Archive for the ‘University Study in Norway’ Category


Miles: On People

February 20, 2011

Most of my attention as of late has been on my home state, Wisconsin. For the past week, thousands of public employees, students and families have been protesting outside of the state Capitol in response to a Budget Repair Bill that destroys the public sector employee’s (my mother included) right to collectively bargain with a union. My entire family has spent days at the protests. UW-Madison students are sleeping inside the Capitol building.

The bill is ready to be voted on. 14 Democratic Senators have fled Wisconsin—they’re hiding somewhere in Illinois. Without these senators, there is no quorum, and the vote cannot legally happen. Governor Walker has sent police after the Wisconsin 14. All Republicans need to have a quorum and pass the bill is for 1 of the 14 to cave into the pressure and come back. Just 1.

I wish I was there. I haven’t really spent any time this semester wishing I was anywhere but Norway, but I want to help my people fight. This is the beginning of something huge for the country, and something huge for Wisconsin. This means giant change for my family, for my mother’s job. Her job is being attacked by the institution that is supposed to protect her. She’s fighting back. The people are fighting back. I’m scared for all of them and I wish I could be there.

I’ve learned a lot from my mother about doing the right thing. When I was a Senior in high school she left her job at a hospital to take the job she currently has working in Public Health for the state of Wisconsin. Right as her first of three children was leaving for college and the economy was about to suffer, she took a fairly large pay cut. She told me it was because in this job, she could make a difference. She taught me that making a difference is more important than making money. (And hopefully when I am forty and broke, she will remember that she taught me that…)

I’ve decided to go to Graduate school to get a Master’s in Social Work. I want to make a difference, not necessarily make a ton of money. (I’d like to make some, of course. I like eating, you know.) I do not yet know the whens and wheres of that Grad School Adventure. I have so much time. I have so many options.

As far as Norway goes, I’m doing quite well. The past couple weeks have been a time when I realized how many close friends I’ve made here. There are people who I know will be in my life forever. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed spending all sorts of fun times with them and am continuing to meet new people.

There’s a trip to Sweden in my near future. I’m pretty excited.

I made Sweet Potato fries and am slowly getting everyone hooked on them. Success!

Things I have learned:

BE EASY, SWEET BOY. (Shout out to Sam Cook in MPLS). My good friend was telling me about a verb in Norwegian: å kose. When commonly used, it means “to relax, to make cozy.” You say vi må kose oss- we must relax ourselves, make ourselves cozy. And then Norwegians do. You spend time with your friends, sitting around and drinking tea. You breathe. You take care of your needs. This country lacks the collective stress of the US, and that’s a mindset I hope to keep for the rest of my life.

I MAKE AN IMPACT. One of my friends/flatmates and I were talking, and she said something about how everyone has impacted someone, even if they don’t notice. I know I’ve heard something like this before, but it’s always nice to be refreshed. I make an impact. I matter. I certainly don’t need to walk through life acting like I matter the most or anything like that, but I know I do matter to someone. We all do.


Miles: Tromsø

February 17, 2011

Dear Mom and Dad,

Have you heard of

Don’t panic.


Ben and I wake up and fly from Oslo to Tromsø. It is a city of about 60,000 North of the Arctic Circle line. We spent the afternoon in the center, wandering through art museums and shops, and attempting to cross the traffic bridge to the other side of the water before realizing the ratio of coldness of wind to length of bridge was not in our favor. Our plan was to stay with a man named Tor who, through, agreed to host us for a few nights. The catch? Tor lives near Olderdalen, a tiny town two hours via bus away from Tromsø.

Here’s the thing about Norwegian regional busses: they aren’t like greyhounds where the driver is sure to stop at specific predetermined points and let everyone know where they are. (And anything they do say is in Norwegian. I could pick out every fifth word, maybe.) Instead, there’s a stop button above every seat. The route is set, and whenever or wherever you want to get off, the driver will pull over. We did not know this. We did not know when or where Olderdalen was.

We totally missed our stop.

Before we knew it, we had gone about a half-hour past our destination. Immediately we started brainstorming solutions—hitchhiking back, riding four more hours to Alta and finding a hotel—when a bunch of busses pulled over together at some sort of transfer point. Everyone started getting off and the driver looked back at us.

“Where are you going?”

“We missed our stop. We wanted Olderdalen.”

“He’ll take you back” he said and motioned to another driver.

We hopped on another bus, and sat right behind the driver. We were the only people on the bus—the driver was clearly headed back to Tromsø for the night and we were his pity traffic.

