Archive for the ‘Miles in Norway’ Category


Miles: Two weeks

May 23, 2011

Quick updates: I just got back from a weekend in Stockholm, which was amazing. The city is beautiful. I will say, though, that I think Norway still beats Sweden as far as awesomeness is concerned. This weekend I am going to Sognefjord on a hiking trip – fjord on Saturday, glacier on Sunday. (I’m pretty damn excited. It’ll be a great last weekend in Norway.)

In two weeks, I will, for the first time in 5 months, wake up in the US. I knew that I’d feel a lot of things at the end of my semester, but I wasn’t really prepared to feel this underwhelmed/overwhelmed about going home.

I mean, for starters, what the hell is “home”? My heart is divided into a bunch of little chunks – an endless supply of little pieces that I get to scatter. There is a chunk in Madison, and there always will be. There are pieces all over the twin cities. There’s a piece in Boston. There are pieces in Northern Wisconsin, where my family’s cabin was. Now there is a giant chunk in Oslo, with pieces in Bergen, in Stavanger, in Tromsø, on top of Preikestolen. This is a home. Norway is a home.

So am I going home or leaving home? And if the answer is both, what happens to that chunk of my heart? I have all the faith in the world that Norway will take care of it, and that I can come back here someday. Maybe I’ll live here, practice Norwegian, work at a daycare or for the state, and eventually the US will feel like an old photograph that I take out to look at occasionally when I feel nostalgic.

But more likely, at least for now, that’s what Norway will be. And that’s what scares me. I have a life here. I wasn’t just on vacation for 5 months, I lived here. How do you explain that life? I love so many people in the states so dearly, and I know that I can tell them all about my semester and they’ll listen and be excited for me, but ultimately, they just won’t get it. I can’t share the jordbær syltetøy at United Bakeries with them, I can’t take them to a kitchen party at Sogn, I can’t hike in Nordmarka with them or go on a skitur.

So I have this semester and it’s going to sit inside me and I get to decide how I remember it. It’s my job to keep it alive, and not let my Norwegian life disappear. I’ve changed during this semester. I’ve become stronger. I learned a lot about who I am. I can communicate much better than I used to be able to. I ask for what I need. I take care of myself, and I better know how to do that. I continue to improve at being social, and also knowing when I need space for myself. I pushed myself. I learned a brand new language, and practice using it every day. I fell in love with nature in a way I hadn’t before. I learned the pure, simple joy of climbing on a rock, skiing up a hill, or sitting by a lake. I am determined to not lose the person I’ve become. This semester was a beautiful experience because of what I learned and how I grew.

Because of all this growth, in a weird way, going back to Minneapolis seems like the worst sort of back-pedaling. I just experienced something amazing, something life-changing, and now I’m supposed to go back to the U of M and take required courses that only mildly interest me? Why? I know I need to finish my degree and do it at the U. I need to be an example for my younger sisters, who will be starting college in the fall. I need to complete that adventure, but I’m anxious. My head knows I need to, but my heart wants to keep moving forward. I think the next year will be a challenge in how to feel as though I’m moving even when my environment seems static, how to find the exciting in the familiar.

I was told that I’d feel culture shock coming back to the States. I’m as ready as I can be. I will be working a summer job at a day camp that I love in Madison for two months when I get home. I think all I can do in my first months back in the states is feel as productive and important as I can – to feel like I’m making a difference. Keep moving forward. Keep growing.

In these moments I remember the way I felt boarding my plane from Chicago to Oslo. I knew I was ready, but it almost felt like I was only ready because I needed to be- I was scared, but I made it.

I made it.

And I say all this now, two weeks before I go, because I won’t be blogging again until I get home. I need to really be here for these final days. I want to just take it all in, not process yet. I’ll have all summer to process.

So, Oslo, takk for alt.


Miles: Lin Week

May 15, 2011

Since I got back from travelling (which will be the subject of this post) I have been entertaining/hanging out with/talking to a friend from the U who was visiting me and writing a take-home exam for my Gender Equality in Nordic Countries course. This has left me with bare litt tid for blogging.

Forgive me,

it’s been so sweet,

and so warm out.

(Okay, okay, so I love William Carlos Williams. I’ll get back on track now.)

From May 1st through May 7th, I was traveling. The itinerary? Dublin and Berlin. So what did I call it? Lin Week, selvfølgelig!

