a long path to becoming an international student. I started school at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minnesota. There I had a diverse group of friends from different parts of the world.
During my second semester, I met a group of Norwegian exchange students and hit it off with one of them in particular. She and I became serious within the first few months. While we were offsetting thinking about her return at the end of the semester, there was an unexpected and very unfortunate turn of events when her father passed away suddenly.
The events at this time were blurred and within a few days she had returned to her home to be with her family and mourn the loss of the great man that was her father.
Hannah and I chose to stay together and I worked 50 hours a week during the semester to ensure that I would be able to visit her in Norway over Christmas.
I got my passport and bought tickets as soon as I had the money so I was ready to go. The time to depart came soon enough and I was aboard an eight hour flight from the US to Norway.
When I arrived, it was in Kristiansand, Norway, a smaller city in comparison to those in the US, but an average sized city for the country. I remember when I arrived I was reminded of the ice planet ‘Hoth’ from the movie, The Empire Strikes Back. It was dark and all I could see were snow-covered mountains.
My trip in Norway went well and I learned more about the culture through the food they eat at their holidays and how they celebrate. I was enticed by the country, and shortly after my arrival back home, I planned for several more trips and eventually decided to go on an exchange through my home university in August 2013.
During my exchange I decided to apply to the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU), that taught a Bachelor’s in International Environment and Development Studies, one of the few bachelor’s taught in English in Norway. I was happy to receive my acceptance and promptly started in January the following year.
Differences from US Education System
When I started my bachelor’s in Norway I noted a lot of differences. The main one was the diversity of the classroom. I was one of the few students there from the US, and there was representation every corner of the world. This made class discussions even more interesting, especially so for international topics, as there was often a voice of the country being discussed that was present in the classroom.
NMBU classes have been very educational in comparison with Augsburg’s. While both have relatively small classes, the teaching structure is different. Most classes don’t have quizzes or assignments throughout the semester, which is different from Augsburg. The majority of the grade from NMBU is weighted based on a final exam. The bachelor’s degree at NMBU was also only three years. It ends on a thesis worth a class and a half which needs to be completed in order to graduate.
The Importance of Getting Involved
Despite not speaking Norwegian, I started internships at different organizations such as the American Chamber of Commerce in Norway, Norsk Industri, and the International Democrat Union. Here I was able to combine career development alongside my studies and see the workplace experience in Norway compared to the US.
I also was very fortunate to get into student politics through the International Students’ Union of Norway (ISU), where I was elected to serve on the National Board and represent the social, political, and academic rights of 25,000 international students in Norway. ISU has been a very meaningful experience for me, as I am able to make my voice heard in national policy making relating to education, something that is nearly possible for a 22 year old to do in the US. Today I continue to serve in ISU, and I have begun my Master’s in International Relations at the same university.
My accommodation in Oslo started with student housing nearby the University of Oslo campus. It was in an apartment building that was standard with students. I was on the third floor and we had 7 bedrooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom. It was very multi-cultural flat with two Italians, a German, a Romanian, a Korean, and someone from New Zealand. While prices are high for the apartment, they are at a good level for the rest of Oslo. Getting an apartment can be difficult as well, as there isn’t enough student housing. I did enjoy my experience there. One thing I enjoyed was that the two Italians always cooked for me, even when I wasn’t hungry!
Student life has been great. There are a lot of different student organizations. The majority of which are very inclusive to international students. The majority of my friends are international, but I do hang out with several Norwegians.
Really, How Bad Are the Winters in Norway?
I dealt with serious winters growing up in the Midwest. The Norwegian winter is not as cold as in Minnesota. One big difference you notice is how short the days are in the winter, when it gets dark in the early afternoon. The winter is long and dark and this is why you see that Norwegians are always outside when it is sunny – because they are in the dark the majority of the year.
I am able to travel and explore Europe for extremely low costs and enjoy a very international life here in Norway. I am extremely happy and fortunate to be an international student here, and I am continuously working to be an informed and aware person, while also representing the US in the best way I can.
Although I am no longer with the Norwegian girl that brought me here, I have developed a great network of friends from a variety of nationalities including Canada, Chile, Denmark, India, Poland, and, of course, Norway.