He let us off in Olderdalen center, which consisted of a gas station and a grocery store. Our next task—which we appropriately named Adventure Part 85—was to find Tor’s house.

Things we knew:

  1. It was grey.
  2. He lived about 2.5 km North of Olderdalen on E6
  3. The house was set only 20 m from the main road
  4. The house was the last house before a barren stretch of about 1 km

Did I mention that it was completely dark out?

We walked down the road, scanning houses. Finally we came to one that seemed to fit all the criteria. We sat in front of it for a moment, unsure, before Ben spotted the mailbox. Tor’s name was labeled! (Admittedly, when I saw this, I exhaled for the first time in an hour.)

While I was nervous about staying with someone I didn’t know, at that point, I would’ve slept anywhere as long as it was inside. However, I had nothing to worry about. From the moment he opened the door for us, I felt nothing but warmth from Tor. He cooked us dinner (delicious vegetable stew with rice) and talked with us about the environment and his plans to farm and create an “eco-neighborhood.” I spent the night in one of his guest rooms, sleeping under ten pounds of blanket.


When I woke up, I realized that it had been snowing hard all night, and was continuing to do so. I went downstairs and sat with Tor for a while. He made the two of us coffee and offered me home-baked bread and cheese for breakfast. (So good!) I told him about Michael Pollan and my first part-time jobs—for once, someone seemed interested in all of the nut knowledge I picked up working at Buddy Squirrel.

To help repay Tor for letting us sleep at his home, Ben and I shoveled his driveway. There was something so nice about doing outdoor chores in a small town in Norway—this is totally what study abroad is about. As we finished shoveling, the fog and snow cleared and I could see the mountains across the water.

Oh yeah, Tor lives in the middle of a fjord. Greatest choice ever.

Ben and I took an adventure into Tromsø to get beer to go with dinner and a dessert. Tor made us a fish and tomato concoction (he kept asking if it was considered a stew) to go over potatoes. It was the first time I’d eaten fish, or any animal, for about two and a half years. I trusted Tor and felt comfortable eating this Norwegian fish that had been caught practically right out his front door.


Ben and I took the early bus back into Tromsø, knowing that we needed to be in the city to catch our Sunday flight. Crossing the fjord in a ferry was so cool—the mountains are stunning, and in my opinion, nothing is better than mountains right up against a sea. Once in Tromsø, we took a cable car up a mountain that overlooked the city. The two of us attempted to hike farther up the mountain, but it proved difficult to move in knee-high snow. (The view made it all worth it.)

Most of our Saturday was focused on the Northern Lights. We had yet to see them, and were determined to before leaving. We took a long walk around the city with no luck. Around 10 pm we set out again, knowing that we had just entered the peak time for Nordly action in Tromsø.

Armed with my white t-shirt (Tor told us that the best way to see the lights is to dance and wave with a white sheet), we took off for a frozen lake we’d seen on a city map. We got a little lost, but finally made it to what appeared to be the lake. Fellow foreigners told us we were indeed right on the lake, and then mentioned, “you need a camera to see the green.”

Standing on the frozen lake, cold and tired, I saw the Northern Lights. What the man had meant was that the activity was so dim that night, you needed a long exposure on a camera to capture most of the green glow. What I saw with my naked eye was something faintly green but more cloud-like dance and curve across the sky. Brilliant or not, I was impressed.


Wake up. Drink so much free coffee at our hotel. Check out the public library and read pre-school level Norwegian books with mediocre success.  Come back to Oslo.

Click to view slideshow.

In short, this trip was exactly what I needed this weekend.

Things I have learned:

HOME IS WHERE I MAKE IT. Oslo is home right now. When I got back to my flat, I was relieved to drop my bags off in my room at my house. One of my flatmates said “It’s good to have you back home.” It is. It’s good to be back home. It’s part of why I needed to leave for a weekend.

I CAN DO ANYTHING. Okay, maybe this is entirely true, but it might be. I survived Thursday night. I stayed with a stranger. I ate fish and the vegetarian in me stayed calm. Ben and I talked about Grad School, and I feel a new energy to collect experiences and go everywhere. I am so invincible.


Miles: Holmenkollen

February 9, 2011

Hei hei!


I performed at an open mic in my student village. It went well, and it felt nice to be behind a microphone again. I miss slam poetry more than I thought I would, but I am glad that I’m taking a break.