I spent a week traveling alone. Before leaving, I was a little nervous about spending so much time by myself. I was afraid I wouldn’t meet cool people at my hostels, I was afraid I’d go days without having a conversation. It turned out to be a great experience — not only did I meet great people, but when I was by myself, I was calm in the solitude and just enjoying my surroundings.

First stop was Dublin. I got in on Sunday, and spent the day walking around the city. Sunday night I checked into my hostel and met Aggie, a french woman who was on a trip from her study abroad term in Wales. She’s fluent in English and French (And mostly fluent in Spanish) and keeps a running list of all the French words commonly used in English. (I taught her about RSVP.) We went out for a beer and ended up spending Monday together as well.

Monday, because it was a bank holiday and most of the city was closed, Aggie, Two Brazilian men (Leandro and Fabricio), two Portugese women (Sandra and Ariana), and I went to Howth, a suburb of Dublin along the sea. We hiked around the cliffs, ate a picnic on a beach, and tried to fight against the horrendous wind. Fabricio barely spoke English, but had a portable speaker set with him and kept playing goofy American pop music. (Somewhere in Portugal, there is a video of me singing Justin Bieber…oops.)

Tuesday and Wednesday were for wandering. I saw Phoenix park, Trinity College, the Guinness Storehouse, the Modern Art Museum, the Yeats exhibit at the public library, and a bunch of other fun sites. It was nice to be in a city that spoke English, and to be able to converse without feeling like I was missing out on something important.

Early Thursday morning was my flight to Berlin. When I landed, I navigated the S-Bahn to my hostel, where I checked in and dropped off my stuff. I wandered around for a while, sleepier than I’d wanted to be, and decided I couldn’t handle any museums — I didn’t have the attention span to make it worth spending the money. I ended up on a street called Kurfürstendamm, or Ku’damm. Apparently it was celebrating it’s 125th birthday. There were a bunch of stations set up along the road with champagne and small pastries, and anyone with a gold wristband (I don’t even want to know how many euros they paid for those) could drink and eat as much as they wanted. While standing awkwardly amongst a giant crowd of people all slowly walking up the street, I overheard someone point to an important-looking man and say “Yeah, that’s the acting Mayor of Berlin.” I quickly snapped into tourist mode and took a picture of the Mayor, just as he was stopping to ceremoniously drink and toast to the street.

Friday was all about Alternative Berlin. I took the Alternative Walking Tour, which covered a lot of the street art and Artist Collective houses in West Berlin. We also stopped at a place called YAAM that has a bar, skate park, patio, and puts on live shows. The tour was phenomenal, and I definitely fell in love with Berlin and the arts community there. On the tour I met a bunch of art students from Sweden, and when we learned we had Scandinavia in common, we started talking and they ended up inviting me to hang out with them for the rest of the day. I ate an amazing vegan bacon cheeseburger at a goofy little restaurant, and then we spent the evening hanging out near the river and drinking the cheapest beers I’ve purchased in Europe. (Side note: totally legal to drink in public in Germany. Awesome.)

And on Saturday I returned to Oslo. It’s incredible — each time I travel, coming back to Oslo feels more like coming back home. I’m not ready to think about what it will feel like to leave.

Things I have learned:

IT’S OKAY TO PUSH MYSELF. I find that social situations often make me really anxious. Couldn’t tell you when it started, but it’s something I need to keep working on. Traveling alone forced me out of my comfort zone and into a world of meeting people and talking to strangers. I felt really proud of myself for saying “Yes” and pushing myself to hang out with all the great people I met that week. It wouldn’t have been the same place otherwise.

WHEN I TALK ABOUT WE, SOMETIMES I MEAN NORWAY: During my travels, I’d often find myself comparing certain things (public transportation, eating habits, alcohol laws, etc.) with the people I met. When I gave my contribution, I was almost always talking about Norway. Over the past few months, I really have found a nice ownership/sense of belonging in this place. It’s a beautiful feeling, and one that I don’t want to give up quite yet.


Miles: Påskeferie (Easter travels)

April 30, 2011

Påske (Easter) is quite the event in Norway. Tradition demands that you either read a crime novel or watch episodes of Crime TV every night. (They show them on the national public TV channel.) Stores close from Thursday through Monday. Bus routes shift. And, of course, you travel.

So I did.