Went to an “Oldies” party and danced my butt off. God I love 50s rock music. So much sock-hop. So good. Also, maybe it’s just my love for Ferris Bueller, but “Twist and Shout” may be one of my favorite Beatles songs.

Scandinavians love ABBA. Big time. I can’t complain.

I started my Gender Studies class. It seems promising. The reading list looks great and I think I’ll learn a lot of interesting things about the way different countries approach ideas of equality.

My academic competitive naturing is showing a little- I have made it my (unimportant) mission to be better at speaking Norwegian than the Germans in my class. (It is common knowledge that Germans have the easiest time of the internationals at learning Norwegian.)

Tromsø tomorrow! So excited. A trip is exactly what I need right now.

Today a few friends and I took an adventure to Holmenkollen—the giant ski jump in Oslo. Starting two weeks from tomorrow, it will be the homebase of the Nordic Skiing World Cup: the olympics of cross-country skiing. I’m hoping, if I’m not traveling, to sneak into an event (or just go on the free day…)

I’ve never been particularly interested in ski jumping, but being that close to people willing to shoot themselves off a slope and use every muscle they have to ensure that they don’t land in a way that could kill them was pretty damn cool. They look so weightless when they’re falling, and it’s really sort of beautiful. It happens so silently—you hear the skis against the track, and then you hear nothing. There’s just floating and falling. Not so bad to watch.

After watching for a while, we walked up to a kafé and had kaffe og muffins. We talked about all the museums we still want to see, and tried to explain the difference between a Beagle and a German Shepard. (My definition of Beagle: “A four-legged glorious bird of prey. Duh.”)

Now I have to do homework. I probably won’t update again until I’m back from Tromsø. Please please cross your fingers and send all Northern Lights vibes toward Norway.

Things I have learned:

MEET PEOPLE WHERE THEY’RE AT. A few times now I’ve heard someone say something that, in my opinion, sounds uninformed or just plain rude. I’ve been working on resisting frustration and seeking explanation. I remember that not everyone comes from the same background as I do, and that there is a lot I have left to learn. I don’t know much about Europe at all, and rather than judge people’s tolerance levels or education on a US-scale, I try to remember where they come from and learn from them. I’m not here to lecture anyone.

KNOW YOURSELF. I know what I want, or I know that I don’t know what I want and am hopeful that I’ll figure it out at some point. A lot of people I meet are here to do a grand Euro tour and see different countries all over every weekend. I’m not here to do that. I want to go home knowing as much as I can about Norway and what it’s like to live in Oslo. (Who knows, in a year and a half I may very well be back here doing my Masters…) I do want to take trips and intend on it, but I want to see fewer places and see them more thoroughly. I want to see Norway. I want to see Scandinavia. I’m not interested in marathon sprinting my way through Europe. Occasionally I feel a little weird for not wanting what other people are doing. I’m trying that whole “be true to yourself” thing. Why is it that the cheesiest advice is always the most applicable?

(My goal for a far(ish)-away trip is to go to Holland and see the tulips. Really, I want to go for the tulips. I’m that nerdy.)


Playing at Holmenkollen


Miles: Thursday nights=random feelings?

February 6, 2011

This is less of a “Miles has something full of insight to say” sort of post and more of a “hey look, I’m still alive!” sort of post.

My cold is gone! I spent all of last weekend in my flat, watching TV on my computer and pretending that my throbbing headache could be wished away. I bought a Norwegian Neti-Pot (you proud, mom?) and it looks like a green sea-dwelling dinosaur. RAWR. It’s helping. I’m excited to ski again.

Classes are going well. I absolutely adore my Norwegian professor, Astrid. I would go as far as to say Jeg elsker Astrid. (look it up, fools. I’m practicing.) My gender studies course begins on Monday, and I’m looking forward to meeting the sort of Norwegians who sign up for a gender studies course. I am not looking forward to the 9:15 am class — thus far, I have been spoiled with all late-afternoon courses. The United-Statesian who teaches my North American studies course is starting to bug me—he mumbles, he may have (definitely) used a word for African-Americans that makes me incredibly uncomfortable.

I went to a fantastic open mic at the Nordic Black Theater last night. It’s called Open Xpressions and runs every 3 Wednesday nights. The house band plays reggae music, the acts ranged from hip-hop to acoustic. Apparently other nights it spans across more than music — poetry, monologues, etc. Next time I think I’ll perform a poem.

I am going to the Arctic Circle! Another United-Statesian and I are going to Tromsø, which is probably the farthest north I will ever go in my life. We hope to see the Northern Lights. Please send all Aurora Borealis vibes toward Norway next weekend. In return, I will post pictures when I get back to Oslo.

Last weekend seemed off for a lot of people, myself included. All of the new internationals have been in Oslo for about a month, and a sort of comfort is settling in. My flatmate and I talked (in-between coughs) about how the comfort almost makes one more homesick. I agreed. It isn’t that I feel homesick, it is that I feel strange feeling at home in Oslo. It makes me wonder where my “home” is—or if it is or will ever be contained to one place. It makes me wonder how to shape the rest of my life. I’ve started thinking about graduate programs, and what sort of careers I want to pursue. But I also think about travel. Being here makes me want to be everywhere. I think I needed that first push out of the US to realize that the whole word exists. I want to see it all.

I’ve also noticed a discomfort, but a beautiful discomfort, in how much time I’ve been spending with myself. This is not to say that I’ve been spending time alone. I mean that I’ve been learning about myself. I am the person who knows myself the best, definitely, but in Minneapolis, or in Madison, there are enough people who know me almost as well as I know myself that sometimes I can let them take care of me. Here, nobody knows me well enough for that, so I am forced to pick up just about all of the weight with regards to myself as a person: how I function, how I react to things, my daily feelings, what triggers me to act/feel certain ways, how I push myself socially/physically/mentally. I am learning a lot about who I am. I am learning to truly take care of myself. A lot of times there is an element of difficulty, of discomfort, but I try to welcome it. I am learning.

(Also added to all of that was certainly the fact that I was sick all weekend and just wanted someone to take care of me but had to be a grown-up and take care of myself.)

Things I have learned:

I AM THE ONLY PERSON WHO WILL EVER SEE NORWAY (AND THE WORLD) THROUGH MY EYES. Even if I am surrounded by international students right now and even if I know a bunch of people from Minneapolis who are abroad right now, I am the only person in the world who will have the Miles Walser Norway Experience and that means I will have a story to tell. I have a worthwhile voice. Sometimes I need to remind myself of this.

I AM GOING TO BE OKAY. No matter what. I will. (Again, I sometimes need to remind myself. I am starting to really believe it. It’s a good feeling.)

That was sort of a lot of feelings. In my defense, when you don’t go out all weekend, you spend a lot more time thinking about yourself and your life and the world. (If you’re me, at least.) I’ll try to jam-pack my next post with action and adventure. KA-POW!


Miles: Oh, Thoreau!

January 26, 2011

Quick Updates:

  • Went Cross-country skiing. Loved it. The falls are significantly less painful. There are beautiful tracks near Kringsjå, another student village.
  • Did Laundry. Am now out about $10. Will now be wearing all clothing for a disgustingly long time.
  • First Norwegian cold! My throat hurts like WOAH. Green Tea and my flatmate’s stash of Ricola throat drops are saving my life.

One of the courses I am taking this semester is a North American Studies class called “Restoring the Earth/Renewing Culture: Critical Evaluations of the Green American Tradition.” It is a course on Environmental studies and writings. Yes, you could argue that it is silly to take a course studying my own country when I am in the middle of a Scandinavian adventure, but having only had the class twice, I can already feel the value of the course.

First, I am getting to see the States from a Norwegian point of view. The professor, while American, skews his examples towards Scandinavia when providing comparison to North America. For example, when talking about forces that are pitted against the environment, we discussed Norwegian economy. (Norway’s primary export is Oil, and many in power argue that the country simply cannot ween itself off of oil when it is such a large part of the economic stability of the country. I will be researching more into this, as I think it is fascinating. I will report more later!) By being a part of a class studying a culture that I am more familiar with (but by no means an expert on), I am in fact learning more about their culture.

But more importantly, and perhaps the thing I am most excited about, I am learning about the role Nature can play in my life. In our first reading assignment, we were given selections of Thoreau’s journals and also his piece “Huckleberries” (which, I have learned, are blueberries. Blueberry Finn. Who knew?) My favorite quote out of the journals was part of a section where Thoreau was writing about how the Earth is always changing, but continues to remain vibrant—we shouldn’t ever think of things as “dying.” He writes: “decayed wood is not old, but has just begun to be what it is.” To think of Nature, especially in wintertime in Oslo, is always being at its fullest is an extremely helpful way to look at things. It turns winter into not the long wait for spring, but rather it’s own beautiful entity.