My friend Aisha and I spent the week in West Norway. It was incredible and really nothing that I’d expected. Our first few days were spent in Bergen, staying with Ayla and Will (Aisha’s friends). I lucked out, because Will grew up in Duluth, and because he’s both fluent in Norwegian and Midwest, he was a great resource when conversation got too intense for me to follow. Bergen is a beautiful city and I would definitely consider spending more time there on my next Norwegian adventure. (If I say it definitively, that means it’ll totally come true, right???) Bergen highlight: climbing up to Fløyen and staring down into the city center and off at the mountains and water.

Our next stop was Nedstrand, a tiny town right in a fjord, to stay with Hans Olav and his family. He and Aisha went to folkeskole together and I’ve been on a skiing adventure with him before. His family was incredibly nice, and cooked amazing food. It felt great to just relax in a home and be taken care of. Here was were I was introduced to the påskekrim — we spent our evenings watching British crime TV with Norwegian subtitles.

After Nedstrand, our trip became a little more strange. Our next destination was Stavanger, but mostly so we could climb Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock). Because of Easter and the weird transportation schedules, we had no real way to get to and from the rock in one day, so we booked a night at the cabin near the rock. Climbing up and staring right down into a fjord was amazing, and I definitely am discovering/nurturing/indulging my new(ish) found love of nature and hiking. Most of the trail was essentially a scramble up a series of stones — challenge and oh so rewarding at the top. After our hike we got a fairly fancy dinner at the cabin restaurant and then promptly fell asleep.

We were not supposed to spend a night in Stavanger. We were also not supposed to miss our bus the next morning. …Oops. When we learned that the next bus wasn’t until the next day (in that moment, I hated påske) we got a room at a hotel and spent the day exploring Stavanger. Stavanger high and lowlight: The oil museum. We didn’t go in, but we did explore the Geo Playground — a playground made entirely of recycled oil drilling equipment. It was a great idea, and a cool concept for recycling, but I felt funny about the oil industry very purposefully maintaining such a positive relationship with the community. It almost seemed too intentional. Oil and Norway is way more complex than I understand yet.

So after our accidental night in the nicest hotel I’ll be staying in for a while, we took a 9 hour bus back to Oslo. All in all, it was a damn good påske week.

Things I have learned:

NORWAY REALLY WAS MEANT FOR SMALLER CITIES. Bergen and Stavanger just kept making me think Wow, that’s so Norwegian!  in a way that Oslo doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I love Oslo to death, but I think Norway really really does thrive in smaller cities. Norwegians like their space. Sometimes they seem to prefer having mountains for neighbors. It’s fascinating to live in the biggest city in this country and know that it would be considered a small/medium city by US standards. It’s also fascinating to feel drawn towards the smaller cities in Norway. Maybe I’m just having the pastoral dreams of an urban-raised kid, but maybe the beauty of Norway really is hidden in the small towns along the coasts.

STUDYING ABROAD WILL INEVITABLY MAKE YOU ASK YOURSELF BIG SCARY QUESTIONS WITH NO ANSWERS. My friend Ben and I sat on my porch eating a delicious vegetable feast and drinking beer and talking about life. We both, during our semester abroad, have found ourselves questioning our lives in big monumental ways. The way he describes it “I think I’ve thought through everything from birth to now this semester”. I wonder about things. I suddenly feel so open to do anything, so anxious to be everywhere. My world just got a lot bigger, and that’s so exciting and so terrifying. Sometimes I have to remind myself to just get a kaffe and a bolle and enjoy the ride.


Miles: Oslo to Amsterdam plus

April 18, 2011

I’m a slacker! I don’t know how it happened…Oh wait, that’s right, I had a Norwegian exam and I am busy traveling and existing in Norway as much as possible.

First, the boring part: The test went well. I think I got an A. We’ll find out in a few uker. My sweet and amazing professor came up to me during the test and (totally illegally) reminded me about a particular Norwegian sentence structure that I always have trouble with. It was adorable and nice to see how much she really cared about my Norwegian success.

Now that Norskkurs is over, I barely have any actual class-time left. I have a few exam papers coming up, but really, I’ve sort of entered my vacation in Norway time. I’m doing a lot of traveling in the next month, and I’m pretty excited about all of it.

Which, of course, brings us to Amsterdam.