“Huckleberries” takes the idea of a huckleberry patch to discuss the way we are living—Thoreau breaks down class systems, the concept of property, and challenges “modern” (circa 1861) men to begin the process of restoring the environment around them. (My summary certainly doesn’t do the piece justice and I highly recommend looking into it.) For me, the part that resonated the most was when Thoreau talked about everything that we have to gain from Nature that cannot be captured when things like berries become commodities—concepts like inner peace, happiness, beauty. He argues that Nature is the most important part of any community, and that it should be cherished.

Thoreau’s ideas challenged me to think about the way I interact with Nature. Here in Oslo, a city with about half the population of the Twin Cities area, I have the opportunity to interact with a great deal of nature. I walk through a small wooded area to get to campus. Any time I approach the subway from my flat, I see Mountains in the distance. A short ride on the T-bane takes me up into the hills and surrounds me with trees. I can walk to Sognsvann, a beautiful lake circled by hiking/skiing paths and forest. As a student trying not to spend copious amounts of money, I have found Nature to be a simple yet stunning way to connect with my semester abroad. When I go for a walk or cross-country ski, I am not only experiencing Nature, but am truly experiencing Norway. This is why I am here—not to get drunk all weekend every weekend, not to shop at H&M, not to panic about final exams—to truly be here. I think I will find that connection in Nature.

Then I begin to think about “home”—whether that is Madison, Wisconsin or Minneapolis, Minnesota. How can I take Thoreau’s ideas and bring them back with me? At home I am accustomed to my routined way of life—and up until now, it hasn’t involved a ton of nature. Sure, I bike to class when it feels safe to do so, I go for walks, I visit Powderhorn Park and sit on the shore of Lake Monona, but can I take the feelings I get from the Nature in Oslo and apply them to the Midwest? It is a challenge I look forward too.

(Okay, that all sounded way more earthy-hippie than I had initially intended, but really, I think maybe it’s all at least a little true. I also think that there is a part of me that, because of growing up in mostly urban settings, has a weird pastoral fantasy that I have yet to fulfill. Chickens and vegetable gardens, I’m a-comin’ for you!)

Things I have learned:

ROUTINES WERE MEANT TO BE BROKEN. I have a limited amount of time in Norway. It would be so awful to get into a rut and not experience every inch of it all. Whenever I feel myself getting too settled or too comfortable, I try to find a way to push. So far, it has been a lot of fun.

MACHISMO SUCKS. REALLY. I MEAN, REALLY REALLY SUCKS. I never realized how fortunate I was to be attending college surrounded by men and women and everyone in-between who believe in gender equality and who constantly challenge themselves to not perpetuate sexism and male-dominance. I am trying to find balance between the cultural differences that I may be oblivious to and the unacceptability of having a sexist attitude towards the women around you. I am trying to remember a phrase we used in Central Touring Theater (the organization that I interned for all last year): “Seek to understand before you seek to be understood.“


Miles: Vigelandsparken

January 19, 2011

A sculpture on the bridge

Because I only have classes on Mondays and Wednesdays, yesterday was a day for an adventure. I hopped on the T-bane and rode towards Vigeland Sculpture park.

The entire park is called Frogner park, and is fairly massive for an Oslo park. The sculptures are all sort of concentrated in the middle of the park. The weather was cold and foggy, so it took me a while to find where I was going. The river is frozen over, so I had no guidance there.

The first set of sculptures I saw was the bridge. Lining the sides of this walking bridge are clusters of people, children included, all in various positions. Some are embracing, some are almost leaping off of each other. There are families, couples, and the famous “grumpy boy.” (A tiny child clearly in the middle of a temper tantrum.)

At the end of the bridge there’s a giant fountain being held up by groups of men. Past the fountain is the centerpiece of the entire park—the Monolith. This giant (phallic) statue is literally tons of people piled onto each other. Because of the fog, as I walked towards it, it seemed to appear out of the abyss—super creepy and awesome. It was so tall I couldn’t clearly see to the top of it. (This also may have had something to do with the fog.)

I’ve never been a huge sculpture fan. I’m the sort of tourist who often takes pictures of important looking statues just to prove I saw them. I usually run past the ceramics area of a museum towards the “better” art. However, I felt oddly moved by these sculptures. The characters presented such a feeling of unity, of togetherness, of shared burden. Even if the people weren’t directly looking at each other, often they were touching in a way that said “I’m here” and showed intense amounts of family and community. Some were playful, some were clearly more serious. I didn’t examine closely enough to really be able to claim to understand what the motive of the work is, but I enjoyed it. Simplified, the pieces seemed to say “We are all together. We will share the weight.” Works for me.
Things I have learned:

SNOW IS NATURE. Okay, let me explain this one. I found myself thinking or mentioning to multiple people that I have way more tolerance for Oslo snow than I do for Minnesota snow. During my first North American Environmentalism class (The whole title is Renewing the Earth/Restoring Culture: Critical Evaluations of the American Green Tradition), the professor mentioned Norway’s lack of shoveling laws. “You know what we do with snow on the streets in the US? We get rid of it!” And then it hit me—I expect snow as a part of the Norwegian landscape. I know its coming, and I adapt. Why can’t I do the same in Minnesota? Maybe we are all meant to slow down in the Winter and just appreciate the nature of it all.

JEG HETER MILES. JEG KOMMER FRA USA. I started Norwegian class.


Miles: Drinking culture/Classes begin

January 17, 2011

I realize it’s been a few days since I updated.

Things that have happened:

Buddy Week continued. Hung out with some cool people. BBQ’d Norwegian style—outdoors, in January, on a frozen lake. (Don’t worry, the fire wasn’t actually on the ice.)

Saw City Hall. Continue to be impressed with the importance of art in this culture.

Went to the Contemporary Art Museum. Saw an amazing installation exhibit. Have vowed to create installation art.

I start classes today. At 3:15 I have my first Norwegian lesson. I’m excited to learn another language. I feel so behind when the people I meet talk about knowing four different languages and all I can say is, “Well, I know English and a decent amount of Spanish.” Being here has made me crave learning Norwegian, but also taught me the importance of holding onto the Spanish I know. (I’d like to keep being fluent-ish in multiple languages, and my children, when I have them, will certainly grow up learning English and Spanish. They don’t really have a choice.)

I look forward to feeling like I have a routine as a part of my Norwegian life. I find I am also curious to see how classes affect the party/drinking culture of the campus. I’m impressed by the amount of alcohol surrounding me at all times (and not just because I can legally buy it). There is a party culture not entirely unlike the one in Minneapolis, but seemingly way more supported by the University as an institution. A student guide to Oslo that I received my first day had an entire section on good/cheap pubs. I wonder how much of this is different simply because all the students entering the University are old enough to drink. I’m curious to see what the stats are on alcoholism and other drinking-related problems.

(Note: none of this is to say that I’m being a total prude about drinking or anything like that. It’s just another element of culture that I haven’t really experienced before. This is sort of an opportunity to examine the world surrounding me and to discover my personal limits. I certainly can’t party until 3am every day.)

Things I have learned:

I FEEL GLOBALLY DUMB. I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent person, and I know a lot of Americans who are smarter than I am, but I am starting to feel that maybe, as a whole, we’re all a little globally stupid. I feel much less versed in the cultures/geography/history/languages of the world than the people I’ve met from other countries. I won’t entirely blame the system, but I’m also not entirely blaming myself.

CREATIVITY IS AWESOME. Okay, this one I knew already, but sometimes being reminded is like re-learning, you know? Going to the museum was the perfect jump to put my mind back into a mode of creating. I think I really do want to try some visual art, and for me, the perfect medium might be the installation. I love the idea of art spanning an entire space and not being constricted to a canvass. Installations involving text? Outdoor art? Flash art that only exists in a space for 24 hours? All possibilities, all being thought about.

NOT KNOWING WHERE YOU ARE IS NOT THE SAME AS BEING LOST. I’ve become way more comfortable wandering the streets and having faith that I’ll discover the road I need to get home/the T-bane station that can take me home. Lost involves panic, lost is thinking you have an all-important destination that you cannot get distracted from. I’m in Oslo—I may not know the street names or where certain things are located, but I am comfortable in that place of wandering. It’ll all make sense eventually.

I have textbooks to buy. Ah, another reminder of home—the stupid amounts of money I’m about to spend…


Miles: On place and person

January 14, 2011

Because this post is not so much about what I’ve been doing, here’s a quick recap of the past few days:

  • Started Buddy Week  (think welcome week, but with more pubs.)
  • Found out there’s a pub in almost every major building on my campus. You can do an entire pub crawl and not leave University property. Huh.
  • Met people from tons of different countries. Went Ice Skating. Made what we’ve dubbed “Viking Pizza” (so as not to offend the Italian in the room).
  • Successfully registered for Classes. (Waiting to hear if I made it into a Norwegian language course).
  • Began a bulletin board of Melvinisms. (Anything crude yet hilarious that Melvin says.)