That city is amazing and I love it. I did not love the Red Light District. I thought the novelty of it wore off pretty quickly, and I have a whole bunch of thoughts on the prostitution industry, but I am glad I saw the Red Light District. The part of the city that I absolutely adored was the south and southwest parts of Amsterdam. It was canals and bicycles and flowers and people who seemed like they immensely enjoyed living where they live.  I could totally move there. I could learn Dutch, eat Stroopwaffels (amazing thin cookie-like waffels with caramel between them), and bike everywhere.

I also really enjoyed having the opportunity to travel alone. This was the first time I’d ever done that, and while it felt a little lonely at times, I am beyond glad that I did it. I think I learned a lot about how I act/think/feel in different situations, and I learned how to spend time with myself, that I can and do enjoy spending time with myself. I also learned the value of starting a conversation with a stranger.

Thursday night was finding my hostel, exploring the city, and walking through the Red Light District.

Friday was TULIP DAY! I am totally my Father’s son. I can’t really help it. I get geeked out about fields of flowers. Friday morning, I boarded a bus with a bunch of people at least 10 years older than me and drove an hour west of Amsterdam to Lisse and into the Keukenhof Gardens. This place is famous for their tulips. The gardens were extremely well taken care of, and it was sort of like a display case of artfully-arranged flowers. I walked around for a while, laughed at the people straining to take the perfect photo, (spent a little time taking pictures myself), and enjoyed the beautiful weather.
To contrast the condensed, amusement-park-like atmosphere of Keukenhof, I rented a BRIGHT ORANGE bicycle outside of the gardens and spent a few hours biking around Holland. I rode through beautiful fields, sand dunes, and all the way to the sea. It felt so nice to get back onto a bicycle, and I’m glad that I can say I started this bike season off with a long ride through a beautiful country.

Also, for dinner I had a pancake and a beer. Best thing ever.

Saturday was another explore Amsterdam day. I went to the Van Gogh museum and proceeded to geek out about art for a couple hours. (Seriously though, the traveling exhibit was Picasso. Van Gogh and Picasso at the same museum??? Win.) I spend most of the rest of the day outside enjoying the t-shirt weather. I even got a little sunburned sitting out at Vondel Park. (Totally worth it.)

Things I have learned:

WHEN THE SKIERS GO INSIDE, THE RUNNERS APPEAR. Now that Oslo has thawed, everyone is out running. It’s beautiful (see: extremely hilly) to run near my student village, so I’ve been taking advantage of the spring weather as well. I said good-bye to me skis yesterday. There were no tears, but it was definitely rough. The running shoes and I have some good Norwegian times ahead of us.

I NOW SEE PLASTIC BOTTLES IN TERMS OF THEIR RETURN VALUE. I don’t see size. I see kroner. In Norway, you can return plastic pop bottles and aluminum cans to grocery stores and get a little money back. Whenever I want to describe the size of a bottle, the first thing I think is “you know, a 1 krone bottle” or “One of those huge 2.5 kroner bottles”. Oh, Oslo.


Miles:It’s all really the same, except, of course, when it’s not

April 5, 2011

Some things about classes stay the same, regardless of location. There will always be those over-achievers — the ones who’s hands are almost stuck in a raised position, the ones who get extra nervous before each test, the ones who need to be right. There will always be the slackers — the people who probably could have been more productive being at home, the ones there out of a sense of obligation, not because they care about the material. There will also always be the people in-between. Everyone will always want to assume they’re an in-between. Some teachers will be annoying, some will always make you smile. Some you’ll want to impress, some you’ll want to spite.

Then there are the differences. These are what I need to pay attention to. First, because the most important question here is “Hvor kommer du fra?” everyone has a country attached to them. I am carrying the United States with me everywhere. I have met not just people, but representatives from countries. The overachievers in my Norwegian class, for example, aren’t just two women, they’re two Germans. This is the place where, if I’m not careful, stereotypes are born.

There’s also the systematic difference of the education system in Norway. My Norwegian exam is in 10 days. It is my one and only grade for the course. I need an A. Most people in my class are learning Norwegian to pass the exam. They won’t really try too hard to speak it in class because that’s not on the test. They instead obsess about the proper declination of nouns. This is important, sure, but I’m also interested in using my Norwegian to communicate. I’m in Norway. To me, the only respectful thing to do is try to learn Norwegian, particularly because I’ve been presented with the tools needed to do so. That being said, I do also need a good grade on this test, so don’t expect me to be doing much outside of studying Norwegian for the next week.