I’ve been here for almost a week now. I am starting to feel more comfortable walking down a street and not being able to read any of the signs. I don’t panic when I can’t eavesdrop on conversations around me. I am getting used to being here, which has me thinking about what my “regular life” will be like.

During a conversation with a woman I met who’s also from Minnesota, she said “I can’t try to recreate my American life here, I’ll just get frustrated. I need to make my Norwegian life.” I hadn’t really thought of it that way before, but it made me think. What is my American life? What can I bring to Norway with me?

I am curious to discover how much effect place has on a person. Who is American Miles? Do I bring all of American Miles to Norway and in a sense teach Norway about who I am? Do I sit back, keep quiet, and let Norway dictate who I will become for the next few months? (I understand that neither extreme is likely the answer, but then the question is about the balance between the two.)

Also, what happens if, after a few months, I hate Norway Miles? Does it make me a bad global citizen to prefer my life in America? (Are the two really ever comprable anyway?) And, on the flip side, what if I find myself secretly planning a return to Oslo in a year after I graduate from Minnesota? What if I fall in love with this place and never want to leave? I think, quite possibly, that is the most terrifying possibility. I find I’m almost scared when I start to feel really comfortable here. (It’s a good scared.)

I understand that none of this is answers, but I figured I’d throw the questions out into the interweb abyss. Someone else can deal with them.

Things I have learned: (I think I’ll keep this as a regular segment of posts.)

ENGLISH IS A POWERFUL LANGUAGE. I mean this in all senses of the word power. At the University of Oslo, the default language for all international students who speak no Norwegian is English. Doesn’t matter if you’re from Minnesota, Italy, France, Poland… you speak Norwegian or English. I feel incredibly privileged to be a native speaker. It makes me realize that in the States, we take English for granted and really could stand to make more of an effort to learn other languages.

THE BEST WAY TO PROMOTE SUSTAINABILITY IS THROUGH PUNISHMENT. No lie. At most grocery stores here, if you don’t bring your own bag with you, you pay for a plastic bag. That seems to much more effect that rewarding reusable users something like $.05 off of their bill. US: get with the program.

ANOTHER CONCEPT THAT DOESN’T TRASLATE: THE BRO. Last night while making Viking Pizza, my Polish friend turned on Jack Johnson. I said, “Oh, you like him? I saw him in concert once.” (No shame.) “Oh, I’m so envious of you,” she said. “Yeah,” I replied, “but there were a lot of bros there.” Trying to explain Bros to a roomful of Europeans is no easy task. The new running joke is to look at me and say “Sup?”

That’s all I’ve got right now. Also, a pledge to continue posting even though I start classes next week.


Miles: A 15-person quartet

January 10, 2011

Walking across Sognsvann (not the greatest pic)Apparently in Norway they still believe in Sundays, so very little was open yesterday. I slept in (jet-leg was still kicking my butt) and hung around the flat for awhile.

When I finally decided to move around, my flatmate JB took another international student and me to Sognsvann, a giant lake near my student village. As we approached the lake, we were almost ran over by a stampede of cross-country skiers. I guess Sunday is Ski Day in Oslo. (Really though, every day is Ski day in Oslo.)

Currently the lake is entirely frozen so we walked onto it. I found myself surrounded by trees and white and beauty. I have much more patience for snow here than I did in Minneapolis.

In the evening I met Melvin, another flatmate. He grew up in Singapore and is getting his master’s in Ibsen Studies. He is more than I know how to describe. He’s definitely forcing me to question the way in which language is passed from place to place and how certain slang phrases can lose any sort of “coolness” quickly in the US, but retain validity in other places. (If you’ve read Everything is Illuminated—think Alex Perchov.) One of the first things he asked me was what I thought of the Norwegian girls. I guess its a good thing I’m only staying for 6 months—according to Melvin, after a while “they get stale. All the same face, you know?”

Because I have decided that I must have as many adventures as possible while I’m here, even though I was tired and feeling a little turtle-ish, I agreed to go out with Melvin, Elaine (another flatmate from France) and 5 of Elaine’s friends. We went to a club called Blå (pronounced Bluh—blue in Norwegian). The entrance to the club is in an alley illuminated by a gaudy, sparkly, amazing chandelier. The neighborhood we were in was described to me by Simon, a French student who’s studying Statistics in Norway, as “Alternative” and “full of street art” (Fear not, I made a mental note to return in the daylight with my camera!).