(Especially since next weekend I’ll be frolicking through fields of tulips in Holland. Insert all sorts of excited faces.)

Things I have learned:

NORWAY FOG IS LIKE NO OTHER. Field of snow pressing against completely foggy sky is the most disorienting thing one can witness on a run. Trust me. It is the moment in my life where I’ve been the least sure of where the ground ends and where the sky begins.

I LIVE BY THE SEA. I knew this. To witness it with my hands, to feel it against my face, though, is to truly discover it. Never underestimate how much I love bodies of water, and how at peace I feel near the ocean/lake/whatever. This is the moment when I begin shopping for houseboats. (I’m only sort of kidding.)


Miles: Language

April 1, 2011
  • In my Gender Equality class, we talk about major issues. We represent ten mother tongues. We never bothered to define “Gender.”
  • At a party, a woman from Mexico and I start speaking in Spanish. I realize that I’m accidentally sticking Norwegian words into my sentences.
  • My good friend says “Well, this girl, I mean, Woman” then says “Damn, Miles, I can always tell when I’ve broken one of your language rules” joking about how I have chosen to try and refer to my peers as women, not girls.
  • I am asked to, and do, to the best of my ability, perform all the different “American” accents.

If nothing else, this semester I have learned the importance of language. Or rather, I have learned that I have yet to discover the full importance of language. As a writer, clearly I’ve always placed a certain emphasis on words and the power they hold, but here, with the added element of different languages, I’m understanding how many layers go into the simple act of using words.

I don’t really have anything concrete or informative to say. I just feel strongly that language should be paid more attention to. And I want to learn how culture influences language — for example, if one of my friends says something that I perceive, from an American background, to be incredibly offensive, am I obligated to consider whether or not it’s offensive in their culture?

I think I’ve just entered another “too much input, no way to output” mode. It’s officially April. I’m halfway done. I’m nowhere near ready to leave. I keep having to work on preparations for coming back  – job interview, searching craigslist for apartments — and while I’m glad to be prepared, I feel frustrated that the US and my life there is invading my Norway life.

This is why I am currently eating a matpakke with knekkebrød, ost, and hardkokt egg. I will be as Norwegian as possible for the next two months.

Things I have learned:

WHEN YOU EAT SWISS FONDUE, YOU DRINK TEA. Why? To prevent the inevitable cheese hangover that hurts all over, but hurts so good.



Miles: Olso defrost

March 25, 2011

I blinked and now it’s spring. How did that happen?

When I settled into the idea of a semester in Norway, in the back of my mind, I think I figured that it’d be winter forever. Maybe it was self-preservation, maybe it was just ridiculousness—either way, I was ready. I was fully prepared to spend all semester wearing infinite layers and avoiding cold beverages. As a result, I felt incredibly calm about winter in Oslo. I didn’t freak out when it started snowing, I adjusted my walking speeds as needed, and I didn’t complain. I wasn’t waiting for Spring, I was just here, now. (The cross-country skiing helped, I’m sure.)

Because of this, I have been extra-pleasantly surprised by the arrival of spring (save an inherent sadness as I stare longingly at my skis). I know that Oslo is still set to have some cold days and probably a little more snow, but now that it’s made a this short appearance, spring has announced that it’s moving in. I’m excited to witness a greener, warmer Norway.

Classes are heading towards finals time, and the workload is increasing. I only have two weeks left in my norskkurs! I have to give a four-minute presentation in Norwegian next Wednesday. I am going to be talking about mine søstre and how cool they are and how much jeg elsker dem. It’s strange to think that I’m at the point where if I want to continue improving my Norwegian skills, the effort has to come 100% from me. It really forces me to think about the value of the language in my life. It makes me think about what sort of place I want Norway to hold in the rest of my life. (All Answers TBD)

Things I have Learned:

I DON’T NEED TO AGREE. I am getting much better at sitting comfortably in a room with people who I disagree with. Maybe they’re just people I’m at a party with. Maybe they’re my friends. Doesn’t matter. I’m learning that I don’t need to agree with everyone, and having different opinions/morals/etc doesn’t necessarily rule out a friendship. I think they mentioned something about this in Kindergarten. I guess it takes a while for that sort of thing to sink in.


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