Blå was packed when we arrived. Sunday nights the entrance is free, and it is always the same band — The Frank Znort Quartet. FZQ is a 15 person bluegrass/jazz/weirdness band that sings songs written in slightly off English. Ex: “I love you Banana Split!” The music was dance-y yet something I’m sure I could take my mother to watch. They are constantly switching singers and audience members, some of whom clearly come every Sunday, all have favorites. At least two band members were dressed in drag. One sang a crowd favorite: “Sweet Penetration.” (It was indescribable.) Sadly, I did not win a free CD in their raffle.

Things I have learned:

THE WORD GOOFY IS BOTH DIFFICULT TO TRANSLATE AND A GIANT PART OF MY VOCABULARY. While walking back to the T-bane from Blå, I was talking to Charlotte, one of Elaine’s friends, and I described something as goofy. She asked what that meant. To describe goofy is one thing, to describe goofy with the endearing connotation I mean for it to have is an entirely different task.

I HAVE SOMETHING TO LEARN FROM EVERYONE. Maybe this was obvious to others. I think it becomes clearer when I have to slow down and listen—particularly when I’m speaking with someone who doesn’t speak English as fluently as I do. Simon and I had a great conversation on the difference between French and English. In his words “French has fewer words, so we use more imagery to create words.” (My damn English vocab. I blame you for my lazy writing!). JB and I had a great talk over breakfast on the similarities between our studies—He studies Architecture and oftentimes has to sketch ideas for buildings and designs. We talked about creativity and what sort of music we listen to while working.

(Un)fortunately today is Monday and I need to get out of my pajamas and go see my Campus. I have to pick up an info packet at a student desk. Then I plan to walk around, camera in hand. Also, I should probably go grocery shopping. I can’t be like Melvin and survive on Pizza. Unlike him, I enjoy a nice vegetable.


Miles: Pizza, brought to me by HECUA

January 9, 2011

I am going to preface all of this by saying that I still am in a “too much input/no brain space for output” mood. Also, my luggage got here! (Of course, right after I bought a ton of emergency socks and boxers…)

Last night, as I was about to pass out in my room and watch tv via my computer, I heard a bunch of people talking in our flat’s kitchen. Okay Miles, I thought, be a big boy and go make friends. (What, doesn’t everyone need to give themselves pep talks sometimes?) So I walk in and introduce myself. One woman asks where I’m from. “Minneapolis,” I say.

“Oh, two of us are from Minnesota,” she says. I scan the room, count four women, and think for a second.

“You all are the HECUA group, aren’t you?” I ask. They nod. Yusssssssss.

Backstory: Last year I did two off-campus study programs sponsored by HECUA (Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs). My programs were all about arts and creativity and using them to make social change. HECUA programs have many different foci, but all are seeped in the idea of social justice and making change. I could say so much more, but I’ll leave it at this: I love this organization like I love my mother.

When I signed up to study in Norway, I knew there was a HECUA program in Norway. I knew I needed to do something different, so I didn’t sign up. Still, I knew since HECUA was so awesome, they’d surely let me meet the HECUA group. I even knew that the group this semester (a program called Divided States of Europe or DSE) was four women.

I did not know I would find them in my kitchen. As it turns out, I live with two of the women, and the other two are essentially my next-door neighbors. After talking for awhile, they convince me to come with them the next day to get my Norwegian cell phone.

So today the five of us met up with their TA, Jenn, and I got to see Grønland, the immigrant neighborhood, and get my cell phone. Then we all met up with Margareta, the professor, and had pizza. I was entirely expecting to pay for my pizza—after all, I’m not actually in their program and they aren’t in any way responsible for me—but Margareta said it was on HECUA.

In short: Margareta is very very cool and sweet. Also, HECUA takes great care of their alums. It’s the entire attitude of the organization. It’s incredible.

Things I have already noticed:

BABIES ARE EVERYWHERE. It’s common to take your children, however small, anywhere public. Families are everywhere. Young couples with tiny children and no wedding bands. (Yipes. Don’t tell my friend Caitlin.)

CONVERSIONS WILL DRIVE YOU CRAZY. I need to stop dividing the price of everything by six. It doesn’t help me to know how much money I’m spending in US dollars.

Also, the most interesting thing that’s happening to me right now is that I don’t feel grounded yet. I keep trying to convince myself not to leap into vacation mode, but without any sort of responsibility I’m having a hard time. (Yes, I understand quite well that I’ve only been here a day.) I’m just curious to see how I feel when I allow myself to fully be here. I think school will help.

More tomorrow? Clearly I’m avoiding writing anything on paper. Must. Fill. Notebooks. With. Feelings.